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Five movie heroes who behaved more like bad guys
They may seem like heroes at first, but are they? Here are five movie characters that parade around as good guys even though their actions scream bad guy from the very beginning. - photo by Travis Poppleton
A few years ago, my friend Lindsay Maxfield and I started a string of emails that forever changed the way I saw the movie, Gone with the Wind.

We had been chatting about possible articles focusing on classic films when Maxfield mentioned how surprised she was to hear some people think of Scarlett OHara as a terrible person. Up until that point, it had never occurred to me that anyone saw Scarlett as anything other than a slave-holding, physically abusive, manipulative home wrecker. So, I asked my wife what she thought about the topic. Her reply? Of course Scarletts the good guy.

Since that email exchange with Maxfield, my wife and I have watched Gone with the Wind at least three times, and every time weve actively pointed out moments for and against Scarletts good-guy status.

Collectively, I believe all three of us have changed or at least softened our Gone with the Wind positions. And this got me wondering, how many other characters have I been totally wrong about, or at least didnt realize audiences see differently than me.

Here are five characters I now suspect arent as heroic as Hollywood would like us to believe.

Scarlett OHara Gone With the Wind

As I mentioned, both Maxfield and I (and my wife) have all at least softened our original positions concerning Scarlett OHara from Gone with The Wind. But in a nutshell, here were some of our original arguments.

For Maxfield, Scarletts deeds taken out of context do in fact seem horrible, but when you look at the entire story, Scarlett rises above her very difficult surroundings to take care of the people who matter most to her. To quote Maxfield:

(Scarletts) not afraid to go after what she wants. This is still not easy for women these days, even 150 years later, because the minute a woman becomes too assertive she is labeled something vulgar and out goes her credibility. So in a way, yes, Scarlett can be seen as a role model.

To be honest, I was sympathetic to Maxfields position, but we disagreed on what exactly too assertive means.

Sure, you can write off Scarletts first marriage as impulsive, but when Scarlett lies to her sisters fiance and ultimately marries him for money, were definitely approaching a grey area. I think for me, the moment Scarlett turns from ambiguous hero to fully formed villain is when she betrays the only person who is unconditionally kind to her, Melanie Hamilton.

Not the first time of course, when Melanie is simply engaged to heartthrob Ashley, or even the second time when Ashelys returning home from the war. No, its the third time and then final betrayal on Melanies death bed that illustrates just how slimy Scarlett really is.

My grievances aside, Maxfields position is probably closest to the authors intent. As far as story analysis goes, Melanie dies a weak and helpless character while Scarlett stands strong to fight another day. The last shot of the film is actually a silhouette of Scarlett heroically posing in front of a fading sun, so at the very least, we can be sure as an audience were supposed to see her as a good guy. But I dont know. After three additional viewing and a string of entertaining emails, I can only say shes half-good-guy at best.

The Narrator Fight Club

Anyone who has seen Fight Club will tell you this is the most obvious movie on the list and for reasons we probably shouldnt delve into. As it turns out there are people who still havent seen this movie but have it somewhere near the top of their films-to-see-before-I-die list. What kind of terrible person would I be if I ruined one of cinemas big reveals for a barely serious entertainment article?

That said, even at the very beginning of the movie Edward Nortons character uses lies and deceit to temper his insomnia before starting a seedy, underground fight club. The Narrator begins with bad motives and never learns a lesson or finds a way to redeem his underline character. Still hes not the typical antihero, which would have disqualified him from our list, because hes also the person trying to stop Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), so in the context of the story hes trying to do the right thing mostly.

Fine, Ill give you that this second pick is rather ambiguous for anyone not familiar with the movie. But trust me, the Narrator belongs here. At least, the mostly good part of him does.

Ariel The Little Mermaid

Thats right, were following Fight Club up with The Little Mermaid.

Im sure Ariel isnt the worst mermaid under the sea, but her little teenage rebellion and irrational cross-species crush almost costs King Triton his trident, which wouldve ultimately tipped the scales of good and evil and ruined the lives of her fellow merpeople.

Not only does the story begin with Ariel flagrantly embarrassing her entire family, but within the first 10 minutes of the movie shes breaking one of her worlds most important laws Contact between the human world and the mer world is strictly forbidden.

And how does Ariel thank her father for not sending her tail to prison after committing an underwater felony? She makes a deal with the devil to change her body type so she can kiss a boy.

In the end, kids who watch The Little Mermaid learn contracts are only binding until you murder the other party involved, and parents will learn their lessons once theyve been turned into a dying sea weed. These are not principles they teach at good guy college.

Morpheus The Matrix

This one is tricky, and in the end, its going to be up to your own philosophical position to decide if Morpheus is a good guy or bad guy.

But heres the deal: as the Matrix trilogy progresses we learn Earth is barely inhabitable. Its to the point where even naturally growing your own food is out of the question. Most daily meals consist of some tapioca-pudding-looking protein supplement.

So for Morpheus to show up at someones house offering pills that he claims will help them to see the world for what it really is, well one, thats already a bit shady. And two, who says no to answers to the universe?

Morpheus mission is to ultimately transition the human race from a reasonably happy existence where they can still eat steak and ice cream sundaes to living off cold soupy mushy stuff. At the very least, that suggests his good-guy status deserves another look.

Ultimately, your take on Morpheus will probably depend on how you rank truth vs happiness, and thats not a topic were going to get to the bottom of in this article.

Joy Inside Out

Inside Out is one of those movies that really only needed to be about 15 minutes long.

Unlike the spoiler free Fight Club section, Im going to work through Joys less-than-heroic ways, so if you havent seen the movie go ahead and stop reading now.

For those still reading, this movie would've ended the moment Joy let Sadness cry it out with her beloved Riley. But not only does Joy prevent Sadness from sharing some alone time with her favorite person on the planet, Joy actively manipulates situations to ensure Sadness is excluded from Rileys entire healing process. Thats practically the definition of bullying, which is not how most people want to think of their protagonists.

But the brilliance of Inside Out is that Joy absolutely believes shes doing the right thing, which makes her actions all the more dangerous. In spite of all the evidence telling her somethings wrong, that maybe her happy-all-the-time approach isnt the perfect fit for every situation, Joy believes her commitment to what she knows is noble.

To her credit, and unlike a few characters on this list, Joy realizes her mistakes and tries to set things right by the closing credits but by the time she does, everyone has paid a pretty high price for her actions.

Do I love Joy? Absolutely. But think of how much better Rileys world wouldve been had Joy chosen to look for worth in Sadness from the very beginning.
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