When a Hero is Not a Hero

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie, loving the hero up to a certain point, and then suddenly finding him a bit…well, revolting?

An otherwise great story can fall apart quickly if you make a misstep with your protagonisthero. If you’ve done your work as  writer, you’ve carefully crafted your protagonist’s story arc. In the beginning of your novel, it is quite alright for your hero to be flawed, even unlikeable. In fact, if she isn’t flawed, you probably won’t have much of a story.

Eventually, though, your hero is expected to change. To see the light, so to speak. Allow me an example.

Quentin Tarantino is arguably the most popular director of our time. Why? I haven’t got a clue. Apparently, “bloodbath” is all the rage these days. But I have a deeper issue with him. His heroes are anything but. To be fair, I’ve only managed to get all the way through two of his recent films: Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. I tried Kill Bill, but I’d eaten within the last 48 hours and my stomach couldn’t take it.

Let’s take a look at the protagonists in the two films I did manage to get through.

In Django, we have what should be the perfect hero: a slave freed from captivity in search of his wife. The man who freed Django happens to be a pretty darn good shot, and a bounty hunter. So Django turns into quite the fast draw and marksman himself. The setting for a great western, right? Wrong. As it turns out, Django’s thirst for revenge goes far beyond killing those who put him in chains. I lost body count, but by the end he’d managed to mow down every white man in his path, plus one white woman who happened to walk in on his biggest massacre.

Yes, we love it when someone treated so unjustly gets his day. But a true hero never lets himself fall to the level of his enemy. In this case, Django held no more regard for human life than did his captors. No mercy, that seemed to be his motto. If you must watch the film, be advised that each of his victims holds at least 26 pints of blood, and every bit of it ends up on the walls.

Now for Inglorious Basterds. Another perfect set up for a hero. An American officer leads a platoon of Jewish infantryman against the Nazis. What could be better? Well, compassion could be better. The Nazis were evil, yes. But the soldiers of evil leaders aren’t always cut from the same mold. Our hero, played by Brad Pitt (in what had to be his most cliche´ performance ever), does not spare one German soldier, not even the man who cooperated and was celebrating the birth of his son. The “Basterds” never took prisoners, but shot down every German soldier that stepped into their sights.

Again, we have a hero who has fallen to the level of his enemies. No compassion. No forgiveness.

Now, as Christian writers, we tend to be more in touch with the elements of compassion and forgiveness. But we can easily send our hero in the wrong direction, especially late in the novel, without realizing what that does in our reader’s mind. Revenge is not a goal of a true hero. Even if it’s only a young girl smearing the name of her nemesis. In fact, if you do write such a scene, make sure it doesn’t go well for your heroine afterwards. Lessons must be learned. Hearts must be changed.

I understand that my post today sounds like more of a rant. Perhaps it is. If you look up those movies I used as examples, they get high ratings and made millions at the box office. I have no doubt that this is what the secular world is eating up these days. Blood for blood. Revenge. No mercy. It’s what happens when nations turn their backs on a loving, merciful God.

We may not sell our book’s movie rights to Mr. Tarantino, and our sales may never match those of the popular fiction writers today, but we have a standard to uphold. Let’s not fall into the temptation to make our heroes reflect anything but the true nature of our Lord. He forgave every sin. Surely, our freed slave can forgive one plantation owner and our Jew can forgive one Nazi. It makes them better heroes. It makes us better writers.