I watched a film recently that tricked me into thinking the misguided protagonist was just a story prose, destined to be stopped by the little heroine at the end, only to discover I was in actual fact watching the origin story of a villain. The tables were flipped in my head and I was both enraged at being played a fool but contented for witnessing a piece of cinematic brilliance.
We’ve heard the expression, ‘life imitates art’. There is a saying that is often linked to Oscar Wilde’s 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, “What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art”. Lovely and all, but I seem to find myself grasping a little at straws when it comes to how ‘art’ has mostly represented heroism and villainy.
I won’t pretend to know the finest corners of the art world. Most of what enlightened society deems as art is unfortunately not very compelling to me. Art, to me, needs to have a moving narrative. Pictures and painting stay far too still for my liking. Perhaps because I have a stunted imagination. Writing and films, that’s where art mostly is to me. Writing requires some motion from my imagination but it’s hardly cartwheels, while films are well, constantly moving, in one way or the other.
‘Films’ have been educating me since I was five that there is often a fence between both heroism and villainy. Sure, we revel in art that attempts to blur that divide (art house films have made a calling card out of this prose), but for the most part, the classic sentiment is relevant – there is always a protagonist and an antagonist in most films. Perhaps it is what’s necessary for the art form to make sense, to be compelling. These two forces are often at opposite tangents, with markedly different agendas, who agree on little while confronting on a lot.
Yet I find myself being both the protagonist as well as the antagonist of my life. For as much time as I have apportioned in trying to secure an existence where I am happy, I also spend possibly equal amounts of time pissing over it by making illogical decisions to undo these plans. It’s like I am both the coyote and the quick bird, Tom and Jerry rolled into one. That for every effort spent on a good deed, effort is also spent on me doubling back and brutally power-drilling said deed in the skull. If I were a film, I would be an absolutely excruciating watch.
A lot of us would be quick to draw a line between us and people struggling with identity disorders but yet we often behave as if we are wrecked by the same disease. How would you explain people who rocket their good and stable marriage to smithereens over a senseless fizzy affair? Or people who in most cases would lambast a movie character for making that stupid decision but would in turn, make that same decision for themselves when confronted with the same dilemma in reality. Why? That well-aged head versus heart trope again?
I think we usually position ourselves as wanting what’s best for us. But history would fashion a retort. If this were true, we would spend far less moments grovelling in the language of regret. ‘If only’ is a mistress we make bed with far too willingly.
Perhaps we fundamentally love misery so much that we would gladly play the antagonist ourselves even there is no one that readily wants to be one for us.