On Movie Villains and the Shadow

I love lists, not so much for purposes of organizing but more because they can spawn great arguments. My all-time baseball team, for example, excludes the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Bench, an exclusion with which some will take heated issue. I have lists of favorite movies, favorite books, greatest sports moments, etc. I also have a list of favorite movie villains.

A good movie villain  stirs our passions. We become angry, outraged. We want to see justice. We want the villain to get caught or, better yet, get beaten up, shot, etc. A villain paying his/her dues somehow reassures us that the world still is fair and just. In true Taoist fashion, concepts such as fairness and justice would have no meaning without a good villain.

There is, however, a catch. We are these villains! Carl Jung, in discussing universal themes, calls one such theme the Shadow. This represents a part of my personality that I do not want to admit to or face. It is that part of me that I abhor yet won’t admit to. Instead I push it away and put it on others, attacking them in the process.

Think for a moment as to how you like to be perceived by others. Here is part of my list: compassionate, laid back, accepting, non-violent. Now write down the opposite of the traits you listed. Here’s what I come up with: cruel, up tight, judgmental, violent. As you read your list of opposite traits, say hello to your shadow.

It doesn’t stop there. Unlike movie villains, your Shadow is in need of redemption, offering you in some form qualities you may need. I recall a dream I had once which included a Nazi SS officer, something I abhor. Yet it was my dream and so I had to accept that I too had a Nazi part to my personality. What could something so abhorrent offer to me? Self-discipline, a quality I otherwise lack. Thus my cruel and judgmental Shadow can, if transformed, offer me assertiveness and healthy boundaries. Up tight can be transformed into more professional. The violence I accept because of my history.

Shadow work is not easy but, from a psychological perspective, perhaps this is the work of redemption.

Here then are excerpts from films featuring my top 3 villains:

Number 3: Stephen Boyd as Messala in Ben Hur

Number 2: James Anderson as Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird

And Number 1? Jack Palance as Jack Wilson in Shane

And, yes, I, too, am Mesalla and Mr. Ewell and Jack Wilson.

Reflections: 1. What within you has been hard to face? What is in need of redeeming?

2. What is your own list of great movie villains?