Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hero vs. Protagonist

Thanks to Christopher Vogler for his contributions to this post.

What's the difference between a hero and protagonist; or for that matter the anti-hero, villain, antagonist, main character or POV character?  Like many concepts it's easy to lapse into equivocation because of the varied way these terms are used.

While I have no serious issue with using "hero" and "protagonist" interchangeably, it can make sense to use them differently. Below are a few suggestions for all these terms.

An underlying assumption (and a big one) is that the audience has a working moral compass and knows what behaviors are to be rooted for or deplored. This may not work in a morally ambiguous universe, but for general audiences that comprise a cross section of society, a movie's popularity will correlate to natural law, which is a fair basis for moral certainty.



MAIN (POV) CHARACTER...

...is the character with the most screen time. This may or may not be the hero, anti-hero, one of two kinds of protagonists, anti-hero, antagonist, or villain. It is almost always the Point of View (POV) character, or the perspective of the storyteller.


HERO... is the character that
  • nearly epitomizes the virtues or strengths of the moral premise, but still 
  • is subtly flawed
  • will change (arc), but subtly and always in the same direction. The hero's values will not change direction or polarity, but at the Moment of Grace will get stronger & deeper. 
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience can root for.
  • will be a good guy with desirable traits.
Example: Captain Miller in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. See detailed post at link.

ANTI-HERO... is that character that:
  • epitomizes the vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and thus 
  • is significantly flawed.
  • will change (arc), but subtly and always in the same direction. That is, the hero's values will not change direction or polarity, but at the Moment of Grace will get stronger & deeper
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience can root for.
  • will be a good guy with undesirable traits
Example: Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER


VILLAIN... is that character that:

  • epitomizes the vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and thus
  • is significantly flawed
  • will change (arc), but subtly and always more dark. 
  • actively attempts to prevent the hero or protagonist from reaching the goal.
  • will always be the bad guy.
Example: Hans Gruber in DIE HARD


PROTAGONIST (Redemptive)... is that character that:

  • at first, embraces vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and is therefore,
  • clearly flawed, but
  • will change (arc) clearly toward the virtue or strengths of the moral premise.
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience roots for.
  • is usually a good guy in the end.
Example: Bob Parr in THE INCREDIBLES


PROTAGONIST (Tragic)... is that character that:

  • at first, embraces vices or weaknesses of the moral premise, and is therefore 
  • clearly flawed, but
  • will change (arc) clearly toward darker vices or greater weaknesses of the moral premise.
  • actively pursues a physical and visible goal that audience roots against
  • is usually a bad guy in the end. 
Examples: Charles Foster Kane in CITIZEN KANE, and
Tony Soprano in THE SOPRANOS

Test Question: Do tragic protagonists always sit at table with a wine glass half-full, chin down, eyes up, and glare off screen camera right...."as if the answer to their dilemma were over there" (CV).



ANTAGONIST... is that character that:

  • embraces either vices/weaknesses or (not both) virtues/strengths of the moral premise, and is therefore 
  • clearly flawed, or clearly virtuous,
  • may or may not (arc) clearly toward the opposing value, but if arc occurs will be cogent with the moral premise
  • actively opposes the physical and visible goal of the hero, anti-hero, or protagonist becoming the catalyst for change (arc) in the hero, anti-hero or protagonist.   
  • may be the good guy or the bad guy
Example: The Angels in "Touched By An Angel"





1 comment:

Alice Fleury said...

I like this explanation. Thanks.