Are Villains All-Bad?

Over the weekend, my family and i went to see the new Disney movie, Cruella. As the movie played i got to thinking:

“These remakes of classic Disney movies promote a postmodern view of the world. Villains used to be evil. Making them the protagonists of their own movies is making light of wickedness.”

(To be fair, i believe Cruella is only the second remake [third if we include the Maleficent sequel] where the original villain is now the protagonist. But, there is zero part of me that will ever have anything good to say about Maleficent. Blame it on Sleeping Beauty being my favorite “princess movie” as a child. The dragon, the knight fighting with a sword, the inherent chivalry. Even as i write these lines, i could do a whole memoir post on how my thinking and preferences were influenced by Sleeping Beauty. But i’ll spare you in this post.)

But then i got to thinking. “Is there another way to understand what is going on in these movies?”

I believe there is.

You see, what makes a villain a villain?

For the most part, villains are human. So granted, we can often make one human character represent Satan (the villain) and another human character represent God (the hero), like in Sleeping Beauty: Prince Phillip slays the dragon.

But when Maleficent becomes the hero of her own story, how do we hold to this theory? We can’t consistently. And if we try to, we can’t watch the movie in good conscience because we’re rooting for Satan. (I use the Maleficent example here because in 101 Dalmatians the heroes are animals.)

So villains are human. What else are they?

They are objectively bad. So villains are “bad people.” Does this sound familiar?

There is no one righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become useless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.

Romans 3:10-12

This describes the human race. We are all potentially villains. But this is good news. As Andy Mineo once explained:

“When you heard a story ‘bout the hero dying for the villain?”

Trip Lee, ft. KB & Andy Mineo, “One Sixteen.”

This is what all novels, movies, and even video games intrinsically describe. Whether or not their creators are even aware of it, all stories show us that humans have a problem, and we need a solution to our struggle.

Unfortunately, most of the time we want to identify ourselves with the heroes of the story. Too often, we are more accurately described by the villain.

All have turned away;
all alike have become useless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues.
Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Romans 3:12-18

This is why movies like Cruella that take us into the backstory of a villain are helpful. They remind us that even though they became evil, there are tangible steps to that process. No one wakes up one morning and decides, “I want to murder one hundred and one Dalmatians for my latest fashion statement.”

No. There is a process that leads a person to that decision. Similarly, no one wakes up one morning deciding, “I’m gay,” or, “I’m transgender,” or “I’m going to leave my wife,” or “I’m going to kill myself,” without a process leading them to that decision.

And while we might not struggle with any of those extreme examples, we all know people in various stages of these “ultimate” decisions. We must never paint them as the enemy!

However, too often–unfortunately–that is exactly what our “Christian” breakdowns of movies and novels turn into: How does good triumph over evil? But Christianity intrinsically takes a different route, as Andy Mineo explained already:

“When you heard a story ‘bout the hero dying for the villain?”

Trip Lee, ft. KB & Andy Mineo, “One Sixteen.”

The fact of the matter is that we are all villains. (And here’s a sobering thought: You might be the villain in someone else’s life. Who might that be? And why are they assigning you that role?)

We are all villains. But this is what makes the Gospel so beautiful!

For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

Romans 5:6-10
  • “Christ died for the ungodly
  • “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”
  • “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.”

To view anyone as a villain who deserves God’s judgment is a most prideful attitude to take. And that is why movies like Cruella are incredibly helpful for Christian life and practice.

We must take the time to get to know the people in our lives who we are tempted to view as villains so we can properly love them. We must take the time to ask helpful questions so we can understand the decisions they’ve made that led them to the point at which they are currently. (God forbid, but we must also ask the hard questions about things that may have been done to them that influenced the course of their life.)

Everyone has a backstory–just like the main character of Cruella–and it is only by properly understanding it that we can effectively help people not end up at the point where they are trying to murder one hundred and one Dalmatians for their latest fashion statement. And even if they’ve already committed the “unpardonable sin,” taking the time to know them is the only hope to have an effective counseling relationship with them that will help them to change.

The last few scenes of Harry Potter will illustrate this point perfectly. (The movies utterly destroy this aspect of the story.) Dumbledore says the following to Harry while in King’s Cross Station:

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 722.

The character who most truly lives without love in the series is none other than Voldemort. We read the following conversation in the final showdown between him and Harry:

“Yes, I dare,” said Harry. “I know things you don’t know, Tom Riddle. I know lots of important things that you don’t. Want to hear some, before you make another big mistake?”

Voldemort did not speak, but prowled in a circle, and Harry knew that he kept him temporarily mesmerized and at bay, held back by the faintest possibility that Harry might indeed know a final secret. . . .

“Is it love again?” said Voldemort, his snake’s face jeering. Dumbledore’s favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him falling from the tower and breaking like an old waxwork. Love, which did not prevent me stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter — and nobody seems to love you enough to run forward this time and take my curse. So what will stop you dying now when I strike?”

“Yeah it did,” said Harry. “You’re right. But before you try to kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done. . . . Think, and try for some remorse, Riddle. . . .”

“What is this?”

Of all the things that Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had shocked Voldemort like this. Harry saw his pupils contract to thin slits, saw the skin around his eyes whiten.

“It’s your one last chance,” said Harry, “it’s all you’ve got left. . . . I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise. . . . Be a man . . . try . . . Try for some remorse. . . .”

“You dare — ?” said Voldemort again.

“Yes, I dare,” said Harry, “because Dumbledore’s last plan hasn’t backfired on me at all. It’s backfired on you, Riddle.”

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 738-742. All elipses of this style (. . .) are in the book. This elipsis (…) means I have removed some portions to conserve space.

And Voldemort ignores Harry’s plea and attacks. The confrontation concludes with these words:

Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse.

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 744.

Harry had experienced great amounts of love in his life, and he offered Voldemort the same. He would have been fully justified in striking down Voldemort, but he gave him time, and in the end Voldemort essentially took his own life rather than repent and accept love.

Let’s offer the “villains” in our lives the same grace that Harry offered Voldemort. Let’s offer those who sin different than we do the same grace God offered us. Jesus’ words are still true:

Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Luke 7:47

How’s your love toward outsiders?

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Gratia

Thanks for reading.

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