This week’s ‘Zach On Film’ assignment was one that kind of shocked me.  Even having seen a lot of movies and taking television and film classes, I had never seen even a few brief seconds of ‘Raging Bull,’ and I found the warts-and-all portrayal of a pretty terrible person to be riveting and affecting.  This was NOT, however, a universal response of our panel, making me wonder if I’m the weird one.  Given the performances and technical proficiency evident in the film, I wasn’t bothered by the central character being abusive, selfish, sexist, homophobic and brutish (but it should be noted that I never forgot those qualities of the cinematic Jake LaMotta.)  After ruminating on the matter, I realized that I dropped the Green Lantern comic for similar reasons, making me wonder if I could have forgiven Hal Jordan had his story been as impressive as Scorcese’s tour de force, which in turn begs a query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) wants to know, D’jou %$#@ my wife?  D’jou %$#@ my wife?  D’jou %$#@ my wife?  D’jou %$#@ my wife?  Seriously, I want to know, and I’m also asking: Is it important to you that a character be likable in order for you to enjoy their story?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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11 Comments

  1. September 26, 2013 at 11:40 am — Reply

    Also, since I forgot what day it was, listen to the full discussion tomorrow on the latest Zach On Film!

    Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb which is a metaphor for yourself… Or something.

  2. September 26, 2013 at 11:59 am — Reply

    They don’t need to be likeable, but they can’t be completely deplorable or boring. Otherwise I wont care.

  3. September 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm — Reply

    I thought at first that yes, it’s absolutely necessary I like the character.. but then I thought of Green Lantern – I don’t like Hal. But I am loving the Green Lantern series.
    Also, Superman – Red Son. I didn’t like ANYONE in that story, except maybe Lois, but I still thought it was a beautifully written series. Tragic.
    That being said, I will always enjoy a story more if there’s a lot of… ‘screen time’, if you will, with characters that I DO really really like.

  4. September 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm — Reply

    No. There are plenty of characters that I cannot stand, but their story is compelling. It isn’t much different from the opposite, there are plenty of characters I love that have stories I despise.

  5. September 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm — Reply

    For me, it really depends on the characterization. For instance, I can’t watch Sons of Anarchy because I can’t cheer for any of those characters and the subject matter is really just too violent and tense for me to enjoy. Katey Sagal’s horrific scene in that show pretty much put the final nail in that coffin. Never again.

    Breaking Bad is a bit different for me because the character arc of Walter White had him occasionally be something other than a horrible, horrible human being (even if there are only brief moments as the show progresses).

    So I guess yes, there does need to be *something* for me to cheer for, otherwise I’m just watching a show about antagonists fighting each other, and I hope they all lose.

    • September 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm — Reply

      Ok, so I thought more about this. I came to a realization that I can watch media that has completely unlikeable characters, but these things tend to fall into the category of media I like but have no desire to watch again.

      Movies like Requiem For A Dream, American Psycho, and There Will Be Blood all fall into this category.

  6. September 26, 2013 at 1:44 pm — Reply

    No, sometimes those can be the most interesting characters to read/watch. It can be just as entertaining to see the other characters reactions and interactions with said character.

  7. M. Walsh
    September 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm — Reply

    Not at all. Some of my favorite characters are the ones that are “unlikable.”

    What I think is important is some semblance of self-awareness by the creators that the character is unlikable. Take, for instance, movies like There Will Be Blood or American Psycho and TV shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the protagonists are despicable people…but that’s the point. The writers, directors, and actors are all aware of this and we’re not meant to find their actions admirable…just entertaining.

    On the other hand, take a movie like Project X, where the main protagonists were all thoroughly obnoxious d**chebags…and yet, I kept getting the impression I was supposed to root for them and wish I was friends with them, or even relate to them.

    I guess it’s kind of like walking that line between having a villain you hate in the sense that they’re the bad guy and you’re supposed to boo them…and the villain you hate because you want them off the screen.

  8. B.V.K.
    September 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm — Reply

    No a good story is a good story regardless of whether or not the main character is likable. A good example is Breaking Bad. I love the show and still want Walter to somehow get away with his misdeeds even though he is an awful person I would in no way want to associate with in real life.

  9. gary
    September 26, 2013 at 9:26 pm — Reply

    I don’t think they have to be likable, but I do want character progression. The classic example for me is Tony in Scarface. He’s the same a*hole at the end as he was at the beginning, he just happened to have more money and power at the end. To me that’s not a story. There has to be character development.

  10. Oldcomicfan
    September 27, 2013 at 7:09 am — Reply

    Usually, but not always. There are some unlikeable characters who I find interesting: Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do plays a slimy record producer who is fun to watch because everybody except the kids in the bad recognize the weasel for what he is, Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, where he plays an astronaut who’s rather stuck on himself but rises to the occasion when his ship is crippled in space, Willem Dafoe in the first Spiderman movie, Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning. None of them play likeable characters but give performances which are always worth watching.

    That said, I will quit watching a television series or reading a book or comic series if none of the characters are particularly likeable. If I have no reason to care about the characters, then why should I invest time in the thing?

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