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Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Fictional Characters II

Here is the complete list. It is better if you read this in conjunction with Top Ten Fictional Characters I.

5. Alex: The anti-hero of 'A Clockwork Orange' has much going for him at the beginning of the book. He is the leader of his pack of 'droogs' and is happily engaged in various unplanned forms of rapes, vandalism and the general ultra-violence. Referring to himself as 'the humble narrator', he takes the centerstage of the book which itself is divided into three parts of seven chapters each. Incidentally, the number of chapters were intentionally kept at 21 to signal the coming of age. In the first part, you absolutely despise him for the way he treats his parents, his droogs and any human in general. The second part is where the story takes an ever darker turn if that is possible. He volunteers for the Ludivico technique which uses a combination of drugs to induce extreme nausea whenever he as much as even thinks of any kind of crime. Once released after the rehabilitation, in the third part, he runs into every one of the people he had wronged before who exact revenge upon him and he finds himself incapable of defence. Believe it or not, you are conflicted in how you feel about Alex. On one hand, you think that he probably deserves whats coming to him and on the other hand, the inhuman treatment, his defenceless stand and all-powerful morality question makes you feel very sorry for him too. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of a political agenda and somehow maneuvers his way out. His therapy is reversed and he goes back to his old ways. The most important chapter is the last chapter which was omitted in the original US edition because editors wanted the book to be as bleak as possible. In the final chapter, Alex abandons his ultra-violent life and considers finding a job and a family. This was a rather dramatic hint by Anthony Burgess that coming of age and maturity is a natural process and should not be interefered with. The most impressing part about Alex's character is that in the span of just about a hundred pages or so, he moves from a despicable rapist to a victim of inhuman rehabilitation. That and his interests in classical music and Nadsat manner of speaking. Alex comes alive when you watch the movie by the same name. Malcolm Mcdowell Plays Alex brilliantly, just the way you would imagine Alex after reading the book. Anthony Burgess said that the movie was brilliant, so brilliant that it could be dangerous. He wasnt wrong. The movie went on to become a cult hit but it also inspired violent behavior and had to be withdrawn in UK.

4. Voldemort: The Dark Lord and Harry Potter's nemesis is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The most evil wizard ever to walk on earth, appeals to me because of his single-minded passion to be immortal and take over the world. He stops at nothing in his quest for immortality. He kills and kills again and in the process, splits his own soul into so many pieces that he can scarcely be called human any more. He can fly, is the most accomplished legilimens and occlumens. When the concept of Boggart and the Mirror of Erised was introduced to me, I reckoned that to really know any character, you just needed to know that person's greatest fear and the greatest dream. As JK Rowling stated that if Voldemort were to stare in the mirror, he would see himself as immortal and powerful and if he were to run into a Boggart, he would likely see his own corpse. Such combination of simplicity in ambition and yet the flaming drive to achieve them is rare. This character makes so few appearances in the earlier books, that you are starved to know more about him and when you do, you just cant bring yourself to blame him for what he does. Born out of a coerced loveless marriage and raised in an orphanage, he doesnt understand love and sacrifice which made him the greatest wizard ever but ironically which also ultimately leads to his downfall.

3. Captain Jack Sparrow: Just like Voldemort, Captain Jack Sparrow's appeal lies in his unapologetic quest for freedom. Back in 1800s, freedom meant a ship and the ability to go anywhere; an ideal occupation for a pirate. Captain Jack Sparrow is, however, arguably an ethical pirate; the argument lying in the audience' perspective. He compensates for his lesser seaman/ swordsman skills by putting on a facade of being a drunk comedian, inventing/exaggerating his swagger, slurred and albeit accented speech and almost gay demeanor. But any fan would say that he is the only one ahead of the game in the whole trilogy except that one instance when he dies in an unexpected honest streak. A tribute was paid when the lieutenant comments to Beckett - 'Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?' Not trusting his swordsplay, he relies on confounding wordplay, bargaining and misdirecting his opponents. As he explains - 'Why fight when you can negotiate? All one needs is the proper leverage.' He views his state of affairs as being on a chess-board and like a superhuman player, he can see many moves ahead, mobilizes troops and infiltrates his enemies in a climax which is so desirable but yet is so unexpected. He is the master of queen's gambit and all other forms of gambles possible. The entire credit for bringing this character alive and even redefining it goes to Johnny Depp. This character was supposed to be just a supporting cast in the first movie and when Johnny Depp played it as a rock star, it drove the studio bonkers. Michael Eisner actually complained that 'He is ruining the movie.' Of course, what happened is history as this supposedly supporting character took the centerstage and even received an academy award nomination, the first such in a fantasy movie.

2. English, August: The real name is of course Agastya but then again, the real name is really English, August. An urban lad thrust into rural India civil service. Fully occupied with marijuana, masturbation, Geetha and Marcus Aurelius, he somehow finds enough time to make a mockery out of his training. He consummately and contradictorily lies, passionately trivializes and hangs the consequences. He forever chooses to be an outsider as is evident in his observations such as - 'Eventually, he knew, he would marry, perhaps not out of passion, but out of convention, which was probably a safer thing. And then, in either case, in a few months or years they would tire of disagreeing with each other, or what was more or less the same thing, would be inured to each other's odd and perhaps disgusting ways, the way she squeezed the tube of toothpaste and the way he drank from a glass and didn't rinse it, and they would slide into a placid and comfortable unhappiness, and maybe unseeingly watch TV every day, each still a cocoon'. Most important of all, however, is his vague sense of dissatisfaction and in which he represents a generation of Indians influenced by western lifestyle and unsure of their ambitions. His journey, the self discovery, doesnt really culminates into apocalyptic climax but it does ring a familiar bell in everybody's mind, at least anybody who has stopped to think about it.

1. Joker: Although fairly intrigued by Joker throughout the comic series and the TV series, the Joker I am referring to here is Heath Ledger's Joker. I guess, I do suffer from recency effect here but the distinction is important because Joker has had a fairly varied and mutually contradictory history, not to mention various artists' portrayal. Anyhow, Heath Ledger's Joker is a highly intelligent lunatic who is not driven by money or revenge or any other conventional reasons. He commits crimes simply to have fun. He is not just Batman's nemesis, but he represents that fork wherein one became a superhero and one became an eccentric supervillain. Bruce Wayne's compassion turns him into a hero while faced with almost similar circumstances, albeit without the fortune, Joker turns into an insane mass-murderer. What is even more intriguing is that Batman cant kill Joker because that would be an admission of Joker's ultimate triumph while Joker would not kill Batman because he would, well, miss him and all the fun. Heath Ledger is inspired by Malcolm Mcdowell (A Clockwork Orange) in portraying Joker but boy, does he do a job! Ghastly, if I were to describe it in one word. He locked himself alone up in a motel for a month to understand how a loner like Joker would think. Michael Cain said that the performances sometimes turned so frightening that he forgot his own lines. Knowing that he died shortly after, as somebody said, in playing Joker as well as he did, what was he doing to himself? Despite the fact that Joker doesnt really have any superpowers, such is the iconic nature of his character that Trickster remarks in Underworld Unleashed - 'When Super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories.' Why so serious? Lets put a smile on that face!!!


Toddler said...

A Clockwork Orange: the book is gracing my bookshelf for quite some time now but I never read it owing to its ultra-small fonts. The movie is one of the finest hours by Kubrick and without a doubt, one of my favourites of all time. Bleak, cold and heartless, yet a brilliant piece of artwork. I was lost for words after watching it for the first time. The movie depicts emotions, violence, and perversion at its worst and I found it really hard to judge whether the movie was satirical or sarcastic or exhilarating. You're right that Alex's behaviour is beneath contempt in the first half but the climax leaves you conflicted, I felt he well-deserves the inhuman treatment but part of me felt pity for his inability to defend himself. The final quote "I was cured alright" and the tone in which Alex says it, made me believe that he will go back to his brutal ways.

Captain Jack Sparrow: a filthy, trash talking, deceitful character appeals because he lives by his own rules. Amazing are his elusive ways, he works totally in self-interest, and he walks with a kind of saunter as if he doesn’t care for the world. No doubt an outstanding performance by Johnny Depp. He has the knack of getting under the skin of his character, blending spontaneity into it and bringing out the best. Same stands for Leonardo DiCaprio - though I dint like him much in the beginning but he has improved recently, simply loved his performances in The Departed, Blood Diamond and Catch Me If You Can. Think I am digressing from the topic now…

Not much into superheroes or harry potter kinda stuff, though have seen all of them but would not like to opine there.

English, August: again have seen the movie but its difficult to condense a book into a 118-minute movie so its next on my list after I am through with "The Asiatics".

P.S. Wish you a fulfilling year ahead!!!

Beta said...

Ah. I forgot to mention that Stanley Kubrick based his movie on the US version of the book which had omitted the last chapter. Later when he was asked if he would have included that chapter had he known, he replied in the negative. He went on to say that he couldnt see how the story could take such a dramatic turn in the end. This was one of the many disagreement points between him and Burgess.

Toddler said...

Thanks for the update :)

Annoymously said...

Find your list of top 5 characters rather troubling.

Brilliant analysis and summing up of each character however - and will surely gas when i have more time, about impressions and thought processes that followed.

Annoymously said...

I meant - gas on...

Anonymous said...

While Joker may be the leader in your pack of top 10 characters and is the most sensational of the fictional character (largely because of Heath Ledger and the recency effect), i wonder whether there are too many people who would be able to relate to him. In that respect i believe that Agastya and Voldemort are the best ones. While former for his indifference attitude in life moving like a headless chicken (like i do) and the latter for brining out the importance of childhood and how it could have an irreparable bearing on the future