The sanctity of life is an interesting question for heroes. Consider the frequency in which case a hero is presented with a series of “bad guys” through which he must cut. Often these “bad guys” are mowed down like nothing more than lumps of wood, as if they’re not real human beings (or whatever). That, or if a more mild film/book/game, the protagonist uses martial prowess to knock out all the “bad guys”. Sometimes, attention is brought to the fact that for being a “good guy”, the hero kills an awful lot of people. Even if they’re “bad guys”, killing is wrong, isn’t it?
This can create a very interesting internal conflict with the hero. Just because a person is a “bad guy” doesn’t mean that they deserve death, and by dishing out death so nonchalantly, does the hero lose perspective of the lives of others? What about when an entire city is destroyed in fighting evil that would destroy the world?
We find problems with our heroes when they forget that the words “innocent lives” ring hollow when they themselves add to the destruction that would kill millions.
But…what about villains?
We all just really don’t expect a villain to hold life as sacred. We expect them to have no qualms with killing someone. I mean, they’re evil, right? So, of course they’d kill someone. Or a whole population. That’s just totally expected, as it’s what villains do. Yet, if you’ll recall, I’ve touched upon this topic before. SOME villains may not care for the sanctity of life. And those villains may have caveats – only grown men are nothing to kill, or only adults, or killing is okay but torture is not, etc.
Villains are people. And people don’t usually go around doing things that they know, 100%, to be wrong. If a person is doing something that is wrong, there’s some justification for it, no matter how flimsy. A villain will probably see him or herself as the “good guy”. And villains should generally be able to feel the same range of emotions as other people, or if not, there needs to be a good reason.
A villain could definitely appreciate the sanctity of life, and like Batman, strive to do everything he can to honor that. Perhaps a villain is so driven towards his goals, his goals are more important than that sanctity and if he’s forced to a head, he will choose his goals. But, then again, perhaps he won’t. Perhaps the villain understands the value of family. Maybe she understands it even better than the hero. Consider the mafia – the mafia generally shows signs of understanding the value of family. Villains aren’t so different a class of people that good things do not permeate their lives.
Villains could just as easily as a hero be driven by love and family. This usually only comes up in situations like the evil woman trying to forge a future for her son to be king or something. But why should it be so rare? Evil takes all forms and a villain only needs a little, she doesn’t have to be completely inundated in all things evil. And if you have never had a child of your own, understand that doing so changes things in ways you cannot truly understand. I’m going to describe them to you anyway because writers are masters of facsimile and writing what they do not know, however.
The idea of another person’s untimely death has been, typically, troubling to me since I sincerely believe that one should have the opportunity to live their life out to its natural end. The idea of a baby dying was very sad to me, not necessarily more sad than anyone else’s untimely death, but sad in a unique way because they’re so small and vulnerable and fragile. But then, I’d still make baby eating jokes. When I’d hear, once again, the story of Moses and about the homicide of the Jewish infants that starts the story, I’d think how terrible it must have been, how devastated the mothers must have been. But it was just a passing thought.
I didn’t understand, not really.
A little after we took my daughter home, my husband wanted to watch one of his favorite animated films, The Prince of Egypt. Which of course, starts with the homicide. And I burst into tears and needed to pull my daughter out of her bassinet right by the couch and clutch her to my bosom because I understood now. I understood what it would mean for someone to come in and kill my child. It’s not just some Egyptian soldier killing a baby in a heinous act of murder – it’s someone killing someone else’s son. The true horror of it cannot permeate unless you have a child of your own (or maybe a child you love as your own). But now that I have a child, the thought of someone else losing theirs hits me more deeply as I realize what it would actually mean to lose my daughter and I can now empathize, not just sympathize, with that other person and the sanctity of their child’s life means so much more to me. That easily extends to looking at another person and thinking, that’s someone else’s son/daughter…well, for me, at least if they’re still a child. It is still a little harder for it to mean much for other adults. But the sanctity of life for other adults? I understand that.
In any case, why should that understanding, the understanding of how precious life is, only extend to heroes? And what an interesting dynamic if the hero is off justifying his murders with “well, they’re bad guys” while the “bad guys” are trying so hard not to kill other people?
Does your villain have to honor the sanctity of life? Have to have a family? No, of course not. But I think we’re being foolish to just assume that no villain recognizes it, to assume that killing someone is not a problem for a villain. That’s rather prejudiced and will make our villains weaker as we stop viewing them as individuals. Could the villain have a child and still be unaffected? Sure, but at least consider what I’ve said. He doesn’t honor the sanctity of life because that’s the kind of person he is, not because he is a villain. In fact, he is a villain because he doesn’t honor life…but then a villain could be a villain for a multitude of reasons and a villain could honor the sanctity of life.