7. No Country for Old Men (The Coen Brothers, 2007)
What it can teach you: To understand contradiction, one needs to understand the character´s point of view on moral standards.
“Coenesque” is an attribute given to a character; when he or she possesses certain qualities of twisted irony, plot irreverence, ill-fated tragedy, and satirical humor.
The Coen brothers have in hand the innate ability to create contradicting characters from their very foundation. It is actually, not a matter of creation, but of permutation what these guys pull off. What they end up conveying on screen goes beyond any possible description.
It’s hard to imagine a man that pays two other men that look more like blood eating scums, to kidnap his wife, as someone endearing. Or a bullied Jewish man, whose life appears to be crumbling down out of God’s will, as someone monstrous. But these characters retain both sides. For the Coen brothers, there are no heroes nor villains in their films, no protagonists, and no antagonists, just flesh and boned man and women, with a scrambled set of values and perspectives about the world, trying to save their seat in the evolution chain.
Anton Chigurh, played with bewitchingly atrocity by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, is an odd, but exquisite example of a character with “Coenesque” properties.
He is a full-blown bastard, most definitely. Come on! The guy perforates human skulls with an air gun. But he is a bastard with a code of honor. He does not reciprocate the call of his impulses. He acts accordingly to the values of his code. He plays the game by attaining to the rules, even if those rules are based on chance.
Chigurh kills a policeman because he represents an obstacle and a threat to the superior mission he has been commanded to fulfill. He then lets an old man live, only under the premise that this guy won a game of coin tossing. Finally, he kills the innocent wife of the man he is chasing, because he made the promise of murdering her, if the other guy kept running away. He feels no remorse for none of his murders. Murder is not a crime for him. Dishonor is.
This character never cries nor laughs.
The Coen brothers allow us only to catch glimpses, traces of human emotion sprawling out from this human gargoyle. From the manner he removes his shoes and socks, to the surrealistic deformation his face muscles undergo, when he is strangling someone else. He is always poised, centered and expressionless, but never one-dimensional.
8. The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
What it can teach you: Contradiction is a matter of identity.
Bruce Wayne wears the Batman suit to prove himself a man with a destiny, more than a man, a knight. Superman needs the Clark Kent facade to blend in with the inferior race he is protecting. Harry Osborne accepts to be the Green Goblin to avenge his father. All of them, alter egos and egos from men that have a choice on doing a greater good or a greater evil for personal or extra personal reasons.
Smeagol and Gollum are the alter egos of the same tormented soul. On contrariety to the previous examples, Gollum has no right to choose. He neither earns nor loses anything on becoming one or the other, because the object he desires the most, gives him everything and nothing in return with the same degree of anguish. He is damned to the fate of the ring. He is intoxicated by its power. He moves and acts only on the supposition of gaining an ephemeral alchemy that does not belong to him in the first place.
Gollum is a gorgeously crafted character. His contractions and contradictions emerge from his quest to find his true identity. The marvelous aspect of the character is, that his personality is nonexistent. He can never go back to being Smeagol because his heart is too corrupted by the poison of Sauron’s ring. It is also impossible for him, to evolve into a despicable force of pure evil due to his “hobbit nature.” He has been floating in a limbo of despair for a long time, the same way the remains of a shipwreck at sea do.
It is Frodo, carrying the ring, which stirs things up again, inciting this skinny fellow to go beyond Gollum, and remember being Smeagol once more. And the creature tries he really tries. He is loyal and serviceable with Frodo, despite being negligible and scabby with the “fat one” (Sam). But the crummy effects of pure evil have demonized Gollum’s naive soul. For Gollum and Smeagol there is no way back home.
9. A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)
What it can teach you: The lengths a character goes to, in order to hide a secret, result in contradictory behavior.
Although, there is almost nothing magical in the crudeness of its naked sexuality, as well as very little realness in the magic of its taunts, A Streetcar Named Desire is a movie perfumed with the scent of magical realism. It’s a haunting and delicate drama in equal levels. It shifts gears, going from lighter shades of black to darker tones of white, it never, never stays just…grey.
Blanche Dubois (Vivian Leigh) is a crucial cinematic character that has heft with the psychic realms of many actresses. With those at least, who have dare to get into her full hard-shell skin and succeed. A sexual demeanor entraps her. She can´t control it, and battles against this appetite by posing as a squeamish flower, too frail for any sort of human contact.
Blanche Dubois arrives unexpectedly to her sister’s (Stella, played by Kim Hunter) tiny apartment. She carries a heavy trunk, loaded with cheap jewelry and sassy fur. But that is not the only thing she burdens, there is also a pile of gloomy secrets that stink of eerie business.
For Stella’s husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), she is a fishy intruder, she is a plague from the first moment they cross paths, and exchange a provocative, tense introduction. Stanley knows he has to get rid off her before she infests everything around them. But not before extracting out of her, the secret she hides, even if it requires physical altercation.
The giant inhabitants of that skimpy, age-worn apartment set-sail on a heightened, emotional descent to the darkest tantrums of human madness.
Blanche is a sexually, puckish being, a sex-addict, irremediably attracted to young boys. Her past is oblique and disturbing. Was her young husband a homosexual who could not bare her devouring games any more? Did she gamble away the family fortune in a drizzle of liquor and promiscuity? How could a gentle, absent lady of her stature, be capable of such atrocities?
The four main characters of the film are intense. They are adrenaline in its purest form. All four of them drown deep in their personal natatorium of contradictions. Stanley has his smelly aggressiveness, his torn shirts squeezing the life out of his sweaty muscles on one side. On the other, he conveys a greedy necessity for Stella’s compassion and forgiveness.
Stella may have her quiet manners, her thrilling domestic virginity, but she is also armed with a curious strength, efficient enough to tame her husband’s bestiality.
Mitch (Karl Malden), Blanche’s love interest, on the one hand, he is a momma’s boy, a sap whipped by the dominion of Stanley’s presence. However, on the other hand, when cornered by the harshness of ridicule, he becomes skilled in the arts of macho deportments, and misogynistic actions.
Blanche Dubois however, is the most interesting character of the four because she has her secrets. And nothing can beat the stylishness of a dirty little secret.
10. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
What it can teach you: Contradictions generate suspense. Which aspect of the character´s personality will assert itself in a specific given situation?
Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) walks around his plantation ensuring with penetrating eyes, that the early formation of his slaves take place in an adequate manner. He wears a trimmed nightgown, short enough for us to unsettle at the sight of his freakishly pale legs. This is his land, this is his kingdom, and the king can stroll around in any garment he pleases.
His commands are silent but stinging, like a nasty paper cut. Everyone looks at him expecting a punishment as he gives the orders. He knows they are looking. He loves it, it´s a voyeuristic exchange. But the punisher is doing something far more atrocious in a contradictory way. He is holding the hand of a little black girl. He is playing with her, protecting her, training her like a house dog (in front of the black men that can’t do anything for her) to love him from an early age, because she will most likely receive nocturnal visits from him, in a few years from now.
Epps is a man that enjoys black women but hates black men. He is a man that delightfully ravens on the word of a threatening white God that cares for all men, but submits himself to the acts of a tyrant demon that hates them all. He is a ticking bomb. He is nitroglycerine mixed with white wine.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a free black man in antebellum America, who is stripped away from his liberty, portrays a crushed individual with a glimmering hope always shining on the corner of his eyes. He has the face of a beautiful landscape subjugated by a nightmarish storm.
Lupita Nyongo, as Patsy, enters the cinematic world with the same force and impact as one of the slashes her character receives, when smuggling a bar of soap to get cleaned. But it is McQueen’s usual contributor (Fassbender), who bloodily embodies a blurred man, a man that transgresses the frontiers of sanity and insanity as fast and as unexpected, as a swordsman blade.
Steve McQueen delivers a horror film in the form of a poetic virtue. This film is a slumber, meditative, humanistic exposition of a terrifying truth. It is honest, and when something is honest, it is always disturbing.
11. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
What it can teach you: Contradiction equals truth. Who we really are is defined by our unknown inconsistencies.
After watching The Social Network, it is inevitable to contemplate Mark Zuckerberg’s life as something out of strict logic. He is an intellectual, arrogant young man, who became a billionaire by sensing a winning move. It either involutes respect or provokes gut-wrenching jealousy.
David Fincher takes a story where, a torturous subject involving computers, lawyers, and success, could have become something impossible to bare, and shaves it into a feasting of conjuring dialogue, and fantastic narrative situations. How did he and Aaron Sorkin (writer) did this? By exploring, deep down, both the qualities and stalking specters of an iconic man, we all admire and despise in equal fractions.
Who is Mark Zuckerberg? He is the computer-programming prodigy who devised the most appealing social network of all times. He was a Harvard student whose intellect made the entire school´s system crash down in a matter of hours. He is the genius that seduced millions, into using a web server that frolics with their inner psychological human needs, without them being aware of it: attention, recognition, interaction, contact. Wait, contact?
What is beautifully ironic about Facebook is the new kind of profound human contact it provides, without having to actually establish any kind of awkward, real life, face to face human relationship, exactly the same way, as Zuckerberg’s approach and demeanor through life.
Zuckerberg knew nothing about relationships; he was scared shitless about human nature when he created a platform about entomological emotions and necessities, and look at the billion-dollar enterprise it has become.
David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin made a visually clever movie about the contradictions of Facebook, the contradictions of the man who invented Facebook, the contradictions of the overall human race that has signed in on Facebook.
So, who is Mark Zuckerberg? He is the asshole that after a nasty break up takes revenge on every single Harvard girl by making her a subject of illegal web sexism.
He is the guy who betrayed his best and only friend, because he was still holding a grudge against him due to a stupid college club admission. He is the romantic looser, that after all the clouds and rain from the two lawsuits he is facing, he just wants to stare at his laptop, pressing refresh over and over again to his Facebook profile, in the hope that his ex-girlfriend will finally accept his friend request.
12. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
What it can teach you: Contradictions are a respond to the character’s dueling desires.
The thing we love above all is also the thing we hate the most. This is the premise for Milos Forman´s 1984, Academy Award winner, Amadeus. Love and hate, probably one of the easiest self-contradictions to recognize within the human condition. As well as one of the hardest narrative struggles to successfully purvey into a cinematic character. Amadeus accomplishes it in splendid fashion.
The film introduces Salieri, a stoic, petulant composer, whose voice seems to be putting his face to sleep every time words come out of it. He is constantly wrestling with his own musical passions and senses. He knows he is not good enough but he is too proud to admit it.
Salieri´s true shabbiness really comes out to the light, when he meets a musical prodigy. A virtuoso that comes in the form of a high-pitched, giggling, annoying little man called, Mozart.
Mozart, in contrast to Salierís seriousness, believes that life is all about finding warmth through a pair of nice tits, and, having your mouth watered with the freshness of a good wine.
Mozart has the talent that Salieri lacks. Ironically, he does not possess the fame Salieri does. And that’s what makes Salieri’s guts, convolute in stronger revolts. Mozart does not care about being praised, about being rich, not even about being known, because after all, true geniuses rarely take their own work seriously. For them, it is child’s play.
Salieri devices ploys and strategies to sabotage Mozart’s shots for fame, and he succeeds. But he is also cursed with a crushing addiction: The addiction for beautiful music. An addiction only Mozart is able to appease.
In the final act of the movie, while Mozart lies in bed boiling with tuberculosis, Salieri, dressed in a black costume to represent an angel of death, hopelessly grovels out of his enemy’s suffering, dry mouth, the last euphemisms of a masterpiece.
Salieri hates Mozart and wants him dead. But he loves his music so much, that as he transcribes the final whispered notes Mozart provides in his quivering last moments, Salieri’s face turns into turmoil. What will he do after Mozart is dead? Where will he find such precious melodies to calm his anguish? How can there be so much hate in his heart, for something he loves so deeply? That is character complexity at its best. That is beautiful music in itself.
Author Bio: Miguel Guerrero Becerra is a Mexican filmmaker who specializes in developing webseries. He is also a film instructor at two universities in Mexico. His favorite class to teach is writing and directing for television.