5. Huijin: Isle
Kim-Ki-Duk’s prolific oeuvre and distinct style makes him the most sought after Korean filmmaker outside Korea. Though in Korea, most of his films have garnered a reaction that bordered on outright banning. Isle was also one of them.
The film was attacked by feminists owing to its overt portrayal of prostitution and violence. Suh Jung, the lead actress who played the central character of Huijin, says that right from the time she read the script, she could identify with the character and felt that the role was written for her and that she had to do it.
A taciturn and prone-to-angst mute fisherwoman, she lives alone beside a beautiful lake, and makes a living by renting out boathouses to the fishing community and to the people who come to hide from the law. Prostitution is rampant and once in a while, Huijin too sells her body for money. It is then that Hyeonsik, a sullen and withdrawn man with a dark past arrives with the intention of committing suicide. Attracted to him, Huijin saves him twice.
Things get complicated though when a call girl too develops a feeling for the same man. Huijin’s simmering; below-the-surface angst consumes her, forcing retaliation. Owing to the fact that she doesn’t speak verbally, Huijin’s facial expression and body language play a crucial role here, and the actress does full justice to it. This is where the actress’s acting prowess comes to the fore and the story progresses as she takes one tough decision after another.
On one hand it is her viciousness, and on the other, her sympathetic nature that provides an interesting contrast and makes the character interesting. The lack of dialogue added to the macabre mystery and the actor’s complete identification with the character added considerably to the visceral intensity of the film.
4. Jules Winnfield: Pulp Fiction
In 1994, Jackson ed the pivotal role of his career in Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic ‘Pulp Fiction’. The role of Jules Winnfield as a sermon-spewing hit man was what an actor could kill for – and Samuel L. Jackson did exactly that. Truly indeed, he made a killing of it.
Unlike most gangster characters, this role had a third dimension that went beyond the stereotyped. Moviegoers were awestruck with his impassioned performance as Jules Winnfield, the hit men who contemplated the significance of miracles and introspected on the purpose of life – a man who is constantly having an inner battle with his evil self for redemption. His salvation – to spend his remaining days akin to the biblical “shepherd” by retiring to the life of an aimless wanderer.
A theatre artist at the core, Samuel Jackson stood up to this task valiantly and portrayed this complex character with a conviction hitherto unseen on the silver screen. He even designed the character’s hairstyle, as he believed that intricate characterization is what creates the first impression on the audience. His hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed as a slew of awards including the BAFTA Award and an Academy Award Nomination came calling. In 2011, The Guinness Book of World Records announced his name as the highest grossing actor of all time with an estimated worth of 7.2 billion.
3. Travis Bickle: Taxi Driver
Loneliness is a disease that often happens when one is unable to relate to people, when his quirks of character segregate him from the crowd. Travis Bickle, the character played by Robert De Niro is one such specimen who fails to mix with anyone around him. He gets a job as a Taxi Driver saying that since he suffers from insomnia, he might as well use his time to make a living. He loathes the world around him and his outlook is one of utter disdain.
When he finds a woman whom he thinks of as an angel in this big bad world, he tries to connect with her. He takes her out and on their first date, we see him act like any normal guy would. When he asks her out for a second date and she agrees, he promptly takes her to a porn movie. He thinks it perfectly normal to take a descent woman, on a first date, to watch a porn film in a seedy theatre. This underlines the character’s disoriented mindset and his total disconnect with the world. It shows where he is coming from – and ironically, where he is destined to go.
Often cited as one of the greatest films ever made, Taxi Driver is an in-depth character study of the antihero Travis Bickle, ed brilliantly by Robert De Niro. Though he missed out on winning the Academy Award, he was nominated for the ‘Best Actor’ category in 1977.
Almost half a century later, the film is just as fresh and riveting. Most of us can identify with him as we too have at some point of our lives felt like Travis did. Fortunately, we are able to deal with the world around us better than Travis Bickle.
2. Anton Chigurh: No Country for Old Men
Anton Chigurh is one of the most chilling, cold blooded killer ever enacted after the first Hannibal Lecter film by Anthony Hopkins. The well-thought-out dimensions of this character, in the sense that it literally walks a tightrope between total chaos and total order, is what defines a depth that is oh-so-rare. And the tension between these diametrically opposite worlds is what makes the character so menacing.
While the small, everyday things that Anton Chigurh struggles to cope with like opening an envelope or answering the phone, immediately takes it eons away from normal humans on one level, its complete absence of emotion and total ease as a killing machine, takes it farther away at another level.
When asked about how he made the character of Anton Chigurh come across as someone so cold and devoid of emotion, Javier Badlem said that the random nature of violence and its on-the-spur-of-the-moment reactive consequence is what he had in mind while preparing for the role. In fact, in two scenes we find him asking – once an old gas station clerk and later Carla Jean Moss to “call it” heads or tails, symbolically hinting at the random nature of violence.
The brilliant characterization – its getup, a purpose-driven, methodical body language added to depth of the character and helped define its boundaries. The Coen brother’s eye for detail led to Javier Badlem getting the immaculate haircut that made the character seem very precise, creating tension by being in total contrast to his inner chaos. His portrayal of the character’s depth and complexity was acknowledged when Javier Badlem won the Academy Award for Best performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, in 2008 – a truly deserving honour.
1. Hannibal Lecter: Silence of the Lambs
Hannibal Lecter – a character that was rightly chosen as the number one movie villain by the American Film Institute.
How do you go about portraying a cannibal? How does an actor try to get a grip on the workings of a cannibal’s mind? This and countless other questions must have haunted Hopkins before he could even try getting into the skin of the character. To do psychoanalysis of a cannibal, to dig deep into the recesses of an inhuman mind, to unearth layer by layer the imprints of a traumatic past.
Well, Anthony Hopkins, the actor who brought the mentally impaired psychiatrist-turned-cannibal, Hannibal Lecter to life on the silver screen, must have done all that and much more. The expression in his eyes, his body language, his tone of voice, every little gesture, and every little look suggested total internalization of the character’s thought process.
Right from his first scene in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ where he stands in rapt attention as Clarice walks up to his cell – he perfectly portrays the killer’s respect for women as diametrically opposite to his hatred for men. And after their initial interaction, he psyches Miggs from the cell beside his, to commit suicide by swallowing his tongue. From the first scene right to the last, when he makes a call to Clarice, Hopkins has, with immense conviction bought the madman alive by the manifestation of every little nuance of his deranged mind.
Anthony Hopkins won the much-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Today, when we think of the deadliest movie characters in history, we cannot but acknowledge Hannibal Lecter as the greatest of them all.
Author Bio: Having relinquished his job as creative director, Neil Choudhury is now a full time yogi and screenplay writer. He lives in Pune, India.