Psychopaths as Protagonists

With this article, I want to explore the role of the psychopath protagonist in Film, TV and Literature, attacking it from a screenwriter’s perspective. Most of the content I’ve watched, the protagonist has always been someone with a moral compass, giving the audience someone to root for. However, what do you do when your protagonist has no moral compass? How do you find a way for your audience to root for them? I refer you to Frank Underwood of House Of Cards or Travis Bickle as examples of the Psychopath Protagonist.

  • I think establishing sympathy between psychopathic protagonists and audiences helps. Sympathy doesn't necessarily mean likability, but understanding between people that can result in pity. It helps if there's something relatable about the protagonist. I've not watched House of Cards but I do know of Nightcrawler, in which the protagonist (albeit more sociopathic) can be relatable due to his struggles to land a job. When he finally finds one, his determination to succeed can invoke sympathy, even as he embraces a morally gray industry... Though in saying that, it might help (from a screenwriter's perspective) to frame psychopathic protagonists, or any immoral character, within the context of the society they live in. – Starfire 6 years ago
  • There is a difference between Travis Bickle and Frank Underwood. The idea of a psychopathic protagonist can be a little diverse. There is a difference between the anti-hero and the villain protagonist, not to mention the other subcategories. For example, Travis Bickle isn't intentionally an evil character, he is more of an anti-hero struggling with a form of PTSD whereas Frank Underwood actually fits into the psychopath mold as he strives for power. How do stories with unlikeable protagonists garner our attention? It varies from story to story, so I think this needs to be a little more specific. Would this cover literature as well? You specify screenwriters in the topic so I think you have to distinguish between them. Even the writing for television and film differ. It would be interesting to compare/contrast the differences between television villain protagonists and film villain protagonists. – Connor 6 years ago
  • I believe that the audience can feel any amount of empathy for really any character in television. As far as psychopaths go, it's possible to be able to empathize for them, but the majority of psychopaths I've encountered in media have been inherently evil, but I've still found a way to root for them in some instances. The character that sticks out to me the most would be Ramsay Bolton from HBO's "Game of Thrones". Although he's a sadistic, twisted, cruel, and monotonous heir to the throne in the North, I empathize with Ramsay due to the relationships he has with his father and his step mother. Ramsay is bastardized his entire life which ultimately leads to his aching desire to fulfill his father's prophecy of becoming the King of the North and Westeros as a whole. All Ramsay wants is to satisfy his father's demands, and when he realizes this won't be possible once his new baby brother is born, he decides to take action and murders his father and his new born brother with a ruthless and literal stab in the back. If this moment hadn't occurred, I think it would've been possible to appreciate Ramsay as a psychotic protagonist, but considering the rest of his torture frenzies and the murders of his family members, the defending arguments supporting Ramsay crumble under their own weight. – ralphpolojames 6 years ago

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