Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's called a Byronic Hero

My apologies in advance.  I generally don't like to blog and gush about Benedict Cumberbatch, but in this case I must do so to make a point.  You see, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness and watched the entire Sherlock series, and became instantly hooked. Here you've got an actor who is handsome, if unconventionally so, but whose strength is his ability to really sink into a role.  When he plays the villain in STID, his voice is just low enough to rattle your entire chest cavity. It's like a sound check for subwoofers.  But he isn't a pure evil, but one of a villain who has taken matters into his own hands out of necessity to try to recover and protect his crew.

And when embodying Sherlock Holmes, he is every bit the completely socially-awkward genius.  The Dr. Sheldon Cooper of consulting detectives.  Yet unlike Sheldon Cooper, he is also alluring, enticing the audience one scene at a time with a subtle charm.  While calling himself a "high-functioning sociopath" you find it incredibly hard to believe that his personality is that extreme considering the subtlety of care that Sherlock exhibits to those who he keeps closest.

So, what annoys me about Scott Christian's brief blurb introducing the trailer for The Fifth Estate is this notion of Hero-Villain.  Frankly, there is no such thing.  It just happens to be that as his star is on the rise, audiences have started to transition from "Oh, it's that guy" to actually having a name for this fellow: Benedict Cumberbatch.

What we can surmise is that he's comfortable as both villain and hero, but not as flat, two-dimensional characters. And I believe we would find him far less interesting.  As an actor he is adept at playing complexity and it suits him.

In fact, I believe the part he plays best the Byronic Hero.  Namely, right now his best role has been Sherlock hands down.  I believe that Benedict Cumberbatch has become the poster boy for the modern Byronic Hero. defines it well:

Byronic Heroes are charismatic characters with strong passions and ideals, but who are nonetheless deeply flawed individuals who may act in ways which are socially reprehensible, and whose internal conflicts are heavily romanticized. Some of their attitudes and actions may be considered immoral, and their bad actions may be as numerous as those which are heroic, but never are they evil just [just for evil's sake]; some are portrayed with a suggestion of dark crimes in their past, but never enough concrete details to establish that they actually kicked the dog

I believe that Benedict Cumberbatch happens to be a phenomenal actor who plays a Byronic Hero well, and audiences lap it up.  And, if the trailer is any indication, he is going to be flat-out phenomenal as the extremely controversial Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate. 

So instead of calling a character archetype a Hero-Villain, let's be much more specific.  Hero and villain can't be just hyphenated and made in to its own archetype.  It comes across as just plain lazy.

It's not like we are unfamiliar with Byronic Heroes.  There is an air of them in many of the major film franchises like the Batman reboots from Christopher Nolan.  Even consider the fantastic qualities of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise.  Dark and brooding, possible villain, or not, or as he turns out to be the ultimate Byronic Hero.  Obviously, the Byronic Hero is here to stay, and it would be really lovely if we could learn the tropes if we are going to discuss them in popular media.

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