This is a question that caused a lot of debate at a recent screenwriting group session. Do they have to be good? What things can a hero absolutely not do (if anything?). Everyone had views on it and I discovered something about myself – I have a more idealistic idea of what makes a hero than I would have thought.
For me, a hero has to be basically good. He/she can be grumpy, lazy (at least to start with), annoying, stupid or naive. They can have any number of personal faults. Marty McFly, for example, was unable to walk away from a fight (this a very, very common hero problem). Indiana Jones is incredibly cynical and has a hazy relationship with the law (is he more tomb raider than archaeologist?). Ripley in the Alien films has a real attitude problem, although I guess she has her reasons...
But I believe there are things a hero just can’t do. Sleep with his best friend’s girl. Sorry, that’s just my opinion! Kill someone innocent. Abandon his/her aged aunt in a horrible care home. Shamelessly embezzle money. Pin blame for stuff on other people. Stamp on puppies – you get the picture.
Now, I realise that there are plenty of movie protagonists who do these things and more. In a film like Point Blank, Lee Marvin’s character is the best out of a very bad bunch of characters. Jake Gittes in Chinatown isn’t exactly an angel, neither is John Travolta in Pulp Fiction or Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. But they aren’t heroes. They’re protagonists or in some cases, anti-heroes.
Yep, heroes have to be good – or at least they have to end up that way. That’s my ten cents, anyway.
Talking of a film with a rather unheroic hero, I’ve done a post on the first film to show during the upcoming IFFI 2010, the legendary Devdas. Check it out.