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Cruella and the (not too) subtle charm of the anti-hero

Not just heroes and heroines: now the pop landscape is all about multifaceted figures, shrouded in shadow. But why do we prefer to cheer on the bad guys?

By Francesca Parravicini

In the new Disney live action Cruella, in theathers right now (they just reopened, a wonderful thing) the origins of the famous super-villain are told in a sort of new canon. A film that would have been unthinkable to make a few years ago, part of a recent trend, of an exaltation of ambiguos figures, scary and fascinating.

It’s undeniable: we like the bad characters more and more. But how come?

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Cruella (@disneycruella)

Now a little sociological parenthesis, just for fun. If we look at the general mood of the more popolar films of the early 2000s, we could define it as optimistic: the beginning of the millennium, new technologies, a sense of trust. Comedies, for example, are infused with a sense of possibility and cheerfulness that today almost makes us smile ironically, the heroines are the good girls next door who may live difficult events, but in the end they always have an happy ending.

There are the good characters and the bad ones, the rivals, almost always superficially bad, but in the end things always work out for the good ones. Fast forward to the 10s of the 2000s, the economic crisis, uncertainties, optimism collapses. A sense of fear for the future, with other problems, such as climate change and the pandemics.

It seems exaggerated, but everything is connected, the scenario changes, the values change. What is pink seems too unrealistic and in a confused and incomprehensible scenario the values are called into question. In a complicated, fluid world, we are led to dig and analyze precisely what is complicated, what is dark, but which is part of us, that side that is full of shadows, but which perhaps helps us to live.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Margot Robbie (@margotrobbie)

It is also a question of growth: when we are little we are educated to a clear distinction between what is good and bad, what is right and what is wrong: naturally we are inclined to side with those who are under the sun.

But growing up it is inevitable to "get our hands dirty" and come to terms with the fact that often the distinction does not live on black and white shades, but on shades of gray. Life is a mess. And we often choose the wrong paths, but not because we are super-villains but because we are human beings trying to live.

And in recent years we have witnessed the triumph of films that put shadowy figures at the center, such as the Joker played by Joaquin Phoenix, the Suicide Squad with Harley Quinn and the same dark mood seems to envelop the new Batman who will be played by Robert Pattinson and the new Disney+ series on Loki, with Tom Hiddleston.

It’s symptomatic that superheroes, positive figures par excellence, are overturned and immersed in darkness. In dark and complex scenarios, even the good characters become dark and complex. They are not just bad, evil is investigated, often at the base there are reasons, events, traumas that help to rationalize, in which maybe we can reflect ourselves and that make everything more multifaceted and relatable.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Joker Movie (@jokermovie)

And then it must be said: villains are often much more intriguing and fascinating than the good ones. Because they have style. It’s practically impossible not to be fascinated by the Cruella played by Emma Stone.

The figure of this villain is reworked and we find a sort of punkish Oliver Twist, a young woman who dreams of being a stylist and has an unbridled ambition, brilliant but also messy, over the top but also human, poised between her sunnier side, which binds her to her loved ones and the darker one, with a desire to prevail over everything. We can condemn her criminous life, but at the same time be fascinated by the extreme and stylish way she moves in the world and feel empathy for her more fragile side. And there is absolutely nothing bad about that.