I won’t spoil anything, but there’s been a lot of controversy ever since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came out last month about one scene in particular near the end of the film. (Well, there’s been controversy about much more than that, but I’m focusing on this one scene.) Again, without giving it away, it has to do with Kylo Ren’s character. It was this controversy that got me thinking about how sometimes it is hard to justify why we find ourselves sympathizing with or otherwise liking really, really evil movie characters.

Is it precisely because they’re just that — fictional characters — that we can be like “it’s fine” in our minds? Is that why we can sometimes compartmentalize the fact that even if a character has perhaps, say, killed thousands of innocent people, we still root for them to change their ways or find love? Is it some basic human need to believe there is hope for everyone that we’re projecting onto the characters we see on the screen?

I’m not going to figure out the answer to those questions right now, but this whole topic did make me think of three characters from recent films who are not good people, but for whatever reason I still found myself secretly (or not so secretly) not-hating.

Arthur Fleck in Joker – Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, who’s been racking up awards left and right for his performance) has led a tragic life. In Joker, we come to realize that what at first seems to be a quiet, mentally ill wannabe comedian is actually a desperately lonely and disturbed man who’s throwing out warning signs and red flags to anyone who will pay attention, due to his dark past that influenced the rest of his life. Does the film glorify the murderous psychopath he turns into when he finally cracks? I personally didn’t think so. I viewed the movie as more of a reflection on our society and our collective ability to forget about and yank critical support from those who are struggling … and then wonder why those same people might go on to break the law or perpetuate violence. Deep thoughts for a film based on a comic book character, yes, but I think Joker raises important questions about what is truly villainous.

Maleficent in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – No one can play wicked like Angelina Jolie. In the 2014 blockbuster Maleficent, we learned that the “Sleeping Beauty” tale we all grew up with might not have been the entire story, and we get context for the horrors that Maleficent endured that turned her into what she is. In the sequel, she’s actually not the biggest baddie in the mix, and in fact seems to be on the side of Aurora (Elle Fanning). But can you really trust the same woman who cursed a freakin’ BABY to fall into a permanent sleep when she hit sweet 16?

Ramona Vega in Hustlers – Jennifer Lopez may not have earned an Oscar nomination for her celebrated role as a stripper who runs a gang of women that drug rich men and steal their money, but there’s no denying that her character will live on in infamy. Look, I won’t lie, I was cheering Ramona and her girls on during this movie. Even though they were breaking the law. Even though they were gravely endangering people’s lives. Because the people they were robbing were, well, a**holes. I know that doesn’t make it right, but again, I find it fascinating that little ol’ me — a Type A rule follower and married mom of two young kids — was totally hooting and hollering at the strippers to GET DAT MONEY.

What other movie villains have you found yourself rooting for?

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