Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Protector

Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Protector

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

Analysis of specific character archetypes in film, citing examples. In this case; we examine The Protector.




“The  nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves.” Kambei Shimada, Seven Samurai


“I’m here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way.” Superman, Superman.


The Protector takes upon themselves the defending of a cause, a thing, a person or a group of people at all costs. The Protector is usually an expert in their field and is often times defined by the thing they are protecting. Because of the lengths they will go to defend what they protect, they must acknowledge whether or not they would die to protect it; thus giving The Protector a fatalistic appearance at times, ergo making it somewhat difficult for other characters in the story to identify with them, even if The Protector’s enthusiasm and ideals are shared or admired.


Protectors in Film:


Protectors in film are usually characters who demonstrate strength and resiliency, and who decide to defend something weak, delicate or vulnerable. The catharsis of the story sometimes comes from whether or not the thing The Protector is defending is worth preserving. For instance, in Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) finds himself entangled in protecting a federal system of justice that can knowingly allow the death of that federal system’s chief executive. Is it worth preserving a system that can kill its freely elected President? Yet sometimes what needs protecting is inarguably worth defending. In The Night of The Hunter (1955), Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) goes to great lengths to protect the children from Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), simply because they are obviously vulnerable and defenseless. But in both cases of JFK and The Night of The Hunter, the thing The Protector actively defends symbolizes The Protector’s own values.


Examples of Protectors in Film:


Superman/Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) Superman (1978): Despite coming from a destroyed planet that was the home world of an advanced (though now extinct) civilization, Superman is sent to Earth and defends mankind with his superhuman strength, despite man’s inability to evolve a society wholly altruistic. Superman commits himself to defending the virtues of humanity by fighting against the vices that constantly seek to undermine man’s more noble pursuits. The bitter irony is that mankind itself often becomes Superman’s greatest enemy in his dedication to protect mankind.


Eli (Denzel Washington) The Book of Eli (2010): In a post-apocalyptic landscape where paper is as scarce as violence is rampant, Eli walks ever westward, strengthening himself with a rare and powerful book that only he possesses. When it’s discovered that the book he carries allegedly makes world dominance possible, Carnegie (Gary Oldman) seeks to take it. No easy task; Eli is an expert at protecting himself and the book he carries, though once Eli is forced to give it up, it’s useless to Carnegie anyhow. It’s a book that only Eli can read; a book that only someone like Eli can value.


Kanbei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) Seven Samurai (1954): Kanbei is an aging samurai warrior, and the first to admit that he has never truly won a battle in defending a cause. Yet, his humble and noble nature make him an easy choice for a group of farmers searching for samurai to defend their village from an upcoming bandit raid on their village. Kanbei commands authority and respect, quickly gathering a team of six honest samurai to defend the impoverished village. Even when it’s revealed that the farmers are far from saints and in fact might not be worth rescuing in the first place, Kanbei remains true and protects them anyway, if for no other reason than because they cannot protect themselves.

© 2011 Keaton S. Ziem

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Added on October 2, 2011
Last Updated on October 2, 2011
Tags: film, filmmaking, scripts, screenwriting, screenplays, the protector, character, archetypes, heroes, villains, cinema, movies, analysis, examples, protectors in film


Keaton S. Ziem
Keaton S. Ziem

Los Angeles, CA

I was raised in a cabin in one of the largest Ponderosa Pine forests in the continental United States. I had nothing to do with the amount of trees that grew there. I am an only child with two brot.. more..