Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Derelict

Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Derelict

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

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




“’All you need is love and to believe in yourself.’ Nice idea. It doesn’t exactly work out that way. But I guess it was better to hear a flat out lie than to know the truth at 13.” "Aileen Wuornos, Monster


“I have a drinking problem? F**k you, Peck, you’re a Mormon. Compared to you we ALL have a drinking problem!” "Osborne Cox, Burn After Reading


The Derelict is someone who is abandoned, forsaken or stranded"figuratively or metaphorically. They are usually lost or wayward, though sometimes The Derelict can knowingly keep themselves from being found or rescued. Since The Derelict is a lost individual, they are sometimes particularly vulnerable to addictions of any and all types. Sometimes there’s a specific focus on decay.


Derelicts in Film:


Derelicts in film range across a wide spectrum of personalities; though some of them are heroes, as is the case of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Synecdoche, New York (2008), many have villainous traits that lead to the character’s central weaknesses. Sometimes a Derelict villain is not only an individual but the collective whole of many, as in the case with the villagers in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) or the entire Maya civilization in Apocalypto (2006), both demonstrating groups of people falling apart from within, allowing either their perversities or their thirst for greed and power to overwhelm their better judgments. This demonstrates how Derelicts can become lost or abandoned.


Examples of Derelicts in Film:


Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) Burn After Reading (2008): Osborne Cox is fired from the CIA for his explosive, confrontational behavior which might be rooted in his alcoholism. Now that his termination from the CIA has afforded him ample free time, he begins writing a memoir, thus beginning a process of Osborne mining into his own consciousness and not liking what he finds, though too deeply buried in denial to confront it. Meanwhile, Osborne’s wife makes plans to divorce him, even as Osborne’s world is crashing down on top of him. This begets a vicious cycle for Osborne who fuels his depression with more alcohol, and seeks to destroy the haphazardly random personalities who have mistakenly conspired against him.


Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) The King of Comedy (1983): Rupert Pupkin is a man obsessed with becoming the next great late night comedy king and seeks advice from his idol, Jerry Langford  (Jerry Lewis) on how to make it happen. However, it doesn’t take Jerry long to realize that Rupert is a megalomaniac, and attempts to distance himself from the crazed fan. Rupert is not so easily cast aside, however, as he goes to great lengths to kidnap Jerry and hold him hostage until he is promised a stand -up comedy spot on the show; thus not only demonstrating how alone Rupert is in his own fantasies, but also the lengths which he will go to achieve his goals.


Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) Monster (2003): Aileen, a woman raised by abuse and drug use, works as a highway prostitute servicing the truck drivers along the interstate. However, when Aileen meets Selby (Christina Ricci), her world suddenly changes. In order to provide for and keep Selby, Aileen begins to murder the men who pick her up for sexual favors and thieves their dead bodies, until finally it’s all more than Aileen can keep up with. The already tumultuous world Aileen tries to build with Selby collapses and Aileen hits rock bottom; a drifter in life, Aileen can no longer continue to drift when the police finally manage to find her.

© 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 derelict, character, archetypes, heroes, villains, cinema, movies, analysis, examples, derelicts 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..