Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Abuser

Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Abuser

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

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




“Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in. Not by the hair of your chiny-chin-chin? Well then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.” �"Jack Torrance, The Shining


“This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that. That’s cruel!”

 �"Amon Goeth, Schindler’s List


The Abuser inflicts physical or emotional suffering upon others or upon him or herself for brief, personal satisfaction. The fact that The Abuser needs to hurt themselves or others in order to feel satisfied is the integral root of The Abuser’s inner conflict; the abuse they inflict reveals something about themselves, and it usually stems from feelings of inadequacy in comparison to others. This makes The Abuser’s the opposite of the hero; both combining to show us ‘two sides of the same coin’.


Abusers in Film:


There are many ways in which a character can inflict abuse upon others or themselves within a film. There’s substance abuse (Harry Goldfarb, Requiem for a Dream) which can stem from either guilt or a personal recognition of inadequacy, physical abuse (Dwight Hansen, This Boy’s Life) which involves a character imposing their will upon others, emotional abuse (Ben Sanderson, Leaving Las Vegas) where one character might try to cause pain to others by abusing themselves, or psychological abuse (Iago, Othello) which can be used to manipulate the victim’s mind either overtly or covertly. Each variance on abuse dictates the behavior of The Abuser. However, each Abuser reveals their flaws and demons in their weapons of abuse; the more viciously they abuse, the more their own character flaws haunt them.


Examples of Abusers in Film:


Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) Unforgiven (1992): Little Bill is the Sheriff of the town of Big Whisky, who has one big rule: no guns within city limits. This is a rule set up to protect the citizens from one another as much as it is to allow Little Bill an excuse to use his fists and feet to do the lawmaking. Little Bill will savagely and publicly beat anyone for vague or entirely selfish reasons. His hypocrisy is accented further when he’s followed and interviewed by a writer of pulp western novels, allowing Little Bill an ear to listen to his own inflated stories about his work in taming the wild west.


Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) The Shining (1980): Jack is a failed writer and school teacher who has been a violent victim of drink. When given the opportunity to look after the Overlook hotel during the winter snowstorm months, he takes it as an opportunity for himself to write a novel. He brings with him his family; wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd), only to be plagued by ghosts and/or cabin fever to the point of madness. Jack lashes out against his family at every opportunity until he convinces himself (or is convinced) that murdering his family is the only solution.


Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) Schindler’s List (1993): Amon, a German military officer, oversees the Jewish workers in Krakow, Poland with sociopathic relish. Amon demonstrates most all forms of abuse; being fond of drink, physical violence as well as emotional and psychological manipulation of his Jewish maid and servant Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz). He torments the workers with insane bursts of murdering temper tantrums while he isn’t busy beating and traumatizing Helen. Yet, all of these instances reveal how Amon views himself; his desire to mistreat the Jews coming from his own inflated self-image.

© 2011 Keaton S. Ziem

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Added on October 2, 2011
Last Updated on October 2, 2011


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..