Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Leader

Hero & Villain Archetypes in Film: The Leader

A Chapter by Keaton S. Ziem

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




“Well Pete, I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought. But if that ain’t the consensus view, then hell, let’s put it to a vote.” "Ulysses Everett McGill, O Brother, Where Art Thou?


“I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.” "Dalai Lama, Kundun


The Leader is an individual who other characters in a film look to for answers and guidance in overcoming the obstacle. They are traditionally resourceful, confident and wise; though not always and never enough. As the conflicts of the film test The Leader’s ability to lead effectively, he or she eventually overcomes their reluctance to lead or their personal flaws that prevent them from leading.


Leaders in Film:


Leaders are charged with the task of guiding themselves and their followers through an obstacle that is in direct conflict with their goal; the obstacle mirroring The Leader’s flaw. The more people rely on The Leader and the more the obstacle exploits The Leader’s doubts, the greater the tension. The major conflict is whether or not The Leader is capable of getting themselves and their followers out of the story’s plight. In Dr. Strangelove, conflict becomes comedy because of how inept the leader, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) is; and our hope for a peaceful resolution to a nuclear holocaust fades with every word he speaks. When we’re introduced to Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in Fight Club, we’re convinced he’s capable of anything, which is as enlightening as it is frightening, until we learn that he and “Jack” (Edward Norton) are literally the same person. That’s the moment the tension begins; when we begin to ask if Tyler Durden is capable of leading his followers to where he wants to take them.


Examples of Leaders in Film:


Theo Faron (Clive Owen) Children of Men (2006): After Theo is recruited by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to help escort a very rare, very pregnant young woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to a mysterious, perhaps fictional neo-political group known only as “The Human Project”, he suddenly finds himself the only person looking after Kee, and her baby’s, best interests. Because of this, he takes the reigns of the journey to guide Kee upon every stage of her journey. He is the reluctant though resourceful leader.


Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): Everett needs to make it back home to his wife in order to prevent her from marrying another man; except he’s in prison and shackled to the legs of Pete (John Tuturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). His only chance is to convince them of a lost, buried treasure but lead them instead back to his home town on a quest to win his wife back again. Everett is an example of an overconfident leader who learns (albeit slowly) from his mistakes and shortcomings.


Dalai Lama (Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong) Kundun (1997): Throughout Kundun The Dalai Lama asks those around him if he is in fact the true reincarnation of The Buddha. Without any hesitation his servants assure him of their belief in him, but The Dalai Lama is always doubtful. Kundun had been groomed to be the political and spiritual leader of Tibet since childhood, instructed in issues relating to the nation and religion. The entire country of Tibet then looks to The Dalai Lama when China seeks to invade and claim Tibet as its own, disregarding their claim that they Tibet is an independent nation. Kundun’s doubts about himself as The Dalai Lama are also another way of expressing doubts of his leadership.

© 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 leader, character, archetypes, heroes, villains, cinema, movies, analysis, examples, leaders 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..