From John Milton to Ralph Fiennes: Why Are The Crazy Ones Attractive?


We become mesmerized and seduced. How far do you go before you stop? Once corrupted, can you go back to a state of purity?  Nothing is more sweet than the taste of innocence.  Just ask Humbert Humbert, from that famous book by Nabokov. Temptation is a universal, evocative power. The sly villain preys on your sympathy and they are able to charm you through lies and manipulation. All the while, you marvel at their wits. The more human the villain, the more interesting the story.

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John Milton, 1667, Paradise Lost. In the epic poem, Satan is majestic, intelligent, fearless, and seductive. What is it about smarts and power?  The fool is the one who believes it will set you free. The irony, of course, is the villain is enslaved to the very thing it tries to dominate. Happens all the time literature and film. It’s the Byronic hero sucking the soul out of a woman or the seductive, female emasculator. It’s the predator toying with its food, the powerful exploiting the weak, and the control-freak who needs to dominate at any cost.


Which one of these smart, misunderstood characters do you secretly admire?

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But would you want them to baby-sit your kids?

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Some actors have made a career playing evil so well, I wonder if they can turn it off when the shoot is over?

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The modern-day actor who plays evil better than anyone is Ralph Fiennes.


“Don’t hate me because I represent everything wrong with humanity and all that is inhuman, too!”

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Shindler’s List, Harry Potter, Red Dragon, The Dutchess.


Clash of the Titans, Coriolanus.

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Ralph is in my favorite dark comedy, In Bruges.


When Ralph Fiennes isn’t playing pure evil, he’s hurt and confused:  The Reader, The Constant Gardner, and The English Patient.

In order for there to be a hero, there must be a worthy adversary. Who have I left out?

Edward Norton in American History X? 


Or perhaps Kevin Spacey in Seven?



Johnny Depp portrays confused soul well….

20 thoughts on “From John Milton to Ralph Fiennes: Why Are The Crazy Ones Attractive?

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  1. Yes and yes for Ralph Fiennes and Edward Norton. I have always thought that Ralph Fiennes plays evil better than anyone else. Norton is pretty scary too — both handsome in that evil way. “Schindler’s List” was what it was because Fiennes did what he did just as brilliantly as Neeson and Kingsley played shameless opportunist-turned-good-man and quiet helper respectively .
    Edward Norton is plain frightening in “American History X” (even though he changes later) and also in other movies where he’s played the villain.


  2. Thanks for celebrating the villains!
    I pretty much admire any villain that Lon Chaney played, especially Blizzard, his legless criminal mastermind in The Penalty.

    By the way, I have nominated you for the Super Sweet Blogging Award.


  3. Hi, Cindy:

    The “Bad Boy” allure is strong with Fiennes, Bardem and Nicholson. Though I think Gary Oldman has more charisma and is sometimes willing to go over the top. While Kevin Spacey, Steve Martin and Joe Mantegna have proven to be very smooth con men.

    I also think Brian Cox’s brief time as Hannibal Lector in Michael Mann’s ‘Manhunter’ radiates seductive evil far better than Anthony Hopkins’ later take on the character.

    Another great portrayal of motivated evil is John Lithgow’s political clean up man and fixer, Burke. In Brian DePalma’s ‘Blow Out’ from 1982.


    1. Hi Jack,
      When it comes to Gary Oldman, I first think of his outrageous villian in ‘Fifth Element’. He was funny more than scary. But he redeemed himself as the perfect Dracula (1992). John Lithgow! Yes, I thought he was awesome in Cliffhanger and I haven’t seen him in Dexter as the Trinity Killer, but I bet he’s supurb. I wrote a blog about my favorite Scottish actors, and Brian Cox was one of them. You’re spot on about Manhunter.
      Thanks for your comments!


  4. Great post, some really interersting characters there. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman brings a real unsettling edge to the roles where he is a little less than wholesome!


  5. Excellent post, and I wholeheartedly agree. Hannibal Lecter was always a firm favourite of mine – utterly charming gentleman 😉

    With books, I’d also like to mention Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello – pure evil but a real charmer!


    1. BTW, popped over to your new site and think it’s a great place to learn about world cinema. Can’t say I’m a splatter fan, but you’re eclectic, so will find other topics to read about. Awesome writer, you are.


  6. Nice one Cindy! Well they’re attractive ON SCREEN, and you’ve pointed out some great ones here. The Joker is a perfect example, he’s just so darn amusing (well naturally!) though I don’t exactly have the same feelings about Goeth, perhaps because he’s based on a real person, I dunno. I’d have to put a punt in for Rickman’s Hans Gruber and Sheriff of Nottingham, darn charming villains!!


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