The Villain Doesn’t Change, Part Two

It’s unfortunate that the term “McGuffin”—meaning that thing that the Villain wants—sounds so dopey.

Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in Ron Shelton’s “Bull Durham”

Unfortunate because there’s a lot of meat to this idea.

I suspect Alfred Hitchcock, the person we associate most with the term McGuffin, wanted the name to sound silly. In his mind it didn’t matter what the McGuffin was—the nuclear codes, the letters of transit, the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. All that mattered for him was that the villain wanted it.

But the idea that the villain wants something—that he or she has an object of desire—is a topic worth examining in greater detail.

We’ve said in previous posts that

The villain never changes.

And further that

If the villain were capable of change, he’d be the hero.

Another way of putting this is that

The McGuffin never changes.

The villain wants the same thing at the end of the story as he or she did at the start.

King Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus.

Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) in Blade Runner 2049 wanted to kill the baby replicant.

Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) in Jurassic World wanted to weaponize the baby velociraptors.

We’ll never know of course, but it’s a pretty good bet that King Herod was not capable of waking up in the middle of the night and declaring, “Gee, this is a bad idea, killing all the innocents in Judea. Let me summon my generals and rescind that order.”

The villain never changes because what he/she wants never changes.

On the other hand, let’s consider the hero.

The hero does change

And

The hero is capable of wanting something different at the end of the story than he or she did at the start.

In fact you could make a strong case that the hero MUST change her or his want … that, in fact, that’s what makes her or him a hero.

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs goes from wanting to be a good little FBI agent to wanting to come into her own as an independent individual.

Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) in Far from Heaven goes from wanting to be a good wife and proper suburbanite to wanting to find out who she really is and what her real best life ought to be.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in Bull Durham goes from wanting to keep playing ball as long as he can (and being a cool single dude) to wanting to make it to the majors as a manager (and bring Annie Savoy [Susan Sarandon] along.)

In other words, it isn’t just that

The villain does not change

while

The hero does change.

It’s that what the Villain wants doesn’t change, while what the hero wants does.