Follow TV Tropes

Following

Deconstructed Character Archetype / Film

Go To

  • The Frighteners provides us with FBI Agent Milton Damners, who is the local Agent Mulder and paranormal case specialist... and he's a deconstruction of Mulder because the mental scarring of all the cults he's been sent to investigate and the torture he suffered within them has driven him insane (and it's also implied that the Bureau tossed him at them in a Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder fashion because he annoyed them with his "spooky" crap — which only got worse the crazier he became). He is the one member of law enforcement to fully believe that there is something supernatural going on, but he is completely useless because he believes protagonist Frank Bannister is the killer and keeps trying to piss him off and eventually kill him. Bear in mind that the real Mulder was The Profiler and would have probably tried to play along with Frank's story that a local Serial Killer has come back from the dead to continue his spree if nothing else but trying a Bluffing the Murderer ploy.
  • Advertisement:
  • Full Metal Jacket's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, despite being perhaps the most famous Drill Sergeant Nasty in cinematic history, is actually the trope gone wrong. His non-stop insults and abuses wear down the psyche of Private Pyle, whose signs of mental instability go unnoticed by the sergeant. When Pyle finally snaps and waves around a rifle, Hartman continues to shout at him instead of calling on other officers to detain him. Pyle promptly shoots him before killing himself. Like with Watchmen, this backfired enough that every drill instructor in fiction since has had the same personality, teaching style, and even usually voice as GySgt Hartman.
  • In a Lonely Place deconstructs not only the typical Film Noir protagonists, but also the majority of roles played by Humphrey Bogart, and shows how awful being that kind of person would be: Dixon Steele, a character who in any other film in the genre would likely be a Knight in Shining Armor style hero, is instead portrayed as The Friend Nobody Likes with an Ambiguous Disorder.
  • Advertisement:
  • As part of Unforgiven's Genre Deconstruction of Westerns as a whole, William Munny is a deconstruction of Clint Eastwood's earlier Western character(s), namely those from the Dollars Trilogy. The film examines in detail the viciousness and amorality of the archetypical Western outlaw, and finds the elderly Munny filled with guilt and self-loathing at the monstrous things in his past.
  • Many films have taken issue with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype:
    • He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not: For the first half the protagonist appears to be a typically sweet, hopelessly romantic manic pixie dream girl, only for the film to reveal that she is in fact a violent, insane Yandere whose innocent romantic spirit is symptomatic of her complete and utter detachment from reality.
    • Annie Hall: The title character is a cheerful Bohemian, who turns out to be a spoiled, unfocused, pseudo-intellectual, neurotic child in an adult's body; a horribly broken person. Which gives her something in common with Woody Allen's character, who is likewise horribly broken, just in somewhat different ways.
    • Advertisement:
    • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Joel is instantly drawn to the quirky, free-spirited Clementine, but she warns him that he shouldn't expect her to "save" him and she's "just a fucked-up girl looking for her own peace of mind". Their relationship ends up falling apart when Joel learns the hard way that MPDG-ness often also means high maintenance and Clementine grows bored with Joel's more grounded personality. Joel sums up Clementine and the film's deconstruction of it during his tape recording for Lacuna:
      Joel: I think if there's a truly seductive quality about Clementine, it's that her personality promises to take you out of the mundane. It's like, you secure yourself with this amazing, burning meteorite to carry you to another world, a world where things are exciting. But, what you quickly learn is that it's really an elaborate ruse.
    • The Sterile Cuckoo: Pookie fulfills all of the requirements of a MPDG, including breaking the lead character out of his shell, but towards the end of the film it's revealed that she is much more damaged and vulnerable than anyone has expected. She completely breaks out of the traditional mold at the ending, where she and her boyfriend break up, and she is literally Put on a Bus.
    • Ruby Sparks: The titular character starts out as a completely fictional Wish Fulfillment love interest in Calvin's book. When she becomes real, their relationship doesn't go as ideally as it did in Calvin's book/imagination because she turns out to have her own opinions and life separate from Calvin's and his attempts to control/rewrite her into the Satellite Love Interest he wants are depicted as incredibly creepy and possessive.
    • Fight Club: Marla Singer could perhaps best be described as what happens when the Manic Pixie Dream Girl grows up. Marla is dirty, living in poverty, and clearly suffering some form of mental illness, and gets into a fairly unhealthy relationship with Tyler. Marla actually infuriates the narrator because she simply doesn't care about anything. After The Reveal, Tyler/The Narrator is really a Gender Flipped version of this to Marla.
    • (500) Days of Summer: Summer Finn is seen as an MPDG by the protagonist Tom, who puts her on a pedestal as his ideal girlfriend, but his image of her soon clashes with the fact that she's an actual human being. Specifically, she's not interested in anything serious, and she eventually leaves Tom for another man.
    • Sunset Boulevard: Norma Desmond takes a lot of the symptoms to their logical conclusion, with the twist that the protagonist isn't interested. From the start it's clear that she doesn't have both oars in the water as she's living in a decayed Big Fancy House, deluding herself that she'll make a comeback with a terrible, Glurge-filled screenplay of Salome. She quickly bonds with the narrator, agrees to his commission him (to her disadvantage) and quickly throws his life into chaos, leading him to Character Development. But not in a good way.
    • The Korean version of My Sassy Girl: The titular girl's "quirky traits" tend to have harmful consequences and she definitely has issues and motivations unrelated to Gyeon-Soo and he later finds out she has been using him as a substitute for her dead boyfriend. Instead, he is the one who recognizes she is damaged and gains a strong desire to fix her.
    • I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!: Nancy is a hippie that teaches protagonist Harold Fine to enjoy life and having all types of humorous romantic situations (which culminate with him becoming a Runaway Groom). The deconstruction is that, now that Harold is around Nancy for longer than a few (dope-filled) hours at a time, he is able to clearly see that she is a very shallow person and the hippie lifestyle is nothing more than a stoner hand-to-mouth existence that tries to sound spiritual. In the end he chooses to abandon Nancy and refuses to go back to his old life, finding them both empty.
    • Rantasmo has argued for May being a deconstruction of the archetype, in a manner not unlike (500) Days of Summer, albeit as a horror movie told from the Dream Girl's point of view. Adam and Polly are only attracted to May for her 'quirky' qualities that flatter their egos, but eventually, it stops being charming and May goes from quirky to just plain weird, causing them to leave her once they realize that they don't like some of the layers to her personality that come with her quirkiness... at which point, she goes from weird to outright terrifying. May's oddball nature is likewise a product of her inability to form real and lasting connections with others due to a lifetime of bullying, with the only 'person' she cares about being her doll Susie, itself a literally perfect, idealized image of femininity that she keeps in a glass box — ironically Not So Different from how Adam and Polly fetishize her surface elements and ignore everything else about her.
  • Punch-Drunk Love deconstructs the Psychopathic Manchild. Adam Sandler's character is, like always, antisocial, emotionally immature, and prone to uncontrollable fits of anger. Instead of that being a source of comedy, it leads to awkward, embarrassing situations, and the character leads a lonely, depressing life. Roger Ebert discussed this in his review of the film.
  • The Breakfast Club takes a very good look at what many of the "stock" characters of teen movies (especially those of The ’80s) would be like if they existed in real life, and what their real motivations would be like. Most American teen movies since have used elements of this film's deconstruction wholesale for their own characterization, to the point where, in many cases, what had once been deconstruction is now old hat.
    • Andy, the Jerk Jock, only behaves that way in order to fit in with the rest of the team and to impress his father, who raised him on stories of how he acted like that back when he was in school. He wishes that, one day, he'd get injured so that he wouldn't have to wrestle again, and thus never have to worry about living up to Dad's expectations.
    • Claire, the Alpha Bitch, is a Stepford Smiler who feels that her life is empty, and that her parents only use her as a tool in their endless arguments. And she's hardly the "queen bee"—in fact, it's peer pressure that essentially molded her into the snobbish bitch that she is, and she feels miserably forced into it.
    • Brian, the Nerd, hates how his parents have destroyed his social life by pushing him so hard to succeed, and is so obsessed with his grades that he tried to kill himself (or worse) after getting an F in shop class. His attitude is also little better than that of the "popular" kids that he hates, as shown when he talks about how he took shop class because he thought it was an easy A that only "losers" like Bender took (as opposed to his advanced math classes).
    • Bender, the juvenile delinquent, is like that not because he's a bad person per se, but as a result of his tough, working-class upbringing and his abusive father, both of which have taught him that violence is an acceptable solution to problems. His badass image is also easily disarmed by Andy, even though he's armed with a knife.
    • Allison, the crazy loner, intentionally acts crazy and theatrically in order to get attention, something her parents don't give her. She doesn't bother to hide her blatant thefts and eccentricities, and her withdrawn persona is actually just a ploy to get people to give her more attention.
    • Mr. Vernon, the teacher, is scared that these kids are the next generation. Carl the janitor points out neither of them were any different when they were young.
  • Scream, as a satirical post-modern take on the Slasher Movie genre, has its fair share of this.
  • Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a deconstruction of the Action Mom trope. While very badass, it's out of necessity, as she's Properly Paranoid about robot assassins coming from the future to hunt her and her child. She is thus constantly training to keep herself in peak ability, as one mistake at the wrong time could cost her life. Additionally, her knowledge of her son John Connor as The Chosen One has deteriorated their relationship, as she's spent more time training him for his future military career than she has to caring for and comforting him. By the time they meet again in his pre-teens, he's uncertain whether she actually loves him or just wants him to live long enough to defeat the machines. Additionally, Sarah's attempts to warn of and ward off a robot apocalypse and overzealous preparation for the same have taken her to the logical conclusion: a padded cell in a mental hospital for the criminally insane.
  • In a manner similar to Sidney Prescott, we have Laurie Strode. Having been the Trope Codifier for the Final Girl in Halloween (1978), the sequels Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later and Halloween (2018), as well as Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween II (all three films exist in separate continuities), each offer their own versions of how her life turned out. None of them are pretty.
    • In H20, she changed her name and moved to California to escape the trauma of the events of the first two films. It wasn't entirely successful, as Laurie is now an alcoholic plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder who needs psychiatric medication. Michael coming back and following her causes her to finally snap; at the start of Halloween: Resurrection, she's been institutionalized.
    • Most of Zombie's Halloween II consists of Laurie's downward spiral of nightmares, panic attacks, alcohol abuse, and insanity. Learning that she was Michael Myers' long-lost sister triggered a final mental breakdown; in the theatrical cut, she wound up thrown in an insane asylum, while in the director's cut, she committed Suicide by Cop.
    • In the 2018 film, Laurie became eternally paranoid of being killed in her own home after the traumatizing events she went through. This turned her into a Crazy Survivalist living in a fortress of a home filled with traps and security systems, surrounded by a tall fence, and boasting an arsenal of weapons that she has spent many years training with in preparation for a rematch with Michael. She had actually hoped that Michael would one day break out of the asylum, just so that she could kill him. Her declining mental health has destroyed every relationship she's ever had; she's been divorced twice, and her daughter Karen (who was taken away by social services at the age of twelve) can't stand her and wants nothing to do with her.
  • The movie Heat is such a treatment of the Gentleman Thief stock character. Neil McCauley has the charm and all the connections, but he's painfully lonely, and won't get close to anyone for fear that the cops will be right around the corner. The one major job he's involved in goes terribly awry, and results in over half of his team being killed by the cops. MacCauley gets more violent as the film progresses, culminating in his revenge overriding his need to escape. He ends up proving his own adage right when he flees (and leaves his girlfriend) after he sees Vincent Hanna pursuing him, and winds up dead at the end of the film.
  • Inception is a deconstruction of the Determinator. The eponymous act involves placing a single, simple idea deep into an unwitting subject's subconscious - that they will never be rid of. This single idea will define them for the rest of their lives, and both the primary protagonist and antagonist demonstrate how it can backfire. Spectacularly.
  • The Social Network takes the Self-Made Man archetype that is idealized in American culture and puts it through the wringer. In a few short years, the main character goes from a nerdy nobody at Harvard who can't keep his girlfriend to the world's youngest billionaire with his creation, and gets everything that he could possibly want... but it's also heavily implied that a lot of people got ruined or otherwise screwed over in the process, that he possibly stole the idea for his website in order to get to that point, that his flawed personality traits are precisely what allowed him to rise to the top, and that, even with all his material wealth, he's no happier than he was before. And he still doesn't get his girlfriend back. This is hardly the first time that such themes have been explored - indeed, it's not even the first time that the film's screenwriter has done this.
  • The Hero (Cameron Vale) of the first Scanners movie deconstructs The Chosen One: he's the only "Scanner" with the power to stop Daryl Revok, he's an absolute psychic badass... and he is completely devoid of personality beyond his mission to stop Revok, which he has been raised to do by an (unknown to him) Evil Mentor.
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin Skywalker's arc as The Chosen One in the prequel trilogy deconstructs Luke's arc in the original trilogy. Like Luke, Anakin is told at a young age that he has great powers, but eventually, he becomes extremely arrogant and distrusting of everybody around him, and he loses his friends and loved ones in his attempts to assert that power. Makes sense, since in-universe, Luke is in many ways Anakin done right. He even ultimately helps get Anakin back on track.
    • Anakin Skywalker's own trope, the Darth Vader Clone, got deconstructed in The Force Awakens with someone who deliberately tried to be one: Kylo Ren. Ren only tries to copy Vader's superficial appearance and penchant for the Dark Side while lacking Vader's strength, maturity and discipline, which are largely responsible for making Vader such an admirable villain, he ultimately ends up as an inferior knockoff of the Dark Lord and feels insecure about it. For added irony while no clone, he is Anakin's grandson and Luke's nephew.
    • In The Last Jedi:
      • DJ is a deconstruction of the Lovable Rogue archetype popularized within the series by Han Solo and Lando. DJ's a genuinely funny and charming guy, but ultimately he's a hardened criminal at heart and when the situation takes a turn for the worse, he has no qualms about selling out the heroes to the bad guys in order to save his own neck.
      • Similarly, Poe is the talented Maverick who goes behind his bigoted new superior's back to save the day. Said superior, Holdo, is clearly Armchair Military who's in over her head. Except he just ends up getting nearly everyone in the Resistance killed by screwing up the plan, and Holdo's opinion of him as a reckless, dangerous hotshot was perfectly correct.
  • The Irish film My Name Is Emily deconstructs Cloud Cuckoo Lander. The titular character Emily Egan is one such girl. Except she's odd because her mother was tragically killed in a car crash, her father steadily broke under the strain and ended up in a mental hospital, and she's spent ages going in and out of different foster homes. Her quirkiness is off putting to everyone around her and is a mark of her utter detachment from reality.
  • The Last Seduction: Bridget is the Femme Fatale, running off with her husband's drug money before seducing a guy to kill him for her. As the title implies, it takes the trope a lot further than other noir films, showing such a character would in fact need to be The Sociopath, and her mark an easily manipulable idiot.
  • High School Musical: Troy Bolton is the Big Man on Campus. The films show how much pressure everyone puts on him to be "the basketball guy" and the stress that results from it. Everyone berates him for having an interest in singing because that's not what guys like him are supposed to do. Part of his attraction to Gabriella is that she allows him to be who he is rather than what everyone expects him to be.
  • Stop Loss deconstructs A Father to His Men by showing what happens when the man in question goes AWOL, and his troops have to fend for themselves because they're so used to depending on him. What's more is that it's shown the Father To His Men can still have problems of his own - such as PTSD and guilt over the numerous people he's killed.
  • Vertigo deconstructs The Lost Lenore. Scottie is so broken up over Madeleine's death that when he meets a woman who looks like her, he ends up forcing her to dress and do her hair like her. It's highlighted how disturbing such a thing is, and Judy begs Scottie to accept her as she is rather than his fantasy in a letter... but after thinking about it, she realizes Scottie is so obsessed about Madeliene that it's useless to tell him, and destroys the letter, letting Scottie invoke this trope and preparing a truly devastating Downer Ending.
  • Scooby-Doo begins with deconstructing everyone's archetype which leads to their break up.
    • Fred is a deconstruction of The Leader. In this position he is given all the credit for stopping the ghost, even though his part was no bigger than the rest of Mystery Inc.'s. This leads him to come off as a pompous Jerkass to his friends.
    • Velma is a deconstruction of Smart Girl. While her genius does help solve the mystery, she's given no credit whatsoever for her part. Also, she's more aware of the rest of the cast's flaws and delivers it through Brutal Honesty, none of which is appreciated.
    • Daphne deconstructs Damsel in Distress. Her constantly getting captured gets her viewed as The Load by the gang and she's really sensitive about people bringing up her frequent kidnappings. After the breakup, she takes self-defense classes so she can rescue herself if needed.
    • Shaggy and Scooby deconstruct Odd Friendship. Shaggy and Scooby both try their best to keep the gang together, but due to their lack of common ground with the gang, the attempt fails and they spend the next 2 years of their life unfulfilled.
  • Logan deconstructs Child Soldier and Human Weapon with Laura Howlett: Laura is pretty much what you'd actually get if you tried to train a child into an emotionless killing machine. When introduced she's virtually feral, responds violently when she feels threatened, and all but panics at the sound of a passing locomotive. Laura also shows extensive signs of stunted emotional development, evidenced by many behaviors, such as punching every button on an elevator, ordinarily associated with a child much younger than her age. And while she's certainly a highly-skilled and frighteningly efficient killer, she's still just an eleven year-old girl fighting grown men twice or more her size; Laura can be subdued by sheer weight of numbers, and when an opponent does land a solid hit on her (such as X-24 throwing her against a wall) she goes down hard.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier deconstructed the Minion with an F in Evil with Dr. Arnim Zola. He was originally a timid scientist working under the Red Skull during World War II in the original film, who only reluctantly sided with him after his boss killed his Nazi allies to start his own campaign of world conquest. By the end of the film he defects to the Allies and rats on him, but when he reappears in the sequel as a Virtual Ghost, it's revealed that he had a far greater potential for evil than anyone suspected, he spent decades rebuilding HYDRA within S.H.I.E.L.D. so they could ultimately launch a much more insidious campaign to Take Over the World. While he wasn't an overtly sadistic Card-Carrying Villain like the Red Skull, his methods ultimately prove far more effective; someone who chooses to work within such an Obviously Evil organization like HYDRA isn't likely to be an incompetent lackey after all.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 deconstructs The Chosen One with Peter Quill. His father Ego talks big about how Meredith Quill was his one true love and as his son Peter has a grand destiny ahead of him but Ego fathered thousands (if not more) children to try and have one with Celestial powers, simply murdering the rest when they didn't. The love he felt for Meredith scared him so much he decided to put a tumor in her brain to kill her, and beyond that she's later shown to just be one of Ego's many paramours. Peter only survived, grew into the man he is today, and saved Xandar in the first film because Yondu decided not to take him to Ego and his probable death at Ego's hands and instead adopted him and raised him as a Ravager, keeping him away from his "destiny." When Ego does reveal Peter's part in his grand plan Peter doesn't even have a choice to make as Ego initially hypnotizes him and when that fails, just forcibly uses Peter as a battery. Peter discovering how to use his powers doesn't let him defeat Ego all on his own, just stall him while his teammates plant a bomb. Defeating Ego also strips Quill of the powers his connection to Ego gave him, rendering him an utterly normal human being, something he is totally fine with after all Ego put him through.
    • Peter Quill in Avengers: Infinity War becomes a Heartbroken Badass after Thanos kills Gamora to obtain the Soul Stone but his grief and anger only causes him to lash out at the worst possible time and thus setting off the chain of events that allows Thanos to win.
  • Red Sparrow: The Femme Fatale and The Baroness are both deconstructed through the Sparrow training program: while other spy stories have showcased the woman that uses seduction as a weapon as one that is perfectly okay with being sexually open as long as she gets away with her mission objectives and is relentlessly dominating and "a natural", this film showcases that there's a whole lot of denigrating and even brutal sexual work involved in the training alone, never mind actually applying it on the field. The book version of the story actually has a Sparrow trainee committing suicide because she couldn't take the constant sexual assaults anymore.
    Dominika: You (Uncle Vanya) sent me to whore school.
  • Mean Girls:
    • It deconstructs the Alpha Bitch with Regina George, emphasizing how one must be a Villain with Good Publicity and a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing in order to hold that role in an actual high school. She is utterly cruel, but she is also good at hiding her cruelty behind a glamorous, seemingly friendly image that has genuinely made her one of the most popular girls in school, such that Janis and Damian, the only characters who truly hate her and see her for what she is, are among the outcasts. In fact, as this video explains, her dominance of the school's social life is similar to how many real-life dictators exercise their power and fend off threats to their rule, and her downfall comes about through processes similar to those of dictators who are overthrown — complete with a direct comparison to Julius Caesar.
    • And while Regina becoming a Fallen Princess in the third act is treated as her rightful comeuppance, it comes at a terrible cost for the protagonist Cady, who had to start imitating all of Regina's worst qualities in order to knock her from her perch — a deconstruction of the Cool Loser hero who seeks to take down the mean popular kids. When the Title Drop comes, it's referring not to Regina and her friends, but to Cady.
  • In Kong: Skull Island, Packard is A Father to His Men and has moments where he does care for his men and takes each of their deaths personally, but right when his squad is about to sent home to their families, Packard (who has no life outside of combat) immediately accepts a highly dangerous mission without stopping to think about the men. From then on, especially after the confrontation with Kong, Packard becomes obsessed with getting revenge on Kong, repeatedly and carelessly putting his men's lives at risk and leading to the deaths of many more. His search for Chapman becomes increasingly clear that it's not so much about Chapman's wellbeing but for the weapons at Chapman's crash site.
  • In the film version of Crazy Rich Asians, the socioeconomic differences between Astrid and Michael is what destroys their relationship. Astrid constantly tries to appease their rich family and continually downplays themselves to not embarrass/humiliate Michael. Meanwhile, he is constantly put down by her family and social circle for being a commoner and all that stress results in him cheating on Astrid.
  • Orm in Aquaman (2018) feels that he is The Unfavorite compared to Arthur, as almost everyone in his inner circle ends up liking Arthur more than him, such as Mera, Vulko and (as Orm rightfully suspects) his own mother Atlanna. But that doesn't mean that Atlanna or Arthur doesn't genuinely love or care for him at all.
  • The Rock: John Patrick Mason is a pretty cool James Bond Expy, isn't he? He's got everything! Played by Sean Connery? Check. Badass Deadpan Snarker? Check. Prone to one-night stands? Check. Skilled at escaping death through creative means? Check. Left embittered and cynical after being secretly held as a political prisoner for years because the consequences of international espionage finally caught up with him? Ch—wait, what? Sleeps around so much that he winds up with an illegitimate adult daughter who hates his guts? Uh...
  • In SHAZAM! (2019), the wizard Shazam is The Chooser of The One, trying to find a worthy successor for his power. However, his "pure of heart" criteria is so strict and rigid that for decades (if not centuries), he is unable to find someone as he doesn't realize Humans Are Flawed. In addition, his harsh rejection of Sivana, who was only a child at the time, would cause the child to have a Freak Out! in a moving car, unintentionally distracting his father and causing a car accident. Sivana would hold a grudge against Shazam well into his adult years and would end up releasing the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • The Shape of Water: Col. Strickland picks apart the Standard '50s Father. His home life doesn't bring him all that much pleasure, in spite of his loving wife and good-natured children, and the resultant mediocrity drives his need for compensation.

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report