Memorable confrontations in Film and Literature: Part I

mc1– A slightly unrelated Tolkien topic (though not entirely)…

We’ve all been in that very tense, awkward but thrilling moment when the main character in a story finally gets to met his or her long sought-after enemy (or archenemy in some cases).

Ever get that spine-tingling sensation when you get to see the protagonist and villain take on each other after so many obstacles? Or else, feeling your heart pounding hvsvinside your chest as you wait on edge to find out how things will turn out and how it will affect the story?

The confrontations that ensue may take many forms; some simply engage in a bitter physical struggle, others (but often more powerful) take on the shape of a simple (yet, highly energized) conversation of sorts.

And I’m not just talking about a novel, but any other form of storytelling (be it TV, Film or other); these particular “confrontations” are usually the climax of a story – a scene which makes a film or a book memorable.

What I’m driving at, in very simple and honest terms, is that I love protagonist/antagonist showdowns. And who doesn’t, anyways?

villainSo recently, I’ve begun to delve into my own film and literature collection, gathering only the most prominent of these confrontations, in the hope that I will be able to discuss and demonstrate the power that two well-crafted characters can bring, when pitted against each other within a particular event of the narrative

Naturally, it all boils down to good-old storytelling and this article is both an appraisal, as well as a kind of “honourable mention” towards those novelists, screenwriters, general authors (and even actors who performed the characters within a TV series or Film) who were able to dazzle and enchant audiences and readers; taking them on a journey that was so well conceived that when these “confrontations” take place, they punch a hole through the book or screen and grab you in – making you feel that what you have just seen or read was such a damn worthwhile moment!

Note #1:

Before I continue, I’d like to state that in this article, I’ll be mentioning particular works of Literature and their film adaptations; and in some instances will refer only to the film-version, rather than the original work. It’s all about the finished product that you experience, rather than the faithfulness of the story told. For as long as the story works (be it in a book or in a much-altered version of a film), then it still receives my approval of being “epic”.

Note #2:

Suffice to say, some of these “confrontations” may contain spoilers … you have been warned! (and the following list is in no particular order of preference.)

Note #3:

Remember how fond I am of splitting articles into “parts” (here’s a quick post on the subject:‘The Reason of all Parts’). So naturally, considering the complex nature of the topic, I’ve decided to split this discussion into several posts, in order to avoid boring you more than necessary! I mean, just the above introduction seems to suffice as a blog post, but anyways … 🙂

Note #4: (I promise this is the last one!)

I’ve added as much photos and illustrations as possible: first, to avoid boring you with loads of text and secondly (and most importantly), to hopefully try and show a very visual connection between each of the film/book’s iconic confrontation – the way the two characters meet.

Okay, shall we begin?

Sherlock Holmes vs James Moriarty

Well, I’ll start with one of the most famous here. Famous that is; I bet up to a few years ago most people had no idea who Professor Moriarty was – neither his connection with the ever-famous Sherlock Holmes. Nevertheless, with the recent revival and interest from both the film and TV sectors, these two characters have become among the most popular and revered individuals in the literary and cinematic worlds.

For the purpose of this article, I shall be referring to both the ‘Sherlock’ BBC series, as well as the recent Robert Downey Jr. installments – specifically ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’; together with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, ‘The Final Problem’.

Unlike the TV/Film adaptations, the character of Moriarty, though famously described as being the “Napoleon of crime” and resulting in a match to the equally brilliant SvM 1Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle does not give him much “importance” as one may believe. Although he is occasionally mentioned in passing in some of the earlier stories, his character was meant to be a means to conclude the Sherlock Holmes journey, with its climax reaching the infamous Reichenbach Falls, where the two individuals plunge to their deaths in a final struggle against each other. Not only that, but this very scene is given to us in a very ambiguous manner – finding its way as a mere conclusion that Dr. Watson comes to when he sees his loyal companion’s cigarette-case on the rocks.

The recent trend has, however, turned the character of Professor Moriarty into a fully-fledged archenemy, that is at the back of most of the crimes Sherlock Holmes finds himself involved in. Constantly thwarting his evil schemes, the result usually leads to the recreation of the famous final struggle found in the book.

Whilst the original story of ‘The Final Problem’ has its own gripping moments, the ability to be able to witness these two characters transforming and eventually locking themselves on a collision course against each other, makes such a rendition of the final scene all the more powerful – at least, emotionally.

SvM 2This is splendidly portrayed in both the ‘Sherlock’ series and the 2011 film ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’. The former, “relocating” the well-known Victorian connection of Doyle’s adventures, to a modern version of that world. Beautifully written and shot, the performances of both Benedict Cumberbatch (as the hero) and Andrew Scott (Moriarty) – not to mention Martin Freeman’s superb rendition of Dr. Watson – culminates in an epic showdown between the two.

In this case, it’s not just about the so-called “Fall” (bearing both a literal meaning and a metaphorical one – the former referring to the plunge of both characters, and the latter of Sherlock’s reputation), but rather the conversation between the two prior to the major event. It’s thrilling to finally see our main character (whom we’ve been rooting for throughout the series and know how clever and smart he is), to finally meet his match and seemingly fall one step behind the relentless criminal mastermind.

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All this can be applied to the equally enticing third act of ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’, where Downey Jr.’s character faces his nemesis (Jared Harris), once again in the original Victorian setting. Following more closely to the events in the book, the two individuals meet on top of the infamous waterfall and, whilst engaged in a head-to-head game of wit, the two also find themselves physically competing in a game of chess.

This leads to the eventual fight between the two and the plunge (or “fall”) into the water.

The emotions that both adaptations bring, together with what Conan Doyle originally wrote, makes for a very powerful viewing/reading experience – which, as can be clearly seen, is capable of being adapted and re-imagined in many different ways – with the spirit of the scene remaining ever present.

Harry Potter vs Lord Voldemort

The Boy Who Lived against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – seven books and eight films leading to this one scene that sees them confronting each other till the bitter end. We may have seen other previous instances when the two meet, but the weight of the entire story is all based on the final chapter.

HvV

This is the moment when one must destroy the other – either for good or evil. The sense of “doom” and expectation that resonates around this confrontation makes it a definite contender for one of the most memorable moments. Considering that as both readers and viewers we’ve been rooting for Harry and his constant struggle against the obstacles he finds, this scene determines whether what he has been through those last few years, will prevail over the seemingly insurmountable evil.

Amidst the Battle of Hogwarts, where wizards and witches are battling each other for two very distinct reasons, it all boils down to these two characters – these “leaders” of the opposing forces that will ultimately tip the balance in one or the other’s favour.

Batman vs the Joker

You may not have read the comics, seen the films or even the animated TV series, but almost anyone on the planet knows about Batman and for that matter, that his archenemy is none other than the lunatic (for some), calculating (for others) and criminal mastermind (for most) character of the Joker.

To be honest, I have not yet delved into the comics themselves, however I can say that I have seen most of the films and the animated series from the 90s. In all of these, the Joker has always stood out from the rest of the other villains – exuding the qualities of a human being on the loose, with no sense of morals or restraints.

I’m no psychology expert, but the motivations that drive the Joker’s behaviour, is an issue which I think gently taps into ever individual’s subconscious; that is, to be free of any restrictive bonds within society – hence, why he may be such a “likeable” character. The Joker seems to channel our primordial innate desires and instincts, carrying them out without caring for the repercussions of such actions. It’s as if we, as audiences, are cherishing what this character can so freely do for us …

JvB

This is made astoundingly clear by none other than Heath Ledger’s performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008). Probably the best Joker on-screen to date (and maybe ever), the film will remain a reference point as one of the great storytelling experiences – creating a benchmark for aspiring actors wanting to deliver such pitch-perfect acts.

Although the film is in itself a good piece of entertainment, combining a well-written script and superb direction, it is Ledger’s character that really makes ‘The Dark Knight’ so special.

Amidst the car chases, bank robberies and intimate moments, the interrogation scene between him and Christian Bale’s Batman is probably one of the most iconic aspects JvB2of the film.

The tension that has been created throughout the initial hour of the film all leads to the first physical interaction between the two characters – engaged in a bitter feud between Order and Anarchy, that quickly degenerates into chaos.

Watching the two actors performing in that scene feels very much like watching a play – where you could just sit there for hours and watch them “converse” with each other – but then again, as I’ve stated over and over again, what makes such scenes magnificent are the motivations, behaviours, actions of the characters, what’s at stake and the story itself.

The confrontation is but a piv0t upon which hangs a perfectly balanced story.

Edmond Dantes vs Fernand Mondego

Who said revenge is sweet? They were right you know – at least on film. Alexandre Dumas’ story of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ has received many film adaptations of its own, and whilst the book has been at the forefront of much praise – believe it or not – I have yet to read it myself. However, I did manage to see the recent “remake” (if that word can be appropriately assigned to it) from 2002 – starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce as the two main characters.

For the sake of this article’s argument, I’ll be dealing with this film adaptation since, towards the end, it changes drastically from the original story.comc

Although I always enjoyed watching the film, it was only recently that by chance I saw it again and appreciated the whole narrative that was presented to the audience. The story follows the journey of Edmond Dantes and his brutal betrayal by his best friend, Mondego – forcing him to spend over a decade in one of France’s worst prisons.

Once Dantes manages to escape, he is bent of bringing down all those people who were involved in his betrayal. The film climaxes with a showdown between him and Mondego – after having cleverly tied any loose ends regarding family and love matters, leaving this duel to unfold on its own and maximizing the impact of its outcome.

This particular scene was actually the reason why I embarked on the process of writing this article, not because of any special element in it, but rather just because the scene worked so well and elicited strong emotions towards Edmond Dantes’ revenge. The sword duel between the two, amidst a grassy field, is brilliantly executed.

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The scene is visceral and edgy – following a lovely cinematography that further increases the tension and raises the stakes for fear of the protagonist’s life. Nevertheless, having been with Dantes throughout his journey, we know this is exactly what, both he and the film were leading to and that both his revenge and love for his companion will win over this ultimate obstacle.

No.6 vs No.1

It has elements of the bizarre and many times is confusing. You’re left wondering what happens next and how a particular moment fits within the wider framework. And overall it’s downright weird – both aesthetically and story-wise.

Yet, it is probably one of the best TV series ever created (or to be more subjective – one of the best TV series I’ve ever watched).

‘The Prisoner’ (1964), is a timeless classic; a series crafted in such a way as to set it well beyond it’s time – incorporating frighteningly modern concepts in meticulous detail.

Prisoner TrialInvolving a nameless protagonist who suddenly decides to quit his job from the British Secret Service, he finds himself “prisoner” on an island known as the Village – branded with the famous No.6 badge. Throughout the series, he is constantly put to the test by No. 2 (the apparent figure who runs the village), trying to extract information on No.6’s resignation.

And yet, the same question will always arise in every audience member, who immediately begins to wonder: “But who is No.1?”. This, as it turns out, is asked numerous times throughout the 17 episodes and always receives an ambiguous answer.

It is only during the last episode, followed by a wonderfully executed (and altogether bizarre) trial that No.6 finally meets No. 1 – again, in equally odd circumstances.

Whether or not you like the end of the series, what makes this scene so special is the slow but gradual build-up of the story and how No.6’s character progresses throughout his quest in order to escape.PvO

As with any good story, the climax only works brilliantly when you’ve carefully constructed the building blocks a few hours, or episodes before that one moment. I rarely use the following word to describe something that excels in quality, but ‘The Prisoner’ definitely manages to do so with style and a touch of “genius” – not surprisingly, resulting in such worldwide acclaim that has withstood the test of Time.

Elendil & Isildur vs Sauron

And who ever said that memorable confrontations between heroes and villains are only to be found near the end of a story? Or between two individuals?

Case in point, this next example.

The prologue found in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’, culminates in a three-way fight between two mighty heroes (Elendil, King of Gondor and his son Isildur) against the Lord of the Rings himself – Sauron.

ElendilIt’s difficult to explain the impact this scene has upon viewing – since it might go against what I have written in the other examples. True, there is no proper build-up to the individual characters; motives, whilst known to the viewer, are still not yet as powerful after such a short introduction. Furthermore, considering this is a flashback, both book and film versions portray this confrontation in a very brief and “sketchy” way.

Still, the repercussions of such a scene can never be emphasized enough.

The Battle of the Last Alliance pits the two opposing forces of good and evil, struggling mercilessly for the survival or slavery of Middle-earth. Out of the hundreds of thousands of warriors on the battlefield, it’s ultimately all in the hands of three characters (six if you include Gil-galad, Elrond and Círdan from the book).

It is easier to understand the impact of the scene through the film version as we are introduced to Sauron, walking defiantly into the battlefield whilst wearing the One Ring – at that point, Saurona force so powerful, he is almost invisible … almost. As the figure of the Dark Lord towers down on the terrified Elves and Men, who are soon scooped up by his bone-crushing mace, Elendil (as proud ruler and great leader of Men), charges forward but is mortally struck down.

Isildur, coming down to his aid, defines the odds in an apparent last stand when he takes up his father’s shattered sword and severs the Ring from the Master – ending the battle and banishing Sauron’s spirit from the physical world – for a while.

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I’ve always seen this scene as a kind of religiously symbolic trinity – touching upon the idea of three individuals, and a doomed figure on his knees, holding a dead loved one in his lap (Michelangelo’s Pieta’ flashes to mind).

Again, it might not be as thrilling if that scene was to be found near the end of a two-hour film all about the Last Alliance – but nonetheless, it is a fantastic opening sequence to an equally brilliant Trilogy you’ve probably heard me praise about so many times!

Quick Remarks:
It’s interesting to see, so far, how many of the scenes described above play out very similarly from a visual perspective. Many of the conversation “confrontations” have resemblances with each other – the way they were filmed, choreographed and performed.

Hopefully, in the next part of the article, I’ll be dealing with a few more examples mainly from a literature point of view – plus, exploring Tolkien’s own examples of “confrontations” between hero and villain that can be found in the stories of Middle-earth.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

Here ends the first part of this article. I shall be writing a few more posts on even more confrontations I deem worthy of my own praise! 😀

(Copyright of all screenshots and illustrations shown here belong to the respective studios, artists and estates)

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13 thoughts on “Memorable confrontations in Film and Literature: Part I

  1. Wow, your concluding description of Sauron vs. Isidur is so well written that it sent shivers down my spine as I read it. Excellent job !!!

  2. Hey James,

    I just wanted to say I’ve been enjoying reading your blog so much. 🙂 I always look forward to seeing your awesome posts!

    Juliet (Lothwen from TORn)

    • As a matter of fact I have … and whilst I think Ian McKellen makes a superb No.2, I still think the remake comes nowhere near to the original 1967 series …though that’s just my opinion 🙂

  3. “But it was not the end, I felt life in me again”: An allegory of Christ in The Lord of the Rings | The Leather Library says:

    […] Memorable confrontations in Film and Literature: Part I (atolkienistperspective.wordpress.com) […]

  4. […] Memorable confrontations in Film and Literature: Part I (atolkienistperspective.wordpress.com) […]

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