L.M. Helm

I watched Captain Phillips recently because it’s in the Thriller Genre (and so is Wolfwalker 😉) and I was struck by the almost perfect symmetry between the film’s hero and villain. Let me show you a few of the big ones — SPOILERS AHEAD!

First, and most obviously, Captain Phillips and Muse, the film’s villain, are physically symmetrical. Phillips is a well-padded American; Muse’s nickname is “skinny.” Phillips is caucasian; Muse is Somali. And both men have goatees, a feature highlighted when Muse strokes his goatee upon first seeing Phillips at the beginning of the famous “I’m the captain now” scene.

Both men are captains — Phillips of the enormous Maersk Alabama; Muse of a tiny dinghy. 

Both men are forced to work, a fact highlighted in the film’s opening scenes where Phillips and his wife drive to the airport and talk about supporting their kids and how hard it is to find good work. Then we cut to Somalia and we meet Muse who is forced by warlords to “go back to work.”

Phillips tries to scare away the pirates by impersonating the Navy over the radio. Later, Muse attempts to scare the Navy away by faking a radio call to more pirates. 

Near the end of the film, as both men are being escorted to separate parts of a Navy ship, each of them are told to “watch their step.”

And on and on it goes. 


Why this symmetry between heroes and villains? Because it’s everywhere..

Batman and Joker both wear masks, both are a little crazy, both work at night, both have no parents, etc.

Luke Skywalker decides not to kill Darth Vader when he notices Vader’s mechanical hand and his own mechanical hand — he realizes his actions are making him into a new Vader.

And time would fail me to compare David Copperfield and Uriah Heep, Mufasa and Scar, Hannibal and Clarice, Smith and Neo, Moriarty and Holmes, and most obvious of all Jekyll and Hyde.

Again, why?

Because these villains aren’t just villains. They’re archetypes – universal symbols of something deeper. The very best, most notorious, most memorable villains are Shadows of the Hero. And that word “shadow” explains the symmetry; a shadow is connected to its source, it cannot exist without it. And so it is with the best villains. They can’t exist without the hero. They are linked.