Monday, August 24, 2009

Villain Archetype: The Parasite

The Parasite is always dissatisfied with his own life and wants to live someone else’s, and he/she doesn’t care what they have to do to make it happen.

When I first started thinking about this archetype, I was surprised at how many examples leapt to mind. The first being The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). The movie is based on a novel written in 1955 by author Patricia Highsmith.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is working a part time job as a piano player at a party in a borrowed Princeton jacket when he is approached by Herbert Greenleaf. Ripley leads Herbert to believe he’s a graduate of the university and a friend of his son, Dickie. Herbert Greenleaf hires Ripley to travel to Italy and convince his son to return home to help run the family business. Thus the man gives Ripley a taste of the life he’s never known and a hunger for more.

Ripley arrives in Italy, contacts Dickie Greenleaf, and wastes no time ingratiating himself into his life. Throughout their relationship, in both the movie and the book, the reader/viewer becomes aware of the sexual attraction Ripley feels toward Greenleaf and how he covets, the man’s wealth, attention, and charm. But his feelings go deeper than that. He wants to BE Dickie. He emulates the man in every way and becomes desperate to maintain the lifestyle to which he’s become addicted.

Ripley ends up killing the focus of his affection and takes on Dickie’s identity in an attempt to cover up the murder. But when a friend of Dickie’s comes to visit and grows suspicious, Ripley’s parasite persona once more turns to murder to cover up the horrible truth.

He later writes a suicide note to explain Dickie’s death. Herbert Greenleaf pays Ripley off to keep his son’s past indiscretions secret, unknowingly allowing Ripley to avoid prosecution for his murder.

In the end, a chance run in with a woman who knows him only as Dickie forces Ripley to kill his lover, Peter Smith-Kingsley, to hide the secret once again and Ripley realizes the life he wanted has cost him everyone to whom he’s become close.

Similar but less dark is the second example of the Parasite Archetype that came to mind.

In Six Degrees of Separation, (1993) Paul (Will Smith) is a gay con artist. He shows up at Flan and Ouisa Kittridge’s (Stockard Channing and Donald Southerland) door asking for help. He claims to have been mugged in Central park but his lies don’t stop there. He also says he’s friends of their son and daughter at Harvard and Sidney Poitier’s son. This last outrageous lie doesn’t set off the alarms that it should. The couple take him in for the night and are completely charmed by him. But when they investigate Paul’s life later, they learn the truth. They’ve taken a stranger into their midst on face value and been conned. The truth makes them look at the insular existence they lead and turns their perception of it on its ear.

The third example of the Parasite Archetype is DJay ( Terrence Howard) in Hustle and Flow (2005). DJay is a drug dealer and a pimp. A Parasite of the worse kind. He doesn’t just prey on his customers, but lives off the women in his stable while he tries to pursue his dream as a Rapper.

In his quest for his big break, DJay hustles a way into a party where he attempts to give a successful rapper, Skinny Black, a demo tape he’s created. The rapper destroys the tape and DJay assaults him and shoots one of the man’s entourage.

While in prison, DJay learns that one of his prostitutes and business partner, Nola, has succeeded in getting his demo played on the radio. But “Everybody’s gotta have a dream.” No matter what the cost. Right?

The Fourth example of the Parasite Archetype is Jullian Kaye (Richard Geer) in American Gigolo (1980). Julian is a male prostitute in Los Angeles. He’s handsome and polished and works hard to maintain both his outward appearance and his lifestyle. He even takes some pride in being able to please his clients. But he’s a Parasite.

When he meets a politician’s wife, Michelle Stratton (Lauren Hutton), he becomes more involved emotionally than he’s ever been tempted to do before. But he continues to work as a Gigolo.

His pimp sends him to a house of a wealthy businessman who wants him to abuse and copulate with his wife while he watches. Julian’s heart isn’t into the abuse, the one thing that saves him from being completely unsympathetic. But he does perform, though the experience gives him a bad feeling.

A few days later, the woman he was with that night is killed and the police hone in on Julian as the main suspect. He was with another woman the night of the murder, but she won’t give him the alibi he needs to prove his innocence.

His life spirals downward as he realizes he’s built his existence on a house of cards that could have crumbled at any time. He’s not important to anyone. He’s viewed as the Parasite that he is.

He turns to the one person he thinks may view him as a valuable commodity, his pimp, and learns he’s the man responsible for his being framed for the murder. They get into an altercation and the man falls over his apartment balcony to his death.

With the only person who can clear him dead, Julian ends up in jail. He’s humbled by the experience, accepting of his fate, and perhaps even feels that he deserves some punishment for the life he’s led. When Michelle shows up, he’s surprised. She’s laid her reputation on the line to give him an alibi and cleared him with the police.

Out of all the Parasites thus far, I’ve found Julian the most sympathetic because he learns from his mistake and you feel as though he will make an effort to change once he’s set free.

My last example of the Parasite Archetype isn’t human at all, but grew from the imagination of one of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton. Crichton died earlier this year, a real loss to the human, writing and television community (he was the creator of the hit show ER.) His numerous books have always fascinated me because he was able to take the unusual things he discovered about technology and put a wonderful spin on it and make it completely spellbinding. He’s the author of such blockbusters as Jurassic Park, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, Rising Sun, Congo, The Sphere, Airframe, Disclosure, The Terminal Man, and several others. Most of his books have been made into movies. But I suggest you read them for each one has a warning in it as well as an unusual way of making the technology he’s focused on a character unto itself.

Jack Forman is an out of work software programmer and house husband who’s having trouble finding another job. Because he sought to blow the whistle on an illegal operation at his last job, other companies are wary of hiring him. In the high-tech world of software it doesn’t pay to be honest.

Because Jack has been a house husband for so long, his self-image and his confidence have taken a nose dive. Thus when he grows suspicious that his wife may be having an affair, he’s almost numb about it. Julia has grown increasingly distant and distracted, but also acts almost manic when she’s at the house.

Concerned for her and their children, Jack accepts a job with his old company to iron out problems their having with a computer code he wrote for a game. They’ve subcontracted with his wife’s company, so he’ll be working at the same facility as she and he may be able to figure out what’s going on with her.

When he arrives at the facility in the middle of the desert, he grows increasingly suspicious and concerned. The members of his team (people he’s worked with before) act both glad to see him and wary. Everyone speaks in double-speak but no one wants to come straight out and tell him what the code problem is.

He learns that his wife’s company, Zymos, has been contracted by the Defense Department to use the nanotechnology they have created as an internal imaging tool as a spy and reconnaissance weapon. The nanobots have been released into the desert and have begun to evolve and learn on their own. In fact they have become a swarm who Prey on any living creatures they come across in the desert.

Crichton’s nanobots evolve to the point they become Parasites using living hosts, their creators, to carry out their agenda, to reproduce and conceal themselves in plan sight within the general population. They learn to take the form of the humans they come into contact with and represent a global threat.

To tell you the ending of the story would be a spoiler. You need to read the book and discover what happens. But these small microscopic computers represent one of the most vicious Parasite Archetypes I’ve ever read about.

What makes Crichton’s books remarkable is that they always hold a grain of truth and that makes their impact thought provoking and a little scary.

Thank you for reading my blog on the Parasite Archetypes. What Parasites have you run across in other books and movies, or in real life? Join me on Inspiration-Ink and let me know.

Write on,
Teresa Reasor

8 comments:

Miss said...

Very interesting blog. Parasite,I'm thinkin' my brother in law.
Seriously I think every story has a little bit of a parasitic personality in it.

Miss said...

Sorry my name didn't show that was me!
Mary Ricksen

ARCyndi/Dr. Cynthia Morgan said...

Very interesting blog, Teresa. Well-written.

A well-written parasite character can be fascinating.

Julie Robinson said...

Teresa,

No wonder I haven't watched any of these movies or read these books. I know several parasites like this, for real. I call them "Psychic Vampires" because they drain you emotionally. No matter what you say to make matters look more positive, they find something negative about it until you feel like you're a d*** Pollyanna trying to help them look on the brighter side, or to see the glass half full.

And underneath it all lurks that sense that given the right circumstances and the right mood, you just might not want to be alone with them when it hits. Or you just might have a Mr. Ripley come out of the closet, so to speak.

I must admit, though, I love any role Richard Gere plays!
Julie

StephB said...

A very interesting blog. I think this is a great challenge - to make the "parasite" interesting as a villian. You've got some great examples. A well laid out post about villians.

Teresa Reasor said...

Mary:
Thanks so much for reading the blog. And yes, there's usually someone who could be considered a parasite in a story. Back in the 70's they always made them women.
Teresa

Teresa Reasor said...

Cyndi:
Thanks for reading the blog. I'm always facinated with these villain archetypes. Makes for some really good ideas.
Teresa

Teresa Reasor said...

Julie:
You know Vampires could really be considered Parasites since they feed off of other people.
Thank you for reading the blog.
Stephanie:
I think it would be a real challenge to write one of these characters. It would be really creepy to have to get into their head too.
Thanks for stopping by.
Teresa

 
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