I always feel guilty when after watching a movie—any movie, regardless of whether it’s war, detective, suspense, romance, even fictions with superheroes—I realize that I always identify myself so tightly with the protagonist. Within two to three hours of watching I can unconsciously convince myself that I, I am the starring model, the hero, the one who is always right, the one who needs a standing ovation—a never ending applause.
How many time I have secretly become Superman, Batman, James Bond, Jacky Chan or Jet Lee. In many movies, I am quick to identify myself with the Denzel Washington character, with Robert Redford, with Tom Hanks, with Morgan Freeman…with whoever the protagonist is. Every time I watch I become the starring idol—at least that’s how I feel inside—but never have I become the Lex Luthor, or the Darth Vader.
I would always want to think that the protagonist resembles me, and that I resemble him. I have never yet watched a movie where I have immediately seen my very tight connection with the antagonist—the envy brother, the terrorist, the robber, the traitor, the murderer. Always, just always, I see the antagonist as the opposite of me. I am not “that kind of man” I never do the things like that.
That very thinking continues to actively play its role even when I am reading the Bible. When Moses splits the Red Sea and performs many miracles, I can quickly see myself as little Moses in my little chair. Never have I thought—not a single moment—that I am the Pharaoh or that I am like him. No! It’s impossible, I am too righteous!
Reading the triumphs of King David helps me quickly boost my confidence. Yet not once did I ever think of how close my attitude is with the antagonist King Saul. No! It can’t be, I am too holy!
That’s why it gives me difficulty to relate to many of Jesus’ stories. That’s why Jesus’ parables have very little positive effect on me. That’s why I always miss the point. Because, in Jesus’ parables, the undeserving become the center of the story, the protagonist, the starring actor or actress, the matinee idol. Jesus has a habit of making an unexpected twist in his stories by picking up the “undeserving” as his star.
Jesus’ stories provoke my self-righteousness, my sense of pride and arrogance, my rage. It challenges my strong and very stiff idea of “who is deserving and who is not.”
How can I relate to the Prodigal Son’s story if the star is someone who doesn’t resemble my obedience? How can I understand the parable of “the workers in the vineyard” if I think I am not as lazy as the workers who worked last and got the same amount of money? How can I understand why Jesus forgave the thief on the cross if I don’t think I am as unable to earn forgiveness as that thief?
I still remember what happened after one Filipino celebrity accepted the role of an antagonist in our local TV Series entitled Mara and Clara. In the story, Mara is the lovely, meek, intelligent young beautiful woman who is so loved by many. Her half sister is Clara—the super antagonist who’s full of envy, bitterness, contempt, hostility, and resentment. In the center of all her negative blending emotions is her half-sister Mara.
The TV Series was so captivating that the viewers immediately identified themselves with Mara, the protagonist. Unconsciously, they have developed hatred to one of the undeserving, irritating, infuriating antagonist. The worse part is that people become so enraged that even in real life they started to threaten the actress who plays the role of one of the antagonists in the story. They did not realize that she was just playing a role in a TV series, and that the protagonist was her true friend in real life.
Like the antagonist in the movie, some viewers become too consumed by their hatred and hostility against the innocent celebrity who was just acting on camera. The worse thing is that these people aren’t aware that in their raging contempt and hostility toward the antagonistic role, they become the antagonist in real life. Eaten up by their self-righteousness, they become blind that as they pursue a virtual monster they are becoming real monsters themselves.
The real good person has been receiving death threats from people who are consumed by the false notion that they themselves are the true good people. These people were infuriated by the role of the antagonist.
Because they have identified themselves so tightly with the story’s protagonist. They become the unlikely protagonist.