Thursday, September 17, 2009
Be On the Lookout for Sean Bean's Face
In a not particularly interesting turn of events I didn't get around to watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy until this summer. I read the books as a kid, and liked them well enough. As an adult I find I'm not fond of the style in which they are written, but as twelve-year-old, those were some engrossing tales. Still, I wasn't so interested that I rushed to the theaters with seemingly the rest of the world when the stories hit the big screen. I thought I would wait until all the movies were out, the hype had died down, and make my way through them. That's exactly what I did, although my husband and son both saw them long before I did.
It turned out I remembered a fair amount of the story in a vague sort of way, but I didn't remember character names so much as I remembered the odd thing, here or there, about plot progression. So my husband was slightly surprised when I piped up with:
"Oh, you can't trust him. I hope they don't trust him."
"How do you know?" My husband asked.
"Because that's Sean Bean. He's either the morally questionable character, or the straight-up villain, pretty much always. When you see Sean Bean's face it's a signal to be on your guard."
"Well, in this he's playing a man, but you're more or less right. He does redeem himself, though."
"Oh! He's that character." I nodded remembering the books. "What's even odder is that Sean Bean is almost always the actor I have to look up to remember his name. I'm forever mistaking him for someone else. Rutger Hauer, sometimes Stellan Skarsgård. It took me forever to commit his name to memory. Maybe he really is perfect to play the morally ambiguous character, after all."
Wouldn't it be nice if the people we need to be on our guard with came with that sense of familiarity? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Most of the time, harmful people don't look the part. Sean Bean doesn't. He's got that sort of everyday handsome quality and the truth is he's frequently cast as villainous, or weak-willed simply because he's a good actor. Christopher Lee is in the same movie, and there's a fellow with a face just begging to be typecast. Really, Christopher Lee is so villainous looking that he ought to come with his own nefarious soundtrack.
Sean Bean ended up playing the same sort of role over and over simply because he has a good face. The sort of good face that might otherwise inspire trust.
Admittedly, true villains, people without redeeming characteristics of any kind, are exceptionally rare. There are a few figures throughout history that truly, no matter from what angle they are viewed, the only word that comes to mind to describe he or she is evil.
But it is exceptionally rare, thank goodness. People are truly complex creatures. Some people just aren't in the least good, but most have more to them than we understand. A man I know is someone I would have deemed very cold-blooded, but when it turned out I knew someone who also knew this man, I got a very different picture of him. He knew this same man through a charity in which they both worked. I knew that man through a business context. It was almost impossible to believe we both knew the same individual, but both of our experiences with this individual were actual, and true. We just knew different sides of the same man. More than one thing can be true at once.
Another man I knew, a truly delightful human being, the sort of person you would immediately like, once told me something I considered rather profound; that he didn't actually like being someone who everyone deemed a very nice person upon meeting him because he had nowhere to go but down in their estimation. That the moment he had a bad day, was in a sour mood, or in anyway displayed the sort of failings we are all prone to, it would be met with a look of such disappointment. As if he'd betrayed something. Let them down. He said he'd rather be thought a jerk at first, and have his better attributes shine through over the course of time, rather than the other way around. That it might be better to climb in the estimation of others, rather than be set up to fall.
That's what it is about Sean Bean's face. He has the sort of handsome quality you could encounter anywhere, and the roles he tends to play aren't generally about villainy, but about human failings. He believably portrays those. When I looked through the list of movies he's been in, I realized something, I've seen him play the romantic lead, and the hero, too. Why is it that I associate him with a threat of evil to come?
I guess because Sean Bean reminds me of nearly everyone I've ever known. Like my kind friend, who didn't like being deemed the perpetual good-guy when he knew himself to be flawed, just as we all are. Don't failings make the good that much more remarkable, though? That a person could display such wonderful things, not because of some innate goodness, some all defining characteristic, but because, although flawed, he still had such good?
I never did stop liking my kind friend, although he did have his very occasional crabby moments. For one thing, he taught me that people are a mix of things, and that when we judge solely by the bad -- which we all possess -- we end up missing, or tainting the good in them.
There are times when we all wear Sean Bean's face. The good up front, the bad always lurking. How we see people is not simply about our interactions with them. There is a whole to everyone, and it can never be completely glorious.
The funny thing was that my husband was right. Sean Bean's character redeemed himself in the end. His character dies protecting others, very courageously, in fact. Yet he's remembered as playing the weak character. Failings tend to weigh more heavily in our judgment, which is ironic, since we all possess them to different degrees.
My husband was right. Sean Bean was playing a human being, plain and simple. Glorious but flawed.
Maybe that explains my reaction whenever I see Sean Bean's face in a film.
You see, I've always liked Sean Bean's face even though I have trouble recalling his name. I'm attracted to his everyman quality.