Detour: My Five Favorite Villainous Monologues!

Last week I promised you all a list of my favorite monologues, and you’re going to get it! Of course, this list will be woefully incomplete, given that it draws from my own experience with film, which is far from exhaustive. But I’ve carefully plumbed my own memory for the monologues that left the greatest impression on me and given my top five to you here, along with the reasons I can’t stop thinking about them, even years later. So, without further ado, here are my five favorite villainous monologues in film!

As a quick aside, I’m only using monologues that fall under the criteria I discussed last week: monologues made when the villain is in a position of power.

1. Joker’s “Scars” Monologues, The Dark Knight:

Over the years, I’ve found that this film as a whole has lost some of its luster with me. But something that still utterly chills me is Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as The Joker, and specifically the series of monologues he gives that begins “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” There are too many for me to include them all in this post, so I’ve gone with the first, becasue I think it’s among the most compelling and unsettling of the bunch, especially with the added shock value and it’s conclusion. Not only are these remarkably arresting to watch, they all give us an incredible amount of emotional information about our antagonist. Throughout the film, this series of monologues, all of which give a different explanation for The Joker’s scars expertly weaves a profound sense of uncertainty and discomfort, making us feel like we can trust nothing that we see or hear when this character is onstage. Which, of course, is exactly what The Joker is trying to make Batman feel. It’s for that reason more than any other that this expertly crafted series of monologues belongs on the list.

2. John Does’ “Innocent” monologue, Se7en:

Sometimes, a great monologue is about what lies beneath the surface, and that’s definitely the case here. At first glance, this speech seems like it wouldn’t qualify as a villainous monologue, given that it occurs at the point of the movie where our two policemen protagonists have captured the serial killer they’ve been hunting all film after five killings, and seem to have thwarted his plan to kill someone representative of each of the seven deadly sins. But look carefully at the way John Doe speaks here - the way he acts as if he’s not at all upset that he’s been caught, as if he’s entirely in control - and it starts to become clear that he might have far more power than we initially believe. This perfectly foreshadows the eventual ending of the film: far from being thwarted, John Doe actually succeeds in his quest, having already murdered Brad Pitt’s girlfriend and subsequently revealing that to goad Pitt into shooting him, bringing the total number of murders to seven, one for each sin. Besides the subtle practical information that all is not as it seems, this monologue also gives us a modicum of emotional information. Not only does it reveal John Doe’s obvious anger, it also lets us see, when when we look beneath the surface, the narcissism that drives this holier-than-thou attitude and his complete self-satisfaction. To add to this scene even further, the reactions of the two policemen in this scene, one responding emotionally to the villain’s monologue one simply looking on, reinforce aspects of their characters as well. When a monologue tells you about the listeners as well as the speakers, you know you have some good stuff.

3. Colonel Jessup’s “You Can’t Handle The Truth” Monologue, A Few Good Men:

This might just be the most eminently quotable monologues of all time, and with good reason. Not only is it masterfully constructed and written (you know you’ve crafted a showstopper when it opens with a line that becomes one of the most famous ever), it’s a master class in the reversal of power. As the monologue begins, it feels like Jessup is taking a victory lap. Tom Cruise’s character has just been held in contempt of the court, and Jessup just needs to keep his cool and he’ll literally get away with murder. But as the saying goes, pride cometh before the fall, and Cruise turns the tables by using Jessup’s own momentum against him in a masterful piece of storytelling. Even better, though, is how the monologue connects deeply to the themes of the film, themes like honor and the inherent disconnect between the ideals we use to valorize the armed forced and the truly grimy work they actually are so often called upon to perform at the same time that it points a finger directly at criticizing those willing to sacrifice while sacrificing nothing ourselves. That level of nuance is staggering, almost as much as Nicholson’s masterful performance of it. And as an icing on the cake, this monologue also does a fair job of reinforcing the ego that drives Jessup’s reaction to the death he accidentally caused, and the way it overcomes his sense of duty (there’s an incredibly powerful symbolic moment after this video ends when Jessup lunges angrily at Cruise, dropping his hat - a symbol of his position and duty to his country - in the progress).

4. Syndrome’s “Biggest Fan” Monlogue, The Incredibles:

This won’t come as a surprise for anyone since I lauded it in my blog post about monologues, but that doesn’t make this any less awesome. It’s got absolutely everything a killer monologue wants: it gives us a shocking twist with the reveal of Syndrome as the film’s villain, showers us with a wealth of emotional information about what motivates Syndrome that that ties into the broader thematic arc of the film and Mr. Incredible, and is incredibly emotionally resonant to boot. It’s also just undeniably fun, with Syndrome’s evident showmanship and the writing working hand in hand to create a monologue that’s endlessly rewatchable. And, of course, there’s so much to be said for how playfully self-aware this monologue is (we all know that “you caught me monologuing!” line, but it also ends with Syndrome declaring himself Mr. Incredible’s nemesis while simultaneously flinging him to safety in a hilarious little bit of self-aware comedy). I suppose there’s not much more to say than that you know exactly how phenomenal a monologue is if it can draw attention to its own silliness and still work as a powerful piece of dramatic storytelling.

5. “Mother Knows Best,” Tangled:

I knew going in that one of these monologues was going to be a disney villain song, but only two really fit as a monologue: “Poor Unfortunate Souls” in The Little Mermaid and this one. It was pretty much a tossup between the two, but I had to go with “Mother Knows Best” partially because I think Tangled doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of love it deserves. Part of the reason for this is its incredibly chilling villain and the way it uses that villain to explore the idea of self-centered and abusive parenting, which this song-as-monologue expresses perfectly. At first it seems like Rapunzel’s adoptive mother is simply watching out for her daughter’s welfare, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s manipulating her with a suite of insecurities, and all the small ways in which Mother Goethel demeans Rapunzel add up into a deeply unsettling song that subtly cast her as villainous in the extreme. It even subtly expresses the reasons for this in the motions of Mother Gothel: she interacts vastly more with Rapunzel’s youth-bestowing hair than any other part of her supposed daughter, showing us that she really just wants to keep her daughter nearby to protect her own eternal youth. I't’s well-written, it slowly, gradually, and perfectly casts Mother Gothel as deeply sinister, and even opens up some of her emotions and motivations (notice that she focuses almost entirely on Rapunzel’s fear, the emotion she can relate to best since it jives with her own fear of growing old). It is, in short, an absolute gem.

Are there any monologues (villainous or otherwise) that you’re particularly fond of? Let me know in the comments!

With excitement and optimism,

Alex