In the 2012 time travel movie “Looper,” the hero is a hit man who kills people sent back from the future. One day he finds that an older version of himself has been sent back for his younger self to kill. The young version of the hero eventually has to battle the older version of himself, who becomes the villain.
“Looper” perfectly demonstrates how the hero and the villain are mirror images of each other. In “Looper,” the hero and villain are literally the same person but from different time periods. Not all movies make this mirror image between the hero and villain so obvious, but if you look carefully, you can see this reflection between the hero and the villain clearly. The closer your villain mirrors your hero, the tougher the hero has to fight against himself.
Here’s how bad movies fail. They create a villain who isn’t a mirror image of the hero so when the hero defeats the villain, it’s no more satisfying than watching someone win in a game you don’t understand, like an American watching a game of cricket. If the hero and villain aren’t close mirror images of each other, there’s little tension. The closer the hero and villain are to each other, the more tension the battle generates because the hero is basically struggling against himself.
In the bad movie about a computer hacker who loses her identity in “The Net,” the hero is a computer hacker and the villain is more of a hit man so they aren’t really mirror images of each other. Watch the unemotionally satisfying ending when the hero (a computer hacker) defeats the villain by bashing him in the head with a fire extinguisher. Because the villain isn’t a mirror image of the hero, the hero vs. villain battle feels forced and awkward. The way the hero defeats the villain is out of character. Why does a computer hacker defeat the villain with a fire extinguisher? You would expect a computer hacker to defeat the villain by using her computer skills somehow. Instead, the fire extinguisher bashing scene just feels forced that creates a pointless and unemotionally satisfying ending.
In “Rocky,” Rocky is a boxer battling Apollo Creed, who is the heavyweight champion. If Rocky were to battle a hit man (“Looper”), a bully (“The Karate Kid”), or a Marine commander from the future (“Avatar”) the story wouldn’t feel right because the hero would be fighting the wrong villain.
Watch any good movie and the hero and villain need to be as close as possible. In “Looper,” the hero and villain are the same person, but in most other movies, the hero and villain are still close. In “Frozen,” the hero and villain are sisters. In “Tangled,” the hero and villain are a fake mother and a girl who thinks she’s the fake mother’s daughter. In “Finding Nemo,” the hero is determined to rescue his son while the multitude of villains that oppose him are determined to kill him. As a fish, the villains are all common creatures that can kill fish such as sharks, carnivorous fish, and seagulls.
When creating your story, look for ways to make your hero and villain as close as possible so they have an emotional struggle in addition to their physical struggle. Even though the hero and villain in “Die Hard” aren’t related, they’re both clever and gain respect for each other. The hero in “Die Hard” is essentially a weaker version of the villain. Make your hero and villain mirror images of each other and your story will suddenly gain an emotional subtext that energizes the tension and makes the final climactic battle far more interesting.