What Makes Morally Ambiguous Characters Work

What Makes Morally Ambiguous Characters Work

“What Makes Morally Ambiguous Characters Work”

byJosie Farrar

Ambiguous means vague and unclear. So, a character who cannot be identified by the audience as good OR evil, as right OR wrong is morally ambiguous. Such a character may appear to the audience as both good and evil, or both right and wrong. Morally ambiguous characters seem to be the most common and most popular these days in books, film, TV, and games. Following are some ideas about why this is so.

  • Morally ambiguous characters force the audience to consider questions like "Is it OK to behave poorly, to lie for example, in order to protect someone from unnecessary pain?" or “Is it OK to kill?” These types of questions make you consider your own morality.
  • No one is interested in a purely good or a purely evil character. Those types of characters are so predictable and boring. If a character isn’t completely good or completely evil, then he is more unpredictable and more interesting.
  • A well-written morally ambiguous character is perceived by the audience as ambiguous but the character does not view himself or herself as ambiguous. The character has a moral code of behavior to follow; it’s just a different code from what most people accept as morality. We understand that about the character, and like it, because it’s realistic. Robin Hood is a perfect example.
  • Most morally ambiguous characters are motivated by ideas instead of by people. Take your typical heroic character. He often wishes to protect those he loves and the people around him. He basically protects the existing world order. Someone motivated by ideas instead wants to change the world to be "better," "more just," or "more righteous." Depending on how far he goes, he may kill others to enact his ideas. This does not make him completely evil because he wants to do the right thing. This is different from the typical villain who is motivated by lust for fame, wealth or status. However, he is not completely good because he may be heartless in how he deals with others. compared to more "stupid" villainous characters motivated by a simple lust for fame, wealth, and status, and he in fact probably hates those kind of people. But he is not wholly good as he may be ruthless in how he deals with those that oppose him. In his own mind he is a man of integrity.

Farrar, Josie. “What Makes Morally Ambiguous Characters Work.”On Film. The Film Group, Inc., 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.