What is it with Hollywood villains daydreaming about a sinister murder plot while listening to classical music? Does the complexity of the composition somehow help them to secure a flawless plan where they can get away with murder? Do they see themselves as deliverymen of all those poor souls to purgatory when they listen to Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius?
In case you haven’t noticed, a bad guy in a movie can’t perform his wicked deeds unless he listens to Beethoven on loop. As Stansfield, Gary Oldman’s character in The Professional explains ,”You don’t like Beethoven. You don’t know what you’re missing. Overtures like that get my… juices flowing. So powerful.”
When did it come down to “classical music equals villain”?
Albeit arguable, a great villain is always an evil genius, an intellectual. Evil is smart, wicked, and witty. Evil in general is shown as a person who is eloquent and well-dressed, quotes Shakespeare, drinks fine chianti, and enjoys all the finest things life can offer. What self-respecting high class villain would want to be caught listening to the music of “the pedestrians”?
It can be traced back through history, in particular to fairy tales. Maybe not precisely down to the aforementioned points, but in most fairy tales, villains are often described as educated, with an upper class background. In Cinderella for instance, our heroine gets the role as a domestic helper, and the villain, the evil stepmother, is a rich lady who patronizes and abuses Cinderella on daily basis.
As people already associate a classical music aficionado as someone who is smart (or who likes to think so), it’s then not too difficult for filmmakers to develop such a character to let the audience know who they are dealing with. It is quickly established that the villain is intelligent and cultured, and this consecutively represents what the character is capable of.
Besides that, having classical music in the background results in a dramatic effect and, more importantly, shows how the evil character is in contrast with the world: as the average person does not consider classical music to be part of their daily life, the obsession with classical music can dissociate the audience from the villain beyond their evil actions. The audience gets the impression that the villains find their mischievous acts beautiful, and that’s why they do them. If you ask me, it just makes the villains appear a whole lot creepier.
Speaking of appearing creepier, don’t even get me started on operas. It seems like a taste for opera has slowly become a solid way to illustrate that the villain is even more twisted than your typical next-door psychos. To name some: Robert de Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear has an opera from Donizetti playing on the radio when he was following his victim to the airport; Casey Affleck as Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me listens to opera recordings at night; and who can forget Anthony Hopkins as the notorious cannibal in Silence of the Lambs when he tells his future victim Giancarlo Giannini, “I’m giving very serious thought to eating your wife,” while attending a modern opera in Florence. (Is it a coincidence that Hopkins is also a composer himself? Err never mind that).
Back to the proposed question, why are self-respecting high class villains in movies depicted as classical music devotees? Is it just easy stereotyping and beautiful dramatic effect, or is there something more to it? When director Stanley Kubrick was asked in an interview about the suggestion of the ‘charismatic’ wacko Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange loving rape and Beethoven, he answered, ”I think this suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society. Hitler loved good music and many top Nazis were cultured and sophisticated men but it didn’t do them, or anyone else, much good.”
As published in: https://www.primephonic.com/why-do-the-villains-love-classical-music