Characters We Love: Hellboy

I was thinking about which movie character to dissect next when I remembered Jae’s love of The Avengers movie, Iron Man in particular. So I picked up my copy and saw that some critic claimed it to be the greatest super hero movie of all time. That got me thinking about what other movies had been made from comic books. Batman and Blade crossed my mind, but then I remembered Hellboy.

I like Hellboy for many different reasons. One of those reasons being the Guillermo Del Toro, who happens to be one of my favorite directors. But enough about directors and super heroes. Let’s talk about Hellboy.

The film opens with a man asking, “What makes a man, a man? Is it his origins, the way things start? Or is it something else, something hard to describe?” If you thought you were in for a few hours of mindless action, this should help change your mind. We don’t even see Hellboy until twenty five minutes into the movie.

When we do get to see him, we immediately learn he’s a slob. His room is littered with empty beer bottles, empty food dishes, and stray cats. Then there’s his wall of televisions which he uses to watch news stories about himself. As agent Meyers learns about Hellboy, the audience also learns he is fed six times a day, files his horns to look more human, smokes cigars, love Baby Ruth candy bars, and is having problems with his father. We’re given a lot of information in a few minutes.

We learn Hellboy wishes he looked more human. His horns are a touchy subject, so he files them down. Hellboy doesn’t think of himself as anything but human, even though he obviously isn’t. Why wouldn’t he? His father raised him as a normal child.

Hellboy has a job, family, friends, and responsibilities like any other person. He works for the B.P.R.D., or Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. I laugh every time I see their headquarters in a waste management facility in Newark, NJ. I’ve been to Newark many times and this always tickles me. Hellboy is the first person they call when something out of the ordinary happens. You know, like monsters or the occult pop up. He works with a team of FBI agents and Abe, a blue amphibious creature with psychic abilities. Hellboy may have a bit of an attitude, but he’s the first person to stand up for the people he cares about.

Even though he loves his father, Hellboy is willing to risk that relationship for Liz, a woman who can manipulate fire, and fellow freak. Hellboy later tells Liz he’ll never give up on her, which explains why he breaks out of the B.P.R.D. twice to check on her. The villain also uses Liz to get to Hellboy.

Hellboy may look like a demon, but he’s really just an average joe at heart. He thinks of himself as human even though he knows he’ll never fit in and society won’t accept him. His boss thinks he’s a monster. Part of the reason Hellboy wants to be discovered by the public is so they’ll maybe accept him. Hellboy has insecurities just like any of us.

This movie doesn’t start off by immediately establishing Hellboy’s character. Instead the audience is immersed in Hellboy’s world and origins. In order to understand Hellboy, we must first understand where he came from. But the writer/director does an excellent job of showing us all of Hellboy’s layers with everything he does.

As the movie ends, we’re left with the same question: What makes a man, a man? This time we’re given an answer: It’s the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.

Hellboy could have become the demon he looks like, but everything inside of him is human. Instead of using his powers for evil, he decides to use them for good. He remembers his father’s love and all of the people counting on him. It was his choice to be something more than what he appeared to be. We all have that choice to make. Splendid writing makes Hellboy one of the best super hero movies ever made.

What can we learn from Hellboy? Two words: internal conflict. This film does an excellent job establishing Hellboy’s inner conflict and showing how it affects him. Writers should take note of this and try to incorporate some sort of internal conflict into our main character. Hellboy loves his father, but he also loves Liz. He disobeys his father to break out and see Liz when his father is murdered. Hellboy feels guilty for not being there. He is so saddened that he doesn’t speak for three days. Hellboy has more bouts with internal conflict too. His identity crisis being another. We also notice Hellboy has a multitude of layers like most other great characters. I hope we’re noticing a trend here. I know I have.

Have any of you sat down and dissected characters from movies, or television? What have you found? Who would you like me break down next?

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2 comments

  1. I don’t know about a character (though I may think of one here in the next several minutes) but for some reason the thought came to me to say: Hey Brian, do a post about Flash Gordon. You know what I’m talking about, the movie Queen did the soundtrack for.

    The challenge is laid before you.

    1. Flash Gordon? That’ll be tough because the acting for that character is something less than stellar. Corny would be putting it nicely. But Flash Gordon happens to be one of my sister’s favorite movies and I just so happen to own it. Ming the Merciless would probably be a better study…

      You always like to challenge a guy, don’t you? 🙂

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