Villains at the Movies: Kylo Ren


In the midst of the third act of The Force Awakens, the heroine of the picture Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds herself in the clutches of the First Order. Her captor Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) sits with exacting patience waiting for her to wake up. As she rises, Ren senses her desire to kill him, he remarks upon the course of action with a mocking tone. Rey replies with defiance, “That happens when you’re being hunted by a creature in a mask.” Upon hearing this, Ren removes his helmet to show the scavenger his face. The formally masked figure looks like a fallen prince with an expression that simultaneously shows a weight of conflict and intense purpose. The scene is indicative in showcasing The Force Awakens’ primary virtue, which is its central antagonist- Kylo Ren.

Ren represents a subversion of the hero’s journey that was presented in the original trilogy. We see a character who is a transition to becoming a villain, who is tempted by what he states as a call to the light, which is a fascinating reconceptualisation of the temptation motif in the Star Wars pictures. In fact, in the film’s most dramatic scene, this theme is visually conveyed in a fascinating manner. As Ben declares, he is being torn apart and hands his lightsaber to Han Solo, (Harrison Ford) the camera shows Rey and Finn (John Boyega) looking up at the sky. The clouds start to cover up the sun and the area around Ben, and Solo becomes darkened.

Slightly earlier in the picture, during an attack on the Starkiller Base, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) remarks that “as long as there is light we got a chance.” The film strongly suggests that if the light from the sun had lasted a mere few minutes longer, then Ben would not have killed his father in cold blood,  thus illustrating the powerful calling to the light.

At the same time, Ren represents the younger generation who are shaped by the mythical heroes and villains that existed in the original trilogy. In this case, it is Darth Vader who he is inspired by in many ways. In the film’s most haunting scene Ren sits alone speaking to the charred mask of Darth Vader. He says with desperation,”Show me again the power of the darkness.” There is a tragic irony that pervades this scene as Ren perceives Vader as the ultimate embodiment of the dark side, without realising that his grandfather succumbed to the power of the light.

There is a moment when General Leia Organa says that her son had too much Vader in him, which explains why she and Han decided to send him to Luke for training as opposed to raising and dealing with his problems. In this sense, Ren can be seen as someone who is let down by his parental figures which explain why his gradual descent to the dark side is understandable. He wants to feel all powerful in a position and organisation where he can feel appreciated. However, as the previously mentioned scene alluded to even his pull to the dark side of the force is shattered by the actual reality versus the pre-conceived perception.

This gives rise to a unique quality in Kylo Ren, which co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasden cites as the following: “I’ve written four Star Wars movies now, and there’s never been a character quite like the one that Adam plays. I think you’re going to see something that’s brand new to the saga. He’s full of emotion.” The primary passion is exhibited in scenes where Ren has powerful bursts of anger that are volatile and terrifying. The unstable sound of his lightsaber punctuate these scenes as well as embody the intrinsically unstable nature of Kylo Ren’s character.

Adam Driver’s performance as the young masked figure is exemplary. His physicality is particularly striking as in some scenes Ren appears like a wraith who is seemingly floating across the terrain. However, at other times, his movements are precise and controlled. Driver also has some moments where the delivery his of lines feel like subtle homages to Hayden Christian’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. There is one particular moment where he screams out “Traitor!” with the same accentuated fury that Anakin has in his declarations to Obi-Wan in the third act of Episode III. However, Driver’s best scenes are the ones where he can facially express contrary emotions, which speak to the internal conflict of his character. The interrogation scene with Rey is the most prominent example of this quality.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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