Argh! I think it's uber cool that five of you read me regularly and even cooler when you send me email but I loathe being misconstrued. Yeah, you right there. The one slinking into your chair. You know who you are. Covering your face won't work, pal, cuz I can't see you anyway! But in your defense, maybe I am vague. Perhaps, I need to work on improving my thought regurgitation and work harder to relay my perspectives more clearly. Oh wait. That's the whole purpose of this blog. Okay, skip that.
Never have I said that the villain cannot be the protagonist. He/she most certainly can. Villain and antagonist are not apposite. Okay, stop right here. You may think I said "opposite". I did not. I said "apposite" as in "synonymous". Just want to make sure I'm speaking clearly.. uh, clicking clearly? Anyway, the protagonist can be the biggest, baddest, most beastly bottom feeder to ever blight a book or big screen. (good to know my powers of alliteration never fail me) However, if your protagonist is a bad guy, there'd better be something about him or her that the audience can relate to.
Audiences will empathize with a villain, even one driven to commit a horrific crime, by identifying with part of his story. They'll grieve with a grieving mother, bleed with a bleeding soldier, and suffer with somebody who is suffering unjustly. Even if they don't, a clever screenwriter can draw the audience in with a ninety minute version of Stockholm Syndrome where the kidnapped audience befriends the onscreen villain through his ordeal.
Why is it not done more often? Because it's challenging to execute properly and we don't like going to see movies that make us feel bad about ourselves. Repugnant protagonists muddy the water between good and evil. That reminds me. I still have to go see Munich.