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The Underlying Theme of the 'Trickster' Figure in Movies

By Sarah Wilson    1/6/13

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The trickster character is one that traces back to ancient mythology, and comes to life in many different ways.  Let's take the Norse people for instance. They believed in the trickster god named Loki. Most recently, Loki has become part of popular culture as a Marvel Comics supervillian that appears in recent movies such as 'Thor' (2011), 'The Avengers' (2012), and in the currently unreleased 'Thor: The Dark World.' Loki's character represents one of the more violent tricksters, as he wishes to ultimately destroy or drive humans into submission by force. The movie industry repeatedly uses the 'trickster' figure in films, but are you aware of its link to the Devil?

According to a handful of movies, "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist." The Devil is known as the ultimate trickster. We encounter tales that describe the Devil as being able to trick the soul after death to go towards the 'light' or tempting desperate people to 'sell their soul.' And, we already know that in the form of a serpent, Satan uses trickery to persuade Eve to eat forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden.

The movies and other literary creators will use the 'trickster' character to enhance their plot. They often serve as the antagonist. The 'good guy' must outdo the actions of the trickster to save the day or the trickster is responsible for influencing the 'good guy' in some sort of negative manner. In most cases, the trickster basically does the work of the Devil. They are posing as something else so they can easily tempt or deceive someone without revealing their true identity.

We repeatedly encounter this type of character throughout many different cultures. For example, Puck is another well-known trickster, who belongs to Celtic folklore. He's found his way into our homes whenever we watch the mischievous character in William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' He has also appeared in video games, such as Warcraft III and Halo.

The Jester Figure as a Trickster

During medieval times, court jesters were employed to entertain the king, and often used trickery to keep the attention of their audience. They relied on a combination of acrobatics, storytelling, music, juggling, 'magic', and other talents in their bag of tricks. As part of their character, they'd also wear brightly colored garments and elaborate hats as a distraction.

The Jester Turns into the Joker…

The court jester may have also played a role in the creation of the Joker card in a regular deck of playing cards. Look at the resemblance – from the outfit and jester-like hat. Jokers in a deck of cards look like a combination of a jester and the Fool of tarot cards. Then, there is the face card Jack, who represents the soldier or servant. He too is considered a trickster.

Interestingly, in art, illustrations, and other literary accounts, the Devil is often portrayed as playing poker, and is seen as a dealer of souls. Lose poorly in a game of poker in the real world, and you can go home with nothing but the clothes on your back.

The Joker (with his devilish grin) is also well known as the unforgettable villain in the Batman comic books, TV shows, and movies. In the 'The Dark Knight' movie, Heath Ledger portrayed a disturbingly insane version of the Joker – both mentally and physically. Although the movie was released in 2008, the portrayal of the Joker reemerged in 2012, when accused Aurora Colorado shooter, James Holmes, adapted the Joker character for his rampage of terror during the screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises'. This 'trickster' of a criminal was able to easily mingle with other movie-goers while under the guise of the Joker.

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