Analysis: The Faceless Enemy

The Premise: In any given movie where the enemy has to outnumber the protagonists, the main body of the enemy is reduced to a bunch of troops who wear the same uniform.  The main purpose of these soldiers is to provide the shortcut to antagonize the innocent civilians.  Most of all, they are to be cannon fodder for the protagonists later on in the film.

In the majority of the cases of faceless enemies, the enemy has been either a monster army or a robot-driven armed force.  Rarely have faceless enemies taken the guise of actual human or human-like armed forces.  The first reason for this is because of the ratings that the Motion Picture Association of America would put on such movies; the fewer actual humans are killed using “realism,” the wider the general audience that the marketing department can promote the movie to.  The second reason is that faceless antagonists provide the moments of “awesome” for the main (and secondary) characters that allow the audience to cheer for their achievements.

It is here, however, where many stories lose their sense of purpose when creating a moral center.   Most attempts to show the plucky and/or struggling righteous heroes that they are better than the evil King result in the heroes themselves racking up a body count that rival any actions the Evil Army may have taken against the innocent villagers – who are usually Faceless Victims to begin with.  We as an audience are not supposed to pay much attention to the Heroes’ body count because of their righteous stance and moral center; because they fight for truth, we are supposed to excuse and approve of their actions.  This is up to and including any deaths caused directly or indirectly by the actions of the heroes.

The Problem: The faceless enemies are rarely shown as having any kinds of lives outside of wearing the same uniform.  It is also never shown what the motivation for their joining the military force turned out to be.  Most people join their army for a paycheck – or as a path to becoming a citizen of the nation in question to enjoy the benefits that come with the title (like the French Foreign Legion or the US Armed Forces today).  Others join because they believe that their country is moral and righteous in their cause (or, worse, have a belief in justice).  And yet, others join for the thrill of being able to kill some other people.

Regardless of the personal reasons for joining, the Faceless Enemy – in this case, the Army of the Empire/State/Evil King – will be portrayed as being nothing more than the arm of the State.  They will carry out the Will of those in Power enthusiastically, often sharing the same aims as those who hold power outside of their own weapons (in other words, the Monarchy/Oligarchy/Ruling Elite).  The majority of the soldiers will never been seen outside of battle or given a moment of levity, unless the moment is at the “Villain Bar/Tavern” – unless the soldier is found at some sort of brothel, where women of ill repute will engage with the soldier in nocturnal activity.  Sometimes, these nameless soldiers at the brothel or bar will be victimized by a secondary character, who uses their position for information or to incapacitate the soldier, thus allowing the protagonist(s) to successfully infiltrate the Enemy or sabotage their operations.

What is often overlooked is that many of these Evil States are Dictatorships or Repressive Monarchies or Facist Governments.  On top of this, employment opportunities are usually reduced to working for the state (usually as a nameless soldier or nameless bureaucrat), farming (only to be terrorized by the faceless army), or being in the employ of a bar; tavern; motel; brothel; or in rare cases, a casino.  There is little employment in heavy industry in these Evil States (although it would be required for the weapons that are used) save for the occasional blacksmith – who may or may not be in possession of the “Most Powerful Weapon Ever Created.”  As such, the only guaranteed paycheck to send back to the family to make sure that they can eat and keep a roof over their heads in an Economy like the Evil State runs is usually to soldier.

Think about that when you watch the faceless soldiers get blown to bits to the delight of the hero or heroine.

The Final Word: Faceless enemies are unimportant in the eyes of the story.  Their lives are unimportant because they serve the named Antagonist.  Their fate is unimportant because they stand in the way of the heroes.  Their demise is dismissed because they are not given any standing within the show, movie, story, or series.  When they appear, no one is supposed to pay attention to their lives or their history.  Their actions are only supposed to be viewed through the lens of the story’s designated victims, and then later through the eyes of the story’s designated protagonist heroes.

Such stories also have multiple levels of Enemies; villains whom we get to know a little better than the Faceless Enemy conscripts that make up the bulk of the antagonists.  In some cases, these enemies are given voice and history, and have the capacity for making the audience sympathetic to the villain themselves.  But this sympathy does not extend to the lowly foot soldier, even as they sacrifice their lives for the villain’s cause, for whatever reason, without objection or supportive cause.

The Faceless Enemy is to be derided when they appear, resisted when they attack, and forgotten when they die, even if they had lives of their own.

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6 Responses to Analysis: The Faceless Enemy

  1. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: The Matrix | Loose Cannon

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  3. Ryan says:

    a part of this is the escapist nature of entertainment; the real world can be tough so sometimes we unwind by engaging in fantasy that isn’t nuanced or deep; just escapist and fun (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

    • Heavy Armor says:


      Thanks for stopping by.

      Entertainment on its own may be escapist, but the purpose behind these pages could be seen as “Escapist for whom?” The problem with many forms of entertainment like TV shows and movies is that the escapism does not apply to people of color and/or non-hetero sexual orientation. That kind of thing happens most often in the most “mindless” of media. This is why I offer these moments of “Pause”; the objective is to make said mindless entertainment better because of it.

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