Archetypes in Movies – The Trickster

In modern cinema, the practical joker or the trickster has above average wit and cunning versus the other characters in the movie. In a typical movie plot,the character has his way through intellectual disguises and craftiness. Most films portray the trickster as a negative force.

However, the trickster is not only privy to the antagonist, sometimes being one and the same.

He can offer alternative thinking to societal norms, questioning rules and conventions. At times, the protagonist considers the trickster as an ally, helping to brainstorm solutions among other efforts. 

The protagonist himself can also be an archetype of the trickster mold, e.g. The Pirates of the Caribbean’s lead character, Captain Jack Sparrow.  

Certain traits set the trickster apart from any other archetype. More often than not, he is deceptively intelligent. His first impression would have you think he is ordinary, but as you peel back the layers… the trickster’s genius and deception surfaces. 

The trickster is often a step ahead of his rival and while the latter solves his challenges through straightforward means. The trickster uses shortcuts and underhand means. While those around him rely on physical strength, he implores wittier maneuvers to get past obstacles.

The trickster archetype isn’t necessarily good or evil. Swaying either way to suit his needs, he walks the tightrope that separates both sides. On the surface, the trickster offers sound logic.

He is neither benign nor can one label him the opposite. He toys with duality.

3 examples of the trickster character in modern cinema

Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Usually up to no good, the dastardly pirate is famous for his quick tongue that gets him out of sticky situations, after landing him into trouble in the first place. His intelligence and wit continuously surface in the series. 

He comes up with out-of-the-box ideas no one in their right mind would even consider. When Captain Jack Sparrow embarks on stealing the interceptor, he sneaks underwater with an overturned boat acting as a makeshift oxygen tank.

His accomplice Willy Turner lauds and criticizes, stating he can’t make up his mind whether the plan is brilliant or mad.

Jack Sparrow’s wits in play

His wit and trickery emerge in the final part of his plan. He hijacks and commandeers a British ship near the shoreline in the view of reinforcements. His true target was the Interceptor, which came to the aid of the first ship. 

The soldiers take the bait, swarming all personnel on the distraction. Captain Jack Sparrow and Willy make off with their desired ship in the cover of the chaos and the confusion. By the time the British realize what’s really going on, Jack is beyond range.

In the space of moments, the commander goes from labeling Jack the worst pirate he’s ever seen (he seemingly backs himself into a corner with no means of escape) to admitting he may be the best.

In this scene alone Captain Jack Sparrow convinces and excels as the trickster archetype. There’s more to his plans than meets the eye. While the British had the numbers, hence had the physical superiority, he gained the upper hand because of his wit.

He steals a highly guarded ship from a naval army with only a single friend for aid.

Willy Wonka from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Overly enthusiastic or mentally deranged? 

The jury is still out on that one, but one thing has always been clear, Willie Wonka is one of the greatest trickster archetypes of his time. One can’t place a thumb on his morals, it’s never defined in black and white.

He manipulates and deceives both by what he says and does. The whole plot of the movie is built upon Willy Wonka’s trickery.

Willy Wonka’s schemes

As he looks to revive the chocolate factory, Willy Wonka crafts five golden tickets that he hides in his bars. He says the finders of these special tickets will earn themselves a lifetime’s worth of chocolate, in addition to a tour of the factory.

He keeps this end of the deal but refuses to honor the supply agreement citing a breach of terms of the contract. 

Willy reads out a part of the contract to the two remaining participants, Charlie and Grandpa Joe, whereby stealing invalidates the winner’s claim.

Much to the dismay of a disappointed Charlie and a perplexed Joe who desperately argues he knows nothing about the agreement or the stealing.

It turns out, it was all just a test. Wonka planned to frustrate Charlie and Joe the way he did. He wanted to see whether they would sell him out to a rival.

When Charlie passes the test, Wonka reveals that the contest was actually a test to find a worthy successor. Charlie wins the contest and the factory. 

Loki in Thor

Thor is a 2011 superhero sci-fi derived from Norse mythology. Loki is literally the “god of mischief” and brother to protagonist Thor. 

He also embodies the trickster archetype to perfection, mostly playing the role of the villain, although he does have flashes of heroic moments. 

He uses his shapeshifting powers to bend others to his will, and more significantly to this archetype, bests opponents through trickery and manipulation.

Loki being the God of Mischief

Wanting the throne for himself, Loki is in league with the kingdom’s enemies to get what he wants. Deceiving as a loyal son, Loki lets frost giants into Asgard to interrupt Thor’s coronation.

He plays the long game knowing that the attack would lead Thor to retaliate against Jotunheim. 

Thor enacts vengeance, thereby disobeying his father and violating the fragile treaty between both worlds. Thor is banished, clearing Loki’s way to the throne.

His scheming doesn’t end there. He further frames his father’s (Odin) enemies for the attempted murder of Asgard’s king, so he can destroy Jotunheim and kill those who would reveal his secret alliance.

He makes Thor believe he is to blame for his father’s deteriorating health, constantly driving a wedge between the two at every opportunity. 

Throughout the film, Loki takes on the typical villain trickster archetype. He makes a habit of creating conflict then swooping in to save the day.

He creates problems and solves them to earn credit as a hero. Protection Status