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Keanu Reeves In '47 Ronin' - The Latest In A Long List Of Film's Great Outsiders

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'47 Ronin' - the new fantasy-action epic – finds Keanu Reeves playing an outcast rejected by his group of samurai.

His role had us considering other movie protagonists that exist as outsiders; an admittedly rather broad and popular concept.

keanu reeves

Keanu Reeves is an outcast in his latest epic

Perhaps their oddness makes for a series of joyful, indulgent quirkiness (a la Amélie), their isolation wreaks havoc with their mind (such as in Polanski’s Repulsion), or their unlikely triumph provokes some memorable feel-good moments (Run, Forrest Run!). Whatever their reasons, they all dwell on the fringes of normality. We’ve compiled an eclectic mix of some of film's most endearing outcasts...

  • Lars in Lars and the Real Girl (2007) Dir. Craig Gillespie
    Fans would be surprised to see Ryan Gosling in the antithesis of his usual sexy, brooding role as gentle, mentally fragile Lars. Clad in a chunky knit jumper with chubby cheeks and a nervous smile, he hermits himself in a converted garage and ignores all who care about him - until the day he deludes himself that a sex doll he bought from a website is his real life wheelchair-bound girlfriend, Bianca.
  • Lucas in The Hunt (2012) Dir. Thomas Vinterberg
    Lucas (a powerful and understated Mads Mikkelsen) is a teacher for young children living an uneventful life in a Danish town. He is playing with his best friend’s daughter - who is around six and adores him – when she innocently tries to kiss him on the mouth. He backs away, and feeling rejected, she invents a small lie about him. The consequences come thick and fast, accusations of abuse spread like wild fire and soon the entire village is against him with all but a minute minority accepting the news unquestionably.
  • Harold in Harold and Maude (1971) Dir. Hal Ashby
    Harold (Bud Cort) is 18, immensely rich and enamoured with death. The film opens with him feigning a hanging when his mother wanders in absent-mindedly and says: “I suppose you think it’s very funny, Harold, oh dinner at eight.” He loves to fake suicide, and adores attending funerals. He finally connects with another human being when he meets Maud (Ruth Gordon)- a sort of elderly Manic Pixie Dream girl who loves to steal cars – and an unlikely love develops, allowing him to learn a thing or two about happiness.
  • Oliver Tate in Submarine (2010) Dir. Richard Ayoade
    Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a forlorn 15-year-old loner in a duffle coat. He isn’t sure he believes in scenery. His line of seduction is “to us and a wonderful evening of love making”. He likes to fantasise about how many would mourn him if he died suddenly. When he gets a girlfriend (Yasmin Page), their romantic jaunts involve pyromania on an industrial estate. He doesn’t quite fit in at school, but partakes in bullying so he doesn’t fall victim to it himself. He’s too preoccupied with sorting out his parents' (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) marital issues - because his “mum gave a hand job to a mystic’ - to give much more thought to popularity.
  • Edward in Edward Scissorhands (1990) Dir. Tim Burton
    Back when his relationship with Johnny Depp was blossoming came Burton's sweet, saddening Frankenstein-esque tale. Edward (Depp) has razor sharp hands to match his cheekbones, complete with back-combed hair and a skintight kinky outfit, but his eyes radiate innocence. He sits isolated in a gothic mansion, until the Avon Lady (Dianne Wiest) calls and invites him home. He was one of Burton’s earliest creations, at a time when the director’s visually kooky tropes and use of the melancholic outcast were still a novelty.
  • Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense (1999) Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
    What a shame it is that Haley Joel Osment hasn’t done all that much since his Academy-Award nominated performance as tortured nine-year old Cole Sear. Hiding the secret that you can see ghosts, all the time, would be quite the burden. They visit him in the dead of night, troubling him with their unfinished business, dropping the temperature dial and leaving him with mysterious scratches. He has the appearance of a child outcast, scurrying into a church for sanctuary wearing oversized glasses without lenses, and even his teacher labels him a freak. The Sixth Sense is Cole Sear’s film; Bruce Willis was simply a part of it.
  • Forrest in Forrest Gump (1994) Dir. Robert Zemeckis
    The special simpleton who exudes wisdom and has a surprising number of skills up his sleeve was based on the literary character created by Winston Groom. The quotes of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) have become well-rehearsed in households all over the world; “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is,” and the one about the chocolates. You all know the story. No one wants to sit with him on the bus, his teacher wants to send him to a special school, and his legs are in braces. Then suddenly he just starts running, becomes a war hero, a multi-millionaire and the father of an incredibly cute child (Haley Joel-Osment), moving us right until the tear-jerking finale.
  • Amélie in Amélie (2001) Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
    Those doe-eyes and that bold black bob were blue-tacked to the walls of many a student’s bedroom, as Amélie became the go-to French flick for both mainstream and niche film fans. Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is a lonely waitress in a quaint Montmatre cafe. As an only child she grew up longing for a friend, and she still must distract herself from her isolation by taking pleasure in the small things and performing elaborate good deeds. She loves to skim stones, crack crème brûlée and peer at faces in a dark cinema; all eccentricities that allow the film to relish in its detail. Our hats go off to her as arguably the most adorable outsider in cinema history.
  • Oh Dae-Su in Old Boy (2003) Dir. Chan-Wook Pak
    What begins as one drunken night out finds businessman Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) in solitary confinement for fifteen years, with no clue where he is or why, in a box-like room with only the TV to stop him from going totally insane. He self-teaches martial arts moves, which come in very useful indeed when he is released. He finds himself free one day, and a homeless man hands him a mobile and a wad of cash. He wanders into a sushi restaurant and befriends a waitress named Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) and from there becomes embroiled in an entertaining but hard-to-stomach revenge game. His best moment has to be when he is faced with a bunch of hopeless thugs - wielding a claw-hammer he’s not afraid to use - in one epic tracking shot.
  • Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle in The Craft (1996) Dir. Andrew Fleming
    Witches Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True) are in need for a fourth member when newcomer Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) arrives at the school, possessing powers stronger than any of them and rendering them a force to be reckoned with. In school they are known as the weirdos, but soon get their own back at the racist bullies and chauvinistic guys that taunt them. They go too far of course, mainly because Sarah is the only sane one with any morals, and it goes from exhilarating to dark and woefully angst-ridden pretty quickly. All in all, this group of misfits make for ‘90s supernatural teen movie heaven.
  • Withnail and I in Withnail and I (1987) Dir. Bruce Robinson
    The pair of unemployed actors (Paul McGann and Richard E Grant) living in a grim flat in ‘60s London are the centre of the cult comedy that became the pinnacle of Britishness. Reeling off unforgettable self-pitying lines left right and centre, they are as far removed from how ordinarily dignified folk spend their days as possible; wallowing in disconnected squalor, leaving matter to grow amongst their unwashed dishes, resorting to lighter fluid for debauchery and rubbing themselves in deep heat to keep themselves alive until pub opening hours. To rejuvenate, they go on ‘holiday by mistake’ to a bleak cottage in rainy Penrith, complete with randy bulls, unfriendly locals... and Uncle Monty.
  • Carol in Repulsion (1965) Dir. Roman Polanski
    Catherine Deneuve adopted a role that is a rather rare thing in cinema – a woman who resorts to murder. Polanski’s masterpiece explores a young beautician’s disturbing descent into madness as she suffers alone in a London apartment after her sister has gone abroad with her lover. What begins as a realistic account of one woman’s isolation turns into a surrealist, point-of-view account of a disintegrating mind – the walls form giant cracks and expand, hands burst out from them, and the claustrophobic apartment becomes completely distorted.
  • Carrie (1976) Dir. Brian de Palma
    The protagonist in this timeless adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic - Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) - is the class outsider whom you really wouldn’t want to mess with. She is badly treated by her devoutly religious mother (Piper Laurie) and tormented by her peers. But when her class mates quietly cultivate a cruel fake coronation for prom night - that has her smothered in pig’s blood – Carrie seeks revenge through her telekinetic powers.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (2011) Dir. Andrea Arnold
    One of literature's most famous outcasts; brooding anti-hero Heathcliff, perfectly realised in Andrea Arnold’s understated adaptation (played by James Horson and Solomon Glave). A rugged, silent orphan child of indeterminate origin found wandering around the streets of Liverpool, he’s taken pity on by kind Mr Earnshaw, who returns with him to the wild Yorkshire moors. He is hated by his step-brother Hindley but shares a fierce and impossible love with his step-sister Cathy (played by Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario.) Earnshaw dies, Cathy denies her love and marries a sensible suitor, and Heathcliff becomes the product of his violent and neglectful upbringing; a bitter man filled with frustration and regret.
  • Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976) Dir. Martin Scorsese
    Is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) a hero or a villain? The vigilante war veteran works as a cab driver on the night shift, absorbing the sordid atmosphere that pre-Giuliani New York has to offer. We have a glimpse into his paranoid personal nightmare, his big-city loneliness and alienation. On the one hand he’s dangerously violent, yet on the other he rescues an under-age prostitute (Jodie Foster), and the viewer never knows whether to root for him or not.
  • Kai in 47 Ronin (2013) Dir. Carl Rinsch
    Keanu Reeves plays outcast Kai in this fantasy-adventure tale (commonly called Chushingura in Japan) inspired by the 47 Ronin, a real-life samurai group in 18th Century Japan who avenged the murder of their master. Kai has the power to help restore honour to the samurai, and is kick-ass at taking on a savage world of mythic beasts and murderous, shape-shifting witches. Keanu is once again – Matrix style – the chosen one to save the day.
  • The performers in Freaks (1932) Dir. Todd Browning
    The film’s opening begins with the line "In ancient times, anything that deviated from the normal was considered an omen of ill luck or representative of evil." The performers in Freaks exist to entertain the ordinary, and the cast comprised of real circus performers, filmed without special effects. The plot focuses on Hans (Harry Earles), a midget who falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who then hatches a scheme to poison him and steal his inheritance. The freaks form a revenge plan, however.
  • Renton, Spud, Sick Boy et all in Trainspotting (1996) Dir. Danny Boyle
    Irvine Welsh’s irresistible junkies – Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner),Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) – are Scottish, and therefore ‘the scum of the earth’ according to their ringleader Renton. These boys live outside respectable society as heroin addicts in Leith – close to Edinburgh – yet a world away from the tourist ideals of shortbread, tartan and bagpipes. Flicking between living the dream and living a nightmare, their lives are spent on the dole, living only for the next hit and laughing in the face of acceptable consumer lifestyles.
  • Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower Dir. Stephen Chbosky
    An ode to teen wallflowers everywhere, Stephen Chbosky adapted and directed his own bestselling coming-of-age novel of the same name, published in 1999 and set in the early ‘90s. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a sensitive, shy and mentally fragile teenager who has just begun his first day at high school. He’s an aspiring writer, very bright, but lacking in any friends. He takes solace in writing letters about his life to an imaginary friend, until eventually some senior students, quirky Sam (Emma Watson) and her camp, witty stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) take him under their wing.
  • Enid and Rebecca in Ghost World (2001) Dir. Terry Zwigoff
    Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are cynical, angst-ridden recent graduates figuring out what to do with their lives in this adaptation of the popular comic book series. They sneer at their parents, peers and most people they encounter, usually classified as losers or creeps. Enid is self-loathing and depressed - she’s interested in drawing and listening to old records - but not socialising with those she regards as beneath her. Their plans to live together fall through when Enid refuses to get a degrading job and starts spending all her time with middle-aged, cardigan wearing vintage enthusiast Seymour (Steve Buscemi).
  • Donnie Darko in Donnie Darko (2001) Dir. Richard Kelly
    Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a solemn, alienated teenager living in the suburbs and suffering from schizophrenia. He imagines a man-sized rabbit named Frank (James Duval) that speaks to him and tells him when the world will end. The film’s strange narrative reflects Darko’s mental torment; it’s difficult to decipher and has made for cult viewing, leading audiences return to the puzzle time and time again.
  • Romy and Michelle in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) Dir. David Mirkin
    Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michelle (Lisa Kudrow) haven’t had much success since they left high school, so they decide to invent it at their reunion, “all we really need are, like, better jobs and boyfriends, right?” At high school they only had each other, and share awful memories of alienation, one occasion being clad in stand-out lacy Madonna-esque dress at the otherwise colourful prom. Their eventual plan is to be fake being inventors of the Post-It. “We could say that you were, like, the designer” offers Romy, ''Like, I thought of them, but you thought of making them yellow.''
  • Peter Parker in The Amazing Spiderman (2012) Dir. Marc Webb
    Peter Parker is the nerdy superhero, underneath the skintight suit he’s a hipster type in glasses, a science whizz and lovelorn over his crush, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Of course he becomes a superhero with ace reflex skills after being bitten by a radio-active spider, but he’s the most sensitive do-gooder of the bunch, recently grieving the loss of his murdered uncle and set on doing the right thing. In a high school of the usual hierarchies, he’s taunted by the jocks, but one of the tropes of the outsider in cinema is that he more-frequently-than-life gets the last laugh.

'47 Ronin' is in UK cinemas from 26 December 2013. Watch the trailer below...