There is a very simple reason for the high level of enjoyment that comes from watching a great cinematic comeuppance – it affords us the kind of satisfaction we rarely find in life. Who hasn’t found themselves up against the sort of arch-nemesis that belongs on the silver screen? In every audience-member’s own narrative, there is an embodiment of cold, calculating evil – plotting the demise of the more sympathetic and heroic characters in that personal story.
As we go about our day, we are constrained by social convention and niceties that preclude us from really engaging in the downfall of those that would work to ruin our good-natured demeanour. We lie awake at night coming up with the kind of witty riposte that would cut them to the quick at just the right moment. If only we had our own, brilliant scriptwriter to provide us with the right line at the right time, as our enemy comes face-to-face with the most satisfying story element of all: karma.
So we turn to the movies – where those constraints are ripped away, and the bad guys get what’s coming to them – more often than not. These moments are reassuring in that they restore faith in universal balance – fictional though that may be – that good will always triumph, and we can all look forward to a moment of smugness, or two. The cinematic comeuppance takes many forms – sometimes violent, sometimes just a well-timed phrase – but always with the promise that satisfaction is guaranteed.