“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.” – Henry Louis Mencken
In ancient Greece, Cynics were philosophers from the school of Cynicism. There purpose: to live a life of virtue with nature. This meant they were to live free of all possession, rejecting desires for wealth, power, and fame.
This origin of the cynic name is a far cry from how we think of a cynic today. The modern cynic is the skeptic, the doubter, the pessimist, or even the doomsayer. In modern storytelling, the cynic challenges the protagonist with constant disapproval of the protagonist’s actions. He shoots down every idea the hero has yet provides no solutions of his own. This “nothing will work” attitude often causes doubt in the hero, either making the hero feel defeated, causing the hero to make poor decisions, or even persuading the hero to take no action at all.
The Cynic in film:
Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), a human freed by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who doubts Morpheus and all his “bull shit”, betraying them in favor of the Agents to ensure his return to the Matrix. – The Matrix (1999)
Sir Alexander Dane / Dr. Lazarus of Tv’Meck (Alan Rickman), a Royal Shakespearean trained actor who resents his role as Lazarus, an alien species with prudent intellect and psionic abilities. – Galaxy Quest (1999)
Walter Hobbs (James Caan), the incredulous and reluctant biological father to Buddy (Will Ferrell), who works in New York at a children’s book company and is also on Santa’s naughty list. – Elf (2003)
Robert the Bruce (Angus McFadyen), the chief contender for the Scottish crown, who is inspired by Wallace’s (Mel Gibson) dedication and bravery, yet betrays him for political gain. – Braveheart (1995)
Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton), the Marine team’s technician, who has a propensity for stating the obvious with high-anxiety: “That’s it man, game over man, game over! What the fuck we are gonna do now?” – Aliens (1986)