Making a movie about a character whose name you never reveal sounds backwards and bizarre. How are we supposed to identify with the protagonist if we don't even know what to call him? But many films go that route, including this week's movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which doesn't name the man or the boy who occupy almost every frame of it. That's in keeping with McCarthy's novel, which is spare and bleak and doesn't use much punctuation, either. (The apocalypse wiped out most of the world's apostrophes.) Here are seven other movies whose central characters' names are kept hidden from us.

Fight Club. Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, this modern classic follows novelist Chuck Palahniuk's lead by not naming the narrator, played by Edward Norton and identified simply as "The Narrator" in the credits. (Some viewers have thought the character is named Jack due to the Narrator's use of expressions like "I am Jack's cold sweat" and "I am Jack's raging bile duct," but he'd previously established that these are metaphors adapted from an old educational pamphlet he read where "Jack" was the generic name given.) The Narrator is intended to represent 20th-century men in general: repressed, emasculated, and timid. Of course, if you've seen the movie, you know we might actually wind up learning his name after all....

Bad Lieutenant. Abel Ferrara's excruciatingly sordid tale of an amoral cop seeking redemption is famous for Harvey Keitel's intense lead performance. He's only ever called "Lieutenant" by the other characters, though; his actual name is not revealed. This mean what happens to him could happen to any of us, making it a cautionary tale? Is it a reminder that drug abuse and related depravity strip a person of his identity? Whatever the case, Werner Herzog's remake/sequel/whatever it is, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, doesn't grant its main character any such anonymity. He's called Terence McDonaugh.

The Man with No Name trilogy. Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly all star Clint Eastwood as a mysterious gunslinger -- presumably the same character in each film, though that's not expressly conveyed -- who travels the American West in the mid-1800s. One person calls him "Joe," once, in A Fistful of Dollars; after that he's just given nicknames like Manco and Blondie. The character is meant to be cryptic and inscrutable, an outsider and a drifter with no roots. What better way to convey that someone isn't part of normal society than to strip him of the one thing everyone in society has?

Zombieland. Unlike the other films on this list, the subject of names actually comes up in Zombieland, when Woody Harrelson declares he doesn't want to know anybody's lest he get emotionally attached. Consequently, he and the others are called by the cities they're from or trying to get to: Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, Little Rock. (A college girl that Columbus likes is identified only by her apartment number: 406.) In the end, one of the characters reveals her real name, an indication that it's OK for them all to be friends now. Aww.

Blindness. Just as in Jose Saramago's novel, the movie version of Blindness doesn't bother with names. Instead, as a sudden epidemic of blindness cripples a city and forces its victims into quarantined camps, the people are known by descriptions: the doctor, the doctor's wife, etc. One interpretation is that people you can't see might as well be anonymous; another is that in a time of crisis such as this, when makeshift families and alliances must be formed, traditional surnames are irrelevant.

Yes. Written and directed by Sally Potter, this 2004 drama is an odd film anyway. Almost all of the dialogue is in rhyming iambic pentameter; the fact that the two main characters and the maid who serves as narrator don't have names is almost unremarkable in comparison. The film is not intended to be strictly realistic -- real people, apart from Jesse Jackson, don't speak in rhyme -- but rather allegorical, so calling the central characters He and She seems appropriate.

Antichrist. Lars von Trier's latest batch of artistic weirdness and intentional provocation stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple grieving the death of their child. As in Yes, they are just called He and She. Allegories are at play here, too. Besides, if you see Antichrist, you'll probably come away thinking that the failure to name the film's only two characters is the least odd thing about it. Chaos reigns.
categories Cinematical