“I came. I saw. I conquered.”– Julius Caesar
For this post, I wanted to give some solid examples of Alpha from movies, which is becoming more and more scarce these days. Presence, which includes body language, vocal tone and eye contact, are a critical components to Game, Frame and every day life. It’s a sub-communication that tells the world what your intentions are and just how confident you believe yourself to be. So here are a few examples and notes to help you out when fine-tuning your own presence and style.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Alpha character with Presence: Khan
Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, and when he was announced to take on the role of Khan, it seemed curious at first because the original Khan played by Ricardo Montalbán was a very physically imposing individual. Montalbán’s Khan was a bare-chested, heavily muscled man that at first glance looked like he could maul a bear without a second thought. But watching this scene above, you can see that while Cumberbatch doesn’t necessarily have the outright muscle mass (though he did add some muscle and got lean for the role), his presence makes him equally as imposing. First, notice how he stands. He holds his head high and straight, his shoulders are broad and his chest is out. His back is held ramrod straight and arms are held with militaristic precision.
Next, observe his eye contact and speech. His eye contact is reminiscent of a predatory jungle cat, eyeing it’s prey and waiting to pounce at any second. Even though he is imprisoned behind a wall, his presence makes him feel like a threat as if there was no barrier there. His speech is also very direct and precise. This screams that he’s a leader, is decisive, and despite being a “prisoner,” is in control of the situation. Other Alpha tells are the fact that he controls the subject of conversation and keeps it on his objective, no matter how many times Kirk tries to silence him or change topics. You could put this Khan in charge of an executive board meeting on Wall Street or of a Navy SEAL unit deep in some unknown jungle with the type of Alpha presence we see here.
Game of Thrones
Alpha character with Presence: Tywin Lannister
Anyone who is a fan of the books or the show knows that Tywin Lannister is possibly the most Alpha character ever in fantasy fiction, and is certainly the most Alpha Character in the series. Charles Dance absolutely crushes it in his portrayal of the powerful Lion patriarch. Let’s take a closer look.
First off, his body language is focused on his task. Despite having an important conversation, he has a task that is his priority and he makes his first prerogative. He comes first. Next is his complete command of the situation. When he asks “Why is he still alive?” and gets an excuse rather than a straight answer, he dismisses the excuse as if it never existed and reasserts his question “Why is he still alive?” That sends the message that he has no time or patience for bullshit and non of it will fly. He only responds to direct answers, because he is direct, and indirect reasonings are perceived weakness. Then there’s the famous line of “A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of the sheep” which is one of the most Alpha lines uttered in this century. And when Jamie attempts to snap back at that statement, he is quickly and immediately shut down with “No that’s not an opinion it’s a fact.” Tywin establishes a clear boundary of what is and what isn’t acceptable and properly enforces that boundary without hesitation.
The other great thing about this scene is that Tywin shows his life’s mission (or a Man’s Mission, in Red Pill terms) which for him is establishing a dynasty for his family name. He sees how high the stakes are and he sees that his family can establish dominance and greatness, or fade into obscurity. His vision is to see his family succeed above all others and his mission is to do what he must to ensure that it happens. Here is a man who ruthlessly will protect his family and will push them all to succeed. When he tells his son Jamie “I need you to become the man you were always meant to be. Not next year. Not tomorrow. Now.” he’s calling Jamie out on his own bullshit and is saying “it’s time to Alpha up” because the stakes have been laid out. They all are mortal and will die, but their family name will live on, and that’s the idea that Tywin has dedicated his life’s mission to.
The Dark Knight Rises
Alpha character with Presence: Bane
Not since Darth Vader have we seen a more badass villain in a mask with breathing issues on the big screen. This scene emphasizes the “less is more approach” to Alpha presence. Everything Bane does is efficiently minimalist. He speaks briefly and precisely, he makes eye contact only when necessary, and wastes zero time with anything else. His time is precious, and so in this scene he treats it as such. Without hesitation he kills one henchman for failing and attempting to waste more of his time with excuses, and then he kills the other one just as efficiently after telling the henchman to “follow him.”
Another great takeaway from this scene is with body language. Tom Hardy owned this role, and in this scene his body language is brilliant. At first he is facing away, but when his henchmen don’t grasp the fact that they’re the one’s with their asses in the frying pan, he makes his intent powerfully clear. Bane’s stance is wide, commanding and imposing, and Tom Hardy does an excellent job of using the personal space of his body to establish dominance. The way he moves his body is also brilliant. It’s calculated and just at the right speed. It’s not rushed or overly aggressive, it’s precise, relaxed and direct.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Alpha character with Presence: Khan
Another great scene, I’ll build on my notes from the first Khan clip above. The use of eye contact and body language in this scene is fantastic, especially the wide shot of Khan standing in between Spock and Kirk. Even when he has his “vulnerable” moment, he is facing away from Spock and Kirk while still using his body language to hold Frame. For a great list of these traits and some more insight, I’d recommend checking out this post by Charles Sledge. He has some great insight into many of the Alpha mechanisms I’ve outlined here.
I’ve often said this to friends, but the when watching movies, the older I get the more I tend to root for the villain. I’ll probably make this observation into another topic, but it is interesting how in the modern area the characters displaying the most Alpha traits are the “bad guys,” and as you can see from this sampling, it is interesting that Alpha traits have seemingly become vilified.