Generally speaking, can you enjoy fiction without any sympathetic characters?

Per my usual inclination, I will ask as simple question in the thread title and then ruin the simplicity with a drawn-out, garrulous OP.

Last night was movie night. The wife and I were planning to go out, but she wasn’t feeling well so we opted to watch a BluRay instead: specifically the last Superman movie, which she adores and I was disappointed in. And that’s not because I dislike fantasy or superheroes; I love both, especially stories about Mrs. Kent’s little boy. But this movie, despite its gorgeous photography and Kevin Spacey’s excellent performance as the villain, bugs me from the moment the protagonist shows up on screen, because the movie’s Superman is a selfish, childish asshole. I won’t bore y’all my reasons, beyond linking to this post of mine which explains them.

My complains about sympathetic protagonists extends also to the Star Trek
reboot, which I ranted about in my usual insane fashion here. I’m sure I have similarly ranted about Hannibal, but I’m too lazy to look it up.

In all three cases, my enjoyment of a franchise of which I am a fan was derailed by the presentation of the protagonists. If I can’t in some way sympathize with the protagonist/viewpoint character, the story’s ruined for me. (See also: Family Guy.)

Am I alone in this?

I have difficulty enjoying fiction without any sympathetic characters, although I’m using a pretty broad definition of “sympathetic”. The characters don’t have to be good, I don’t have to agree with them, they don’t have to be nice, but they can’t be completely unredeemable.

I deliberately didn’t write good. There’s no arguing that Miriam Blaylock from Whitley Strieber’s novel The Hunger is a menace to human society; she’s probably irredeemable. But it’s possible to understand with and have syjmpathy for what moves her; she’s not a complete monster, nor is she annoyingly childish or venal.

I agree with sjc - there needs to be SOMEONE I can cheer for, even if it’s only for one aspect of the character, and on the whole they wouldn’t be seen as a “good guy”.

One example that leaps to mind is in the Prince of Nothing trilogy, where the main character comes across as a God Mode Sue, and you’re never quite sure if he’s supposed to be the hero or the surprise villain given how easily he starts to gain power and allies and run everything. By the end, I was rooting for the half-insane barbarian (and rapist) Cnaiur just because he was the only viewpoint character who was actively opposed to the main character.

I have to like at least some of the characters to enjoy fiction, whatever the format. The characters don’t have to be GOOD, not at all, in fact some of my favorite characters are extremely evil. But I can understand their motivations. If the characters are just Evil for Evil’s Sake, that’s about as bad as being Good for Good’s Sake. I want to see some inner struggles, I want to see characters try and fail to do things, I want conflict, both inner and outer.

I encountered this conflict after I watched Man Bites Dog. It’s a movie about a film crew that follows around a serial killer and films him killing, raping, and torturing various people.

The movie was a good critique on the nature of the audience’s enjoyment of violence. It’s supposed to turn the table on us and make us aware of the gruesome nature of all the sanitized violence that we’ve been enjoying before.

The problem was that every character in the movie was a complete first class asshole. The serial killer, obviously, but also the film crew that followed him around and idolized him.

So while I admired the movie’s deconstruction of various violent movie tropes, I hated every second of the film. I’m still not sure whether I should call it a “good movie” or not.

Otherwise, it takes a lot for me to hate a movie because of an unsympathetic character. Usually, if the character has enough traits for me to have an opinion about him, then he’s a well developed character, which I almost always like.

I thought the movie Happiness was good, even though the main characters all engage in pretty screwed up sexual activities. It was a decent exploration of characters who think they can find happiness through sex, and the unsympathetic characters never upset me enough to hate the movie.

I’ve certainly read/watched and enjoyed works that don’t really have any fleshed-out characters at all, and with whom I could therefore not particularly identify or sympathize. But if it’s a character-driven work, then there has to be at least one character, preferably the protagonist but at least someone with an interesting arc, with whom I can at least somewhat identify.

I think I had this problem with Donaldson’s Lord Foulsbane books. Well, book…I tried it twice, read it through both times, and absolutely can’t stand it. It’s not even that I really hate the ‘protaganist’ or anything, it’s just…slimey and uninteresting. <shrug>

Nope. I need someone to root for, basically.

It’s why I gave up on “Lost” and “Heroes,” for example, when I found I wanted them all to die. Preferably together. Painfully.

I general, if I hate all the characters I’m going to hate the book I’m reading too.

Overall, I enjoyed Sideways, even though I didn’t think that there were any sympathetic main characters in the entire movie, with the possible exception of Maya (Virginia Madsen) who was not actually particularly likable, (aloof, distant) but in comparison to the other characters in the film, she was practically Mother Theresa.

No. And I mean that I personally have to find at least one character sympathetic, not that they conform to whatever I think makes a character good or likeable or whatever. I have to be able to want someone to do well.

I’m sure there have been many occasions where I’ve said I didn’t like a movie because ‘I just didn’t like anybody in it.’ In fact, I know this, because I’ve mentioned this before as a condition for me liking a movie. Examples are hard to think of, because such movies and books I tend to not think about very much.

There are no redeemable characters in “Dogville,” but that’s the point of the movie. I hated “Dogville” at first, and I have no desire to rewatch it, but I have come to appreciate it.

While I prefer redeemable characters, it isn’t essential for my enjoyment.

I can live without sympathetic characters if there are charismatic characters or a sympathetic invisible narrator or even a really compelling story.

I can be interested in people I don’t like. I can’t be interested in people I don’t like who are doing boring things.

I don’t believe I wrote anything about redeemable characters in the OP. You seem to be saying that a character must be redeemable to be sympathetic, or perhaps that a character must be in need of redeemption to be sympathetic. Is that what you mean? If yes, may I ask why you equate either of those two traits? If not, what DID you mean?

Yes, a character must have redeemable qualities to be sympathetic.

I do not know what you mean by redeemable here. Can you clarify?

It’s very very rare I can enjoy a film or book with no characters I find sympathetic. Off the top of my head, there’s The Usual Suspects, and…well, that may be it.

I’d say the character doesn’t have to be sympathetic, as long as they’re stylish. Ledger’s Joker might be a monster, but he’s fun to watch.

I can enjoy a story where I have no sympathy for the protagonist - Blood Simple might be an example; Emma is definitely is. Strong and internally consistent characters, plots, and universes is enough.

However, I don’t suffer fools, misogynists, or entitled twits well. I like Hannibal a lot; whatever else, he was not a fool, misogynist, or entitled.