I recently read an addicting fanfic (Hiddle me this) that explored the possibility of a person’s public face contrasting starkly with their proclivities in private life.
The author included an alternate ending with a few thoughts on forgiveness and redemption:
“I believe that there are truly evil people in this world, whether they see it that way or not. Tom may have only been talking about the mindset needed to play a character like Loki, and in the context of acting, his statement may certainly be true. But if someone who has purposefully done truly heinous things repents on their deathbed, is that good enough? They may have seen the error of their ways, but that doesn’t mean that they are worthy of the forgiveness of others, or that their wrongs may be righted. I think in this respect, Tom has led a bit of a sheltered life. It’s different to read about atrocities in the newspaper than to see them with your own eyes.”
This assessment was in response to a few quotes of Tom Hiddleston, including:
“I don’t think there are villains in this world. I think there are just misunderstood heroes.”
“I don’t think anyone, until their soul leaves their body, is past the point of no return.”
I’m not sure that it’s useful to label any person as “truly evil,” even if his* transgressions certainly deserve it. To do so is to ignore everything else that he is. It may not seem important to really percieve another human being in his entirety, but to understand — rather than label — gives us more insight. A person who does evil things may have some complicated internal logic whereby he has convinced himself that his actions really were for the best. There are very few (if any) purely sociopathic people, and if we look hard enough into any given case, we can see how such a person was shaped by experiences and by the expectations of others.
The first quote is probably related to this:
“If you look at all of the villains in the course of human history, they’ve all believed, delusionally, in the virtue of their actions – every villain is a hero in his own mind.” [source]
In other words, it’s dependent on point of view. When we attempt to understand the motivations behind evil actions, we become better able to forgive. Furthermore, we gain the potential to be more successful at changing hearts and minds.
I think it’s true that our theoretical villain can come to understand the ramifications of his actions and begin to regret deeply and truly right up to his dying moment. I believe that it is possible for him, if he wants it badly enough, to atone for his actions and choose to live differently. It may be the exception rather than the rule, but I will always believe in that possibility. What should a deathbed repentance count for? The question of whether any of this is good enough is entirely separate, and up to the victims. Of course, I’m not claiming our repentant villain automatically “deserves” forgiveness. Forgiveness is a salve for the victim more than anything else. I agree that there is no “beyond the point of no return” though — there is always a way back.
* Gendered pronouns used for ease of notation only.