I don't usually focus on a single character like this, but The Rad-Lands did a piece on Lord Humungus from Mad Max 2 (found here) and it got me thinking about what post apocalyptic character has stood out for me. Funnily enough, it's not a protagonist and it's not even a primary antagonist, it's actually a side character.
Redridge, from The Book of Eli, is the right hand man of a small town tyrant known as Carnegie. He starts out looking like your usual end-of-the-world thug, he's bigger than most others and not overly intelligent so he probably just fell into the role. By the fact that he's the right hand man of the movie's villain, you know straight away that he's not a good guy by any stretch. We see this in the fact that he's perfectly fine with the way things are being run in this violent town, he's happy to kill people and even executes fellow underlings when they fail. It seems like he's content with being Carnegie's second.
When the protagonist, Eli, comes to town though, things start to change. While Redridge is a man of violence, Eli is both a holy man and death incarnate. Even someone as simple as Redridge picks up on the fact that there's something special about Eli, it seems like every bullet fired actually wants to miss him. After a brief shoot out in the main street, Redridge has Eli dead to rights but chooses to let him go. It isn't revealed if this is because he's already figured out that he'd probably miss, even with a clear shot, or if he's simply chosen to let Eli live. The point is, he doesn't shoot.
The movie makes it pretty clear that there's more to this guy than simply being a brutish thug who hurts people for a living. He's actually got a crush on the Carnegie's daughter, Solara, and seeing as he's spent most of his life being violent he doesn't really know how to interact with her or express his attraction to her. He playfully steps in her way while she's out on errands, then quickly steps back when he realizes that he's misjudged how she'd react to this. He was young when the world ended, so he probably never even finished school, and despite his size he's still operating as someone with a primary school education at best.
Despite being uneducated, and not knowing how to express himself properly, he still cares for Solara and wants to be with her. When he sees an opportunity to secure her, he makes a deal with Carnegie. He's too immature to realize that Solara could never love a man like him, but he's just so infatuated with her that he doesn't even see this. He just wants her, and he comes up with a plan to get her and keep her safe. He plans to capture Eli for Carnegie, if Carnegie will let him have Solara.
Redridge and Carnegie chase Eli and Solara across the radioactive wasteland of the former United States, and eventually capture the pair as they share some tea with a couple of delightful cannibals. Redridge has given Carnegie what he wants and as promised, he is given Solara in return. He finally gets what he's wanted for the longest time, but even he's picking up on the fact that none of it feels right.
Solara has spent the entire movie growing as a character, she's gone from a terrified prostitute to an absolute badass, so by this point she's more than ready to show Redridge exactly what she thinks of this whole situation. She strangles the driver of the vehicle they're all in, and it ends up flipping before rolling down the highway.
Just as Solara is about to make her escape, we see that Redridge is still alive despite being impaled by a machete. Now... he could try to kill her out of revenge, seeing as she pretty much just killed him, but instead he pulls the machete out of his chest and exits the car. He had Solara, but instead of holding onto her he chose to let her go.
In a scene that made the The Book of Eli a favorite of mine, a dying Redridge kneels down on the ground and takes his goggles off. He looks up at the sky, and smiles, before his head slumps down. It's a scene that's enough to give both Solara and Carnegie pause, it's like they're bearing witness to something divine. This man of violence chose not to rely on violence at the very end. By changing his ways before it was too late he seems to not only have had some kind of revelation, but also found peace.
Redridge is left kneeling on the side of the road, like a man who's died in prayer.
The whole story arc really spoke to me, not only because I myself am a rather large gentleman who has often had trouble interacting with tiny women, but because of the extra depth that was added to a character that could've been easily ignored. In a movie that is all about faith, this background character was given a pivotal role in supporting the film's overall theme.
Redridge taking his goggles off at the end was a great piece of symbolism, showing that he was no longer blinded by earthly distractions. He has his goggles off at other times during the film, but this is always when he's indoors where he's shrouded in darkness. While the goggles are still on his vision is occluded by the darkness of Carnegie's influence, but he manages to strip them away at the very end and see the light. The symbolism works really well when the twist about Eli is revealed.
I get that Redridge wanting to own Solara isn't a healthy relationship at all, even if he genuinely wanted to look after her, but I think that even he'd figured that out in the end. He was a bad guy, yes, but he was a bad guy that found redemption. It's a story that has stuck with me since I first saw The Book of Eli at the cinema, and even after all these years I still want to know what Redridge learned in his final moments. What, or who, did he see? What made him so serene in the face of death?