GIMME FIVE: Characters that inspired Walter White

BY ERIN TORRANCE

For fans of Breaking Bad (likely all of you who clicked on this article), it comes as no surprise that today marks the series finale of what I deem the most amazing show of life. Vince Gilligan’s world of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is complex, clever, and ever changing, and no character represents this quite as well as high-school-teacher-turned-meth-drugpin Walter White. Through five seasons of actions and reactions, Walt transforms from an under-appreciated, honest father of one (soon two) to a dangerous, dark, meth-cooking mastermind, eventually becoming America’s most wanted criminal. While we can’t say for sure what inspired the character of Walter White (only Gilligan really has that answer), here are five film characters that may have contributed to his creation.

5. Larry Gopnik, A Serious Man

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In all reality, Larry likely didn’t have a whole lot of influence on the initial creation of Walter White (the film was released after the first season of Breaking Bad). However, the trope that is Larry Gopnik may have. Plus, there are some pretty decent parallels when it comes to theories around science and human behaviour.

Larry is a professor of physics who struggles through everything—his job, his family life, his faith. In sum, he really is just pathetic. While Walter begins in a similar state, his transformation is a lot more drastic than Larry’s. The parallels regarding science? In one scene, Larry teaches his students Heisenberg’s theory that nothing is ever certain, which stretches far from just the science surrounding physics but to human behaviour as well. Likewise, Walter’s belief of chemistry as the study of change extends to his character’s transformation into—oh ya, Heisenberg.

4. Lester Burnham, American Beauty

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Lester (Kevin Spacey) represents the depressed suburban father who’s struggling in his job and is stuck in a routine. When Lester spots his daughter’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), he becomes infatuated and this is what sparks the transformation in Lester from the somewhat pathetic family man to a muscle-building hamburger flipper—a.k.a a mid-life crisis. While Lester’s transformation is nowhere near as dark as Walt’s, Lester does change from an awkward father to a man who takes control of his life, speaks his mind, and stands up to the people that kept pushing him down.

3. Tyler Durden, Fight Club

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In this iconic film, an insomniac (Edward Norton) with a desk job and an Ikea-clad apartment crosses paths with a hapless luxury soap-maker and the two form an underground fight club that explodes into an organized crime group bent on creating terror. As we know, both Norton and Pitt’s characters are one and the same—they’re both Tyler Durden. It’s Tyler’s creation of this badass, careless, violence-loving alter ego that’s the real transformation here, and you can’t deny the parallels with Walter’s creation of “Heisenberg.” Both characters have created a new personality that’s able to climb the ranks of power through intimidation and clever manipulation.

2. Macbeth, Macbeth (1948)

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This may seem like a cheap one, but really, Macbeth may have a lot to do with Walter’s creation. It was prophesied by three witches that Macbeth would gain great power—and it’s this prophecy that leads him down a path of crime and violence that he thinks will gain him the kingship as his wife goads him on. Of course, Macbeth doesn’t quite make it to the top.

The parallels with Walter here are pretty strong. Once Walter realizes that the meth he’s producing (dubbed “Blue Sky”) is desirable and lucrative, he sees his potential for influence and power. While climbing to the top, he immerses himself in crime and violence. (At one point, Skyler takes on the role of Lady Macbeth as she urges Walter to off Jesse.) But as we’ve seen so far this season—that’s all near an end. Walter may not reach his goals before it’s all over.

1. Tony Montana, Scarface (1983)

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The influence is clear here. While Tony may have grown up in a life of crime, he starts at the bottom and makes his way up through the ranks by being ruthless and unwavering when it comes to what he considers necessary death and violence. However, once Tony makes it to the top, his power starts to decay. There’s one thing that makes Walter White so much darker, though. Recall that what actually led to Tony’s execution was the fact that he wasn’t willing to kill a man’s innocent wife and children. Well, Walter poisoned a child to manipulate his business partner, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)—and he seemingly didn’t think twice about what he did.

So, with these five characters in mind, let me leave you with just one thought: the transformation of all five ends in death…

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