26 September 2014

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Fictional Characters And Their Tattoos

All of our favourite celebs have long since jumped onto the tattoo bandwagon, and who can blame them? It’s daring, sexy, and an excuse to show off a little bit more skin. We do hear a lot about celebrity tattoos, and not all of it is good of course. Ink is one of those things that is met with mixed reactions, people love it or they hate it, it’s like painting yourself with marmite permanently, except not as weird. The point is tattoos are everywhere, and not just with our favourite movie stars when they’re off screen – a number of tattoos have made it on screen too, and in some cases they’re a very important part of the character and the movie itself.

Let’s start with someone simple.


That’s right! It’s Darth Maul, the much loved first villain from the Star Wars movies. I know what you’re thinking, you’ve seen the Phantom Menace a dozen times since you were a kid, you’re smart enough to know that Darth Maul here is some sort of weird alien creature and thus those are probably just camouflage markings or something unique to his species. Well – you’re wrong.

Those tribal markings are not a natural trait of Darth Maul’s alien race as some of you might have first thought, they are indeed tattoos. If you happen to be well versed in geekery, and willing to go a little beyond the limits to find the facts you might have taken the time to read ‘Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter’ – yes, that’s right, he has a book! Who knew? More to the point the book explains that these are Sith tattoos, the process of being tattooed was like a rite of passage for Darth Maul and others joining ‘The Dark Side’ (am I the only one unimpressed by their choice of team name?), not only are these tattoos, but given to Maul by Darth Sidious. You learn something useless every day, huh?

Now – you might not have been too impressed by this revelation, what does it matter whether he has tattoos or not right? Well it does; can you imagine trying to pick Darth Maul out of a line-up without the big black tribal?

Now then – which handsome badass should we discuss next?


That’s right, the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, well known from his Disney adventures in The Pirates of the Caribbean. No one has ever been quite sure whose side Jack is on, except maybe his own. Not only is the good Captain sexy, insane, daring and lucky as all hell, but he’s also part of the list of bad-asses with tattoos. It’s a classic, we’ve all seen the movie, and of course we all remember that iconic scene in which the brand of the pirate is revealed and the tattoo is shown.

Now – of my fellow nerds, who else put wait too much thought into this particular moment of the movie? There are two things here we need to consider; the brand and the tattoo, and I know myself and a few fellow movie enthusiasts alongside me spent a considerable time wondering what the interaction surrounding the brand and Jack’s “run in with the East India Trading Company” actually meant. Well, we didn’t really have to, because the novel ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom’ actually explained some of that for us. It is revealed in the novel that Jack worked for the EITC, and was given a ship and a special cargo to transport, but upon discovery that the ‘cargo’ was actually slaves Jack decided to set them all free, so the ship was sunk and he was branded a pirate.

Then of course there is the tattoo. How many times could Jack Sparrow have benefited during the movies if the opposition hadn’t known his identity? And yet he gives them the perfect identifier; a tattoo with a solid suggestion as to his name. This is one of the early indications that we get of what Jack’s character is really like – it is much too important to him that he is known and recognised. If anything we should probably be surprised that he didn’t have the word ‘Captain’ tattooed in big bold letters above it.

This isn’t Jack’s only tattoo – during the beginning of Dead Man’s Chest we witness a rather amusing scene in which Jack captains a crew consisting entirely of him. One of which has his shirt off, showing his back with a rather large tattoo across the back and arms, this is a poem titled ‘Desiderata’, which is Latin for ‘desired things’; another rather suitable option for Captain Jack.

Next up – Vampires of course.


Okay – so he isn’t really a vampire, we all know Blade is a Day-Walker, that’s what makes him Blade. The character of Blade appeared in three movies of the same name, featuring a totally badass half vampire that really hates vampires and is of course more than happy to spend his life completely destroying them. There wasn’t any shortage of badass when it came to Blade, he was a vampire, built like a brick house, well stocked with a variety of weapons that ranged from katana to bombs, strutted around in black leather, and of course he had some big black tribal tattoos around his head, neck and shoulders.

They don’t really do anything for the story, they don’t say anything particularly interesting about the character accept that he was badass enough to get a lot of tribal tattoos in painful areas, and it doesn’t do a thing for the actual storyline, but who really cares? We all know that the big thick tribal makes Blade who he is; things just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Of course there are other tattoos that feature in the Blade movies; those that the familiars have identifying their relationship to their master play much more heavily in the plot of the movies, not only because they help to identify the humans that are acting as familiars, but also because it allows the vampire behind the attacks to be very quickly and easily identified.

      Of course, in some cases the tattoos were provided to enforce a stereotype, more than much else.


As was the case with Mickey O’Niel, from Snatch. Mickey had a number of tattoos, and they were all on full display during the famous boxing scenes that appeared in the movie, while they served no real purpose to the plot they did help to enforce a little more of what we knew about the character. Of course Mickey was your rather stereotypical sort of character, he gives you everything you might expect a ‘Pikey’ character to offer, particularly in this type of dark, dry humour movie where all of the stereotypes are demonstrated.

The tattoos are part of the image, and they help to enforce the relationship that Mickey has with his mother, which of course drives us towards the eventual resolution of the movie when he seeks revenge for the murder of his mother. You can hardly understand a word he says during most of the movie, and disputes are settled in a boxing ring or with a lamping dog, everything about it helps to push the whole image that we’re supposed to take away from the character, and the tattoos help to push that a little further.

Many of the tattoos include religious connotations, which are of course more heavily associated with travellers, as well as one which is said to be of his mother on his chest, though it could also be the Virgin Mary; there is no definitive answer regarding this. Others include a snake that travels from his back, across his side and onto his stomach, flowers on his stomach and the famous Last Supper scene on his back. Of course, most of all it was about seeing Brad Pitt topless.

Now, how about tattoos that are actually important to the plot of the movie?


It doesn’t get much more ‘important to the plot’ than having the story title based on your tattoo. Of course, I’m referring to ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. Yep, you hear that title and of course you think not only is there a girl in this movie with a dragon tattoo, but it’s going to be a good tattoo too, or else why would they call the movie that? Okay – those of you who have seen the movie are probably wondering what that tattoo actually had to do with the plot. Well, to be honest, nothing.

Lisabeth Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo) actually had a number of other tattoos, and in the books some of their meanings were clearly explained, but the namesake tattoo is of course the most famous among them. Avid readers of the series have put a lot of speculation into what the dragon tattoo could mean, if this was real life I might argue that dragon tattoos are just kind of badass and the girl wanted something cool, but this is a book, and authors are never that simple – as secondary school English lessons have taught us.

One of the ruling theories is that Lisabeth got the tattoo as a reminder of her past trauma and her success in fighting back against her abuser, with fire; you know – like she did to her farther. Quite a literal take on the dragons, but still totally cool. There were a lot of rumours that the meaning behind the tattoo would be revealed in the final instalment of the book, however the death of the author before the final instalment could be written prevented that. How inconsiderate of him.

Okay then, seriously now – tattoos that played a part in the plot of the movie.


The death eater mark is a pretty famous one, and something that a lot of Harry Potter fans (or haters, who can tell with Death Eaters?) have had tattooed onto their own arms. This was of course a pretty essential part of some of the characters and the plot of the story. If not for the mark of the death eater on the arm of Barty Crouch Junior the Quidditch World Cup probably wouldn’t have ended with the magical production of a giant death eater mark in the sky, which means that a lot of the trouble in that movie wouldn’t have started.

If Professor Snape hadn’t had the mark of a death eater then perhaps Harry wouldn’t have gotten so confused and hated him so much during that movie. And of course if Junior hadn’t had one then Snape and Dumbledore would have just looked silly when they wanted to see everyone else’s arms at the end of that movie. Not to mention that Voldemort uses the tattoo to communicate with his death eaters. Very important tattoo – actual purpose in the plot, ideal right? The design of the mark is also clever and thought provoking, using the body of a snake, twisted into the shape of an infinity symbol and mounted with a skull – perhaps a sign of infinite death. Personally I would have stuck a skull and an ouroboros together for a much more literal interpretation of the death eater, but that’s probably the reason I don’t work in the film industry.

Now – if you really want a tattoo that was important to the plot of the movie there might be just one tattoo you’re thinking of.


Yep – the cryptic tattoo from Waterworld. Now, we all know that this is the tattoo that helps to guide the group to land once more, by giving them directions to Mount Everest, and for this reason it was pretty important to the plot, as far as tattoos go.

Or at least that was the idea. The tattoo provides co-ordinates in the longitude, latitude format, which allow the group to find the only remaining land in the world. Simple enough by most standards, all they need to do is follow the directions and go to the right place. Just a few problems with that; first of all – most obviously, these directions are written in Chinese.
Eventually they do manage to translate the tattoo of course, but this is where the next problem lies – the tattoo gives coordinates but not directions.

The translation offers the information;
Latitude 56 Minutes, 86 Degrees
Longitude 59 Minutes, 29 Degrees

However it does not specify the direction, ordinarily coordinates would provide information regarding whether this is North, East, South or West, so there are actually four points the coordinates could be leading them to, and they only have a 25% chance of getting it right. Well, actually make that 0%, because the longitude and latitude are actually the wrong way round for Mount Everest. Funny enough these coordinates actually direct you to the Arctic Ocean, a considerable way north of Svalbard.


About Today's Contributor:
Kate Critchlow is a freelance writer with a growing passion for tattoos and the meaning behind them, which has inspired her to write much more about tattoos, tattoo culture and even tattoo supplies.