Why Does 'Money Heist' Make You Take the Side of the Thieves?

And does it make you a bad person?
Photo/s: Screenshot/Money Heist/YouTube

(Editor's Note: This article contains Money Heist spoilers )

Rozene Gonzales cheers for the thieves in red jumpsuits on Netflix's "Money Heist" as the thrill of always outsmarting police with a criminal mind gives her the much-needed escape from her twin jobs as a medical sales representative and a virtual assistant. 

It's something that Gonzales wouldn't do in real life, take the side of the thief. On the "Money Heist" finale however, she said she was so engrossed in the plan to steal from the Royal Mint and the Bank of Spain that she binge-watched all five episodes of Volume 2 in one sitting.

"It's a very stressful situation sa mga bida pero alam mo na makakalis sila doon, makaka-recover sila doon. I think we're all watching because we wanna see how these characters will prevail in the end," she told reportr.

Gonzales has always been drawn to the anti-hero like Loki the God of Mischief in Marvel's "Thor" and Walter White, the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned meth king of "Breaking Bad".

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"Even though they portray more on the bad side, you know there's goodness in them and that's why we like them and that's why we want them to win over the really 'good' guys," she said.

Why do we root for the 'bad' guys?

It's the thrill of the chase, psychologist Eugene Hontiveros said. There's the chance that the villain gets caught, but in anti-hero plots, they escape and succeed.

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However, praising the anti-hero for their efforts doesn't make the viewer a bad person, Hontiveros told reportr.

Shows like "Money Heist", or La Casa de Papel in Spanish, helped audience deal with baggage that they cannot easily solve in real life, like poverty, Hontiveros said.

"That's what everybody is chasing nowadays. It's our present reality na pahirap nang pahirap ang buhay and everybody wants to become rich instantly na hindi ka na kailangan kumita. It's instant convenience," he told reportr.

The "Money Heist" gang justifies their grand thefts as acts of resistance. In the first robbery, gang member Professor asked Inspector Raquel Murillo if it's stealing if they were printing their own money.

Professor also said the first heist was meant to honor his late father, who was killed after robbing a bank to pay for his medical treatment. He also wants to print money for the poor, like a modern-day Robin Hood.

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Justifying the robberies as a way to solve society's ills makes "Money Heist" relatable, Hontiveros said. "It reflects the political climate that we have right now including the inequality between the rich and the poor."

"We are the resistance," the Professor told Tokyo, who in Part 5 sacrificed herself by setting off bombs to kill Spanish Army forces on their trail. People instinctively root for the underdog, especially those pushing against a oppressive system, the Professor said.

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Personal struggles captured by the characters' story also lure audiences, said Hontiveros.

Moscow, Denver's father whose talent is digging through walls as a former miner, is Gonzales' favorite character. "He's the only rational person in the group."

Gonzales said she could relate to hostage-turned-robber Monica Gaztambide (aptly named Stockholm when she fell in love with her captor Denver) during times when she said she allowed her close friend to abuse her kindness. Gonzales also likes Nairobi, a feminist whose maternal insticts empowered others around her, including hostages.

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"At some point in our lives kasi meron tayong personal struggles at 'yun ang natatamaan ng developers ng series na ito. They touch those sensitive issues in us so that we will be able to relate, that they're like us," Hontiveros said.

By binge-watching fictional shows where criminals with a purpose get their happy endings, the audience gets its own cathartic escape, he said.

"In those movies, we end up becoming triumphant, we end up releasing our anger and other psychological baggage that we are keeping," he said. "That's our way of releasing it para we do not keep it to ourselves and it will really damage us in the long run."


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Just don't pull off a real-life heist

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Stories like "Money Heist" and other anti-hero shows bring lessons on teamwork, creativity, and determination which can be beneficial in real life, Hontiveros said.

"Money Heist" also inspired protest movements in Spain, Indonesia, India, Italy, Iraq and others, with "Bella Ciao" as their revolutionary anthem.

While there's a certain romance to life imitating art, in the real world, thieves get jailed.

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In December 2018, five people inspired by "Money Heist" stole 700,000 Turkish liras (about P2.5 million) worth of electronics in Turkey's capital, Istanbul, Daily Sabah reported.

In August 2019, thieves in Brazil scattered money across the streets after breaking into a local bank, whichwas reminiscent of a scene, according to News18.

Hontiveros said its important for adults to guide minors when watching anti-hero series like "Money Heist" to separate the good lessons from the bad, Hontiveros said.

"We have to choose the values that we can draw from the movie. Choose what's going to be helpful for us," he said.

Psychologist Eugene Hontiveros is a graduate school professor and chief psychologist of 3MDG Mental HealthGATE which provides free mental health counseling as its main advocacy. 

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