It’s Antagonist April, and all this month, I’ll be doing a deep dive into those characters that give our heroes and main characters opposition to their goals.  This week, we’ll analyze the roles of three antagonists in the films.  Today, it’s Dante’s Peak

Let’s continue!

ANTAGONIST’S NAME:  Dr. Paul Dreyfus

RELATIONSHIP TO PROTAGONIST:  Paul is Harry Dalton’s boss at the United States Geological Survey.  He sends Harry on the assignment to check out the seismic activity around Dante’s Peak.


  • We’re introduced to Paul via answering machine, asking Harry Dalton for his opinion about “something in the Northern Cascades.” He orders him to “get down here as soon as you get this message,” which tells us he’s the boss in this dynamic.
  • Once in the office, Paul tells Harry about “activity around Dante’s Peak.”
    • These two scenes are the only ones we get with Paul for some time in the film.  Our protagonist is now sent on his mission to see if there’s any voracity to the activity and if Dante’s Peak is in danger of eruption.
    • Paul leaves the story at the seven-minute mark and returns around the 21-minute mark.
  • After Harry sees a number of potential issues regarding the volcano, he calls for a city council meeting.  In the middle of the meeting, while Harry asks them to consider “the possibility of an evacuation,” Paul shows up and takes Harry aside.  Paul asserts his authority: “I sent you up here to have a look around, not to scare the city council.” After Harry explains why he made the decision, Paul continues to push back: “There are dozens of reasons that would account for what happened.  Anything from a mild earthquake to a slight seismic shift, and not one of those reasons means that the mountain will blow up next week or next month, or the next 100 years.”
    • While the city council opposes Harry’s proposition, Mayor Wando is on his side, making her an ally.  Since Paul is Harry’s boss, his authority is given more weight by the city council when he reassures them that “if the time comes to call for an alert, if the time comes, it will be based upon scientific evidence, and not upon anyone’s opinion.”
    • Paul has now publicly embarrassed Harry, dismissing his initial views and opinions about Dante’s Peak, which makes them even more at odds with each other.  Paul’s role is to be skeptical of Harry, which is why he’s the story’s antagonist.  He even tells the city council about previous evacuations that have ruined cities, which makes them even more upset toward Harry and the Mayor.
  • When Paul runs into Harry at the local bar, Paul further explains, “Until you understand that there are delicate politics involved, not to mention economics, you’re only going to do these people more harm than good.” Paul once again asserts his authority and makes it clear to Harry who’s in charge now.
  • When Harry and some of his team members are up on the mountain, they experience an earthquake, and a rockslide injures one of them.  Paul is back at home base.  When he reconnects with Harry, Harry makes it clear that they should put the town on alert.  Ever the skeptic, Paul rebuffs him, telling Harry that he doesn’t “want to cause a panic over minor tectonic quakes.” Paul doesn’t want to scare everyone “over guesswork and hunches,” he then tells Harry, “Another 48 hours will tell the tale, and you get a grip.”  
    • The conflict between our hero and the opposition escalates further, their views on handling the situation vary widely.  It’s important to keep in mind that Paul is Harry’s boss, which is why Harry doesn’t try and override him.  
  • After a week of no major activity from Dante’s Peak, Paul says, “first thing in the morning, we are out of here.”  
  • Paul’s opinions quickly change that final night when Harry appears at his hotel room and shows him “scientific evidence” that the town’s water supply is now contaminated by sulfur dioxide, which is “the same thing [Harry] saw in the Philippines on Mount Pinatubo before she blew.”  
    • Now shown proof that Harry has been right all along, Paul now works in tandem with Harry to figure out what to do next when it comes to evacuating the town.  He even tells Harry to “call the mayor. Have her put the town on alert.”
    • It should be noted here that had he listened to Harry in the first place, they could have avoided the chaos that eventually occurs (but that would make the film less exciting). 
  • Once the chaos begins, Paul attempts to reach Harry via radio, where he tells him: “Harry, listen.  For whatever it’s worth, you were right and I was wrong.  I’m sorry.”
    • This is the last conversation between the two characters, and the antagonist admits defeat.  The skeptic is now a believer on the hero’s side.
  • Ultimately, Dante’s Peak was what Paul was skeptical about, so the eruption and aftermath cause Paul’s demise.

THE ANTAGONIST’S FATE: Paul’s attempt to save the van as the bridge breaks apart cause his ability to escape to safety untenable, and he washes away downriver (listen closely, and you can hear the classic Wilhelm scream when he falls into the water).

COMMENTS: Paul’s role as a skeptic questioning Harry’s finding around Dante’s Peak makes him the antagonist.  Unlike Harry, he has to work within the politics of the job, ensuring not to cause unneeded alarm to the citizens and bureaucrats of the community.  

Ultimately, his skepticism is found to be incorrect, and the resulting eruption of the volcano leads to death, destruction, and Paul’s demise.

Come back Friday as we look at the antagonist for the film The Banshees of Inisherin!  See you then!

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