Hail, readers! Welcome to Devils in the Details, a monthly column examining the satanic and occult influences in horror. This column provides a non-sensational look at these influences by examining them through the perspective of modern Occult scholarship. The study of satanism and the occult is a life-long endeavor, and I have much yet to learn. I hope you will join me in this sojourn into the darkness!
2005’s Constantine is many things. It’s one of the first modern comic book movies, and it’s part of the wave of pseudo-catholic action films of the early 2000s. The DaVinci Code, anyone? And it’s the first action film since Keanu Reeves’ success with the Matrix series. Most notably, though, Constantine is bible fanfiction done right!
For those unfamiliar, Constantine follows an exorcist by the name of John Constantine (insert joke about all Keanu characters being named John). Though he is no mere exorcist, he, in fact, “deports” demons who have broken the “rules.” As John explains in the film,
“What if I told you that God and the devil made a wager, a kind of standing bet for the souls of all mankind? (…) No direct contact with humans. That would be the rule. Just influence. See who would win.”
This wager is played out on Earth by influencers who John calls “half-breeds,” which we’ll get into in just a bit. Recently, more demons have been coming through and breaking the rules. This tips John off to the fact that something else is brewing. After serendipitously meeting a devout Catholic detective whose equally holy sister committed suicide, John finds that there is a plot afoot to bring about Hell on Earth with Satan’s son Mammon as its new ruler.
On the surface, Constantine appears to be a typical story of good vs. evil, with John fighting against the demons with the help of God and his angels. However, what makes Constantine a genuinely unique story is this idea of balance.
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Not only are the devils breaking the rules, the angels as well.
Constantine borrows characters from the Old and New Testaments liberally. While not shooting for accuracy, some parallels and interpretations are spot-on. The idea that the book of Corinthians actually has more chapters and verses in Hell than on Earth is not too far off. Several books and chapters have been left out of the bible, despite being consistent with the rest of the collections, such as the Book of Enoch. Further, the characters, while only inspired by bible characters, are consistent with their scripture counterparts. For example, Gabriel is generally known (thanks to Paradise Lost) to be the trumpeter who signals the events of Revelations. Similarly, in Constantine, it is revealed that Gabriel was in league with Mammon to bring about an apocalypse that would force humanity to be their best selves.
Angels & Demons
The portrayal of angels and demons as “half-breeds” able to walk the Earth and interact with humans is interesting. While there are several accounts of such individuals in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, they are generally referred to as Elohim, which sometimes translates roughly to gods or deities. The angel whom Israel wrestles is one such example. Half-breed brings to mind the Greek Olympian Pantheon and how those gods would fraternize with humanity, often to disastrous ends. One could argue that ancient Greek myths are the stuff of comic books, and perhaps that notion subconsciously pervaded the conception of these half-breeds. John Constantine’s creator and real-life wizard Alan Moore has been known to draw from various mythologies when conceiving his stories and characters.
Deus ex Satana
Perhaps my favorite thing about Constantine is the ending. Having discovered Gabriel’s plot (though only because he revealed himself), Constantine swiftly gets his ass kicked and is powerless to stop the plan from coming to fruition. So John, knowing he is living on borrowed time due to his lung cancer, cuts his writs, knowing that taking his own life would bring… him. That’s right! We can’t have an angels and demons movie without the big buy showing up, and Peter Stormare’s performance does not disappoint! Dripping a sickly black tar and dressed in a slick white suit, Lucifer is precisely what you might expect. He is charismatic, but with darkness lying beneath, and even a bit of smugness knowing he now has Constantine all to himself.
Since Constantine has been a pain in Satan’s side for so long, it is he who has shown up to collect John’s soul. Never mind that Constantine’s entire plan hinged on this moment, the suspension of disbelief is strained further whin minutes. After a short discussion, John convinces Lucifer to check the next room to find Gabriel and Mammon ready to finish their plans. In a visually striking scene, Lu does just that and banishes Mammon back to Hell while, presumably, God punishes Gabriel for his hubris by making him mortal. Effectively, John failed to stop Gabriel, and Satan had to come to fix it. I mentioned earlier that this was more than your average good vs. evil story.
John Constantine’s Fate
Having fulfilled his end of the bargain, Lucifer tries to collect John to find he cannot. At this point, Constantine is raised to heaven for his self-sacrifice, something he had been unwilling to do before. Lucifer is having none of it, however, and ensures Constantine’s survival by removing his lung cancer rather painfully, claiming he will live long enough to prove he belongs in Hell. John’s fate and the idea of balance is the thesis for the film and speaks to Satanic ideals like indulgence without compulsion, or the freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.
The film makes a point to show that evil done in the name of good is still evil, and vice versa. Satan saves Earth from suffering and destruction while Gabriel, and agent of God, plotted for its demise. Its incorporation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost along with somewhat accurate Bible characters and a focus on balance makes this Bible fan fiction that I’d totally read!
What are your thoughts on Constantine and its use of scripture as mythology? Do you have a favorite scene from the film? Please share it with us on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook Group, and to stay up to date on the latest NOFS news, sign up for the Neighborhood Watch!