Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Constantine between Heaven and Hell

I noticed that a film called 'Constantine' was on the TV schedule. I had to watch it: Roman Emperor Constantine sees a cross in the sky with the words In hoc signo vinces ("In this sign you shall conquer"), puts the Christian symbol on his soldiers' shields, wins the Battle of Milvian Bridge, consolidating his power as sole ruler of the entire Empire, and then legalizes all religion, including Christianity, in the Edict of Milan. He founds Constantinople which becomes the capitol of the most Christian Byzantine Empire. His mother, Saint Helena, travels to Jerusalem, and finds the relics of the True Cross. Constantine is baptized a Christian on his deathbed. What a great film!

Except that wasn't the plot of the movie. Instead it was about a freelance exorcist, battling demons in hopes of earning his way into heaven via good works. What a stereotype about Catholics!

Constantine can see angels and demons, and has pleasant conversations with his charming guardian angel. He has some exciting fight scenes battling really ugly demons, although the film lets us know that beauty can also be evil, sort of like the White Witch of Narnia.

Since Constantine attempted suicide as a child—he couldn't stand seeing demons every day—and was technically dead and in Hell for a short time (although it was subjectively a lifetime), he thinks that he is fated to be damned. So that is why he thinks that perhaps good works, i.e., sending demons to Hell, can save him. While feeling that one's sins are unforgivable is a common attitude, I think that the film could have handled it better.

As in virtually all Hollywood films, this one gets Catholicism wrong. It would nice to see a popular film which gets Catholic cosmology, theology, or even Catholic practice right. it would be so easy to do, since they spend so much on these films. Doing a little extra research wouldn't cost much, especially since expert Catholic priests and religious get paid little or nothing at all. Even the beloved and revered films It's a Wonderful Life and The Bishop's Wife get it wrong.

If the character of Constantine would have had a good talk with a theologian of the more traditional type, he would have been told about Purgatory, Grace, and Free Will as opposed to pure fatalism.

Constantine eventually battles an Elton Johnish-like Satan and catches a glimpse of Heaven. His spirit is renewed.

The film does portray Hell in a very negative way, which is inconsistent with Hollywood's progressive views. Constantine's Hell is very terrifying and Hellish indeed, where souls are perpetually torn apart by demons. This led me to a kind of spiritual exercise:

Can you think of a person—say a brutal dictator, notorious criminal, rival-sibling, or ex-spouse—whom you would gladly consign to Hell? But can you imagine a Hell that is so horrible, that you even wouldn't want your worst enemy there? Do you remember the Lord's command that we must even love our enemies? Instead of wishing your worst enemy in Hell, are you willing instead to pray for their salvation? Can you imagine feeling joy if you see them in Heaven?

1 comment:

  1. One can write a book about the portrayal of angels in popular fiction, movies and on TV. Which portrayal has the most Thomistic view of these blessed spirits? I think, believe it or not, "Touched by an Angel" comes close, although the angels are sometimes in the dark as to their particular mission. Just don't put it to too much scrutiny.