Character Feature: Satan in Film

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

This is a slightly different character feature for this month. Instead of doing an analysis of a character, I’m going to look at my favourite portrayals on screen of one of the most important characters in Christian lore.

My absolute favourite is John Glover in short-lived supernatural drama Brimstone. Ezekiel Stone was a cop killed in the line of duty. He wasn’t a pleasant person in life so he gets sent to hell with all of the other deeply unpleasant people. When over 100 of the worst souls stage a breakout and escape back to Earth, Satan approaches Stone and gives him a second chance of life. He must track them all down and send them back to hell by putting bullets into their heads (shoot them through the eyes). Glover’s Satan is a pretty ordinary guy on the outside (though there are hidden depths slowly revealed through the series). He is playful and oddly without much of a dark edge – with one or two exceptions. When Stone asks exasperated why in one episode Glover tried to stop him, he shrugs and answers “I’m the Devil, it’s what I do”. He is the epitome of the banality of evil and yet we witness fleeting moments of passion.

The Passion of the Christ. This devil is not a “doer”. He (but actually played by a woman here and suitably androgynously) stands in the background allowing things to happen, encouraging through subtlety. In the garden of Gethsemane, though a few words pass between Satan and Jesus, the latter is merely a negative voice, the voice inside us that says “give up, it is too difficult”. Throughout most of the rest of the film, this Satan passes through crowds looking menacing, mocking Christ with smirks and visual imagery of what will be. Subtle, yet effective. When I first saw the film I wasn’t so keen on this portrayal but once you get through a first viewing and really analyse the film on a second watch, the subtleties of this character become far clearer.

In Constantine, the Devil that comes to claim the soul of the key character is the creepy uncle. Wearing a cheap tuxedo and being rather smarmy, if we could smell him through the screen he’d probably smell of a mix of tobacco and counterfeit aftershave. Yet he has a sense of right and wrong and he squabbles with God over who gets Constantine’s soul. Constantine was hell-bound but his sacrifice in the final scene redeems him. Satan instead takes away Constantine’s cancer, giving him another chance to screw it all up. Pretty ingenius actually.

In The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino has a very understated menace. Though he exhibits and uses supernatural powers throughout the film, it is in his words and his power to use them that he is at his most dangerous. He makes you sympathise with his position a lot of the time, he makes you understand his frustration. He loved God for his imperfections and became exasperated when humanity was chosen as the special case above the angels. This Satan made the perfect lawyer and so it was inevitable that such a film would be made.

Arguably the sexiest Satan is Liz Hurley in Bedazzled. Brendan Fraser really wants to get the girl and he is prepared to make a deal with Satan in order the win the heart of Frances O’Connor. She offers him seven wishes… so he should be able to win her heart with so many options right? Wrong. Interpreting each wish in ways that would only scupper his plan, this playful, flirty Satan knows how to use feminine wiles to get around Brendan Fraser forever pretending to be his friend and loyal supporter but ultimately, she will do anything to get her hands on his soul and leave him with nothing. There is very little depth to this one merely beyond flirting with the camera and with Elliot but it is arguably one of Hurley’s best roles and this Satan is a lot of fun!

I’m not sure whether Jim Keats from Ashes to Ashes was actually Satan himself or a mere minion sent into the purgatory that Gene Hunt created to claim those souls for Hell but he is a menacing character nonetheless. Posing as an internal affairs investigator, Keats befriends each of the characters one by one, trying to turn them against the archangel Gene. He is deceptive and like Satan in the Bible he is “The Father of Lies”. He promises each of them whatever they want if only they transfer to his department… downstairs. You’re never quite sure of Keats. Can we trust him? No, of course not as he is using the classic tactic of divide and conquer against a well-established team. He is also sowing seeds of doubt about Gene’s good intentions. Yet he is convincing. Sometimes the viewer is forced to pause for a moment and ask… “is Jim Keats actually telling the truth?”

Ok, it is over to you. What are some of your favourite portrayals of Satan on screen or in literature?

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4 thoughts on “Character Feature: Satan in Film

  1. Our favorite has to be Viggo Mortensen in the film, The Prophecy. He was soft-spoken, and very understated in his movements during most of the film, which was very offputting in a good way. You expect a lot of grand gestures and emphatic speeches with a passionate growl, but his threats and evil seemed all the more terrifying because they came from this whispy voice and passive face. Great post! We love movies that have quirky portrayals of Satan and you’ve definitely given us some new ones to check out.

    1. Ooooh!! That is exactly who I was going to say! He was a great Satan! I love how he told the main character about how he used to be afraid that Satan was under his bed then says, “And I waaaas!” Love Viggo for that role. That line was creepy enough to stick with me.

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