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Constantine's Message a Mixed Bag

February 15th, 2005 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Keith and I just returned from seeing Constantine, courtesy of the good folks at Grace Hill Media.

Constantine is certainly for mature audiences only. Replete with demons of various kinds, depictions of hell, and comic-book violence, it is not a movie for the squeamish. Director Francis Lawrence, who until now has directed music videos, produces a fast-paced, suspensful film that is highly entertaining.

However, Constantine's message is a bit more tricky. Superficially, this looks and sounds like a thoroughly Christian film. John Constantine, the hero, is attempting to earn his way back in to heaven through protecting earth against demonic "half-breeds." While Constantine complains to Gabriel (yes, the angel Gabriel) about "the rules," Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) pleads with a Roman Catholic priest to change the funeral rules for her recently departed sister. The parallel is too obvious to miss. Other Christian imagery and language abounds: Constantine, while explaining heaven and hell to Angela, calls them the "world behind the world," suggesting that heaven and hell are all around us, if only we had the eyes to see.

However, Constantine's message ends up being less obviously about faith and self-sacrifice than it might have otherwise. Superficial objections to the demonology and angelology as well as the introduction of an "expanded Bible" can be dismissed as plot devices. However, there may be a more pernicious problem at work. From the director, "[It's] really this of idea of sort of blurring the lines between good and evil and people’s perceptions of good and evil. One of the best instances I can talk about is a scene at the end – which might give things away – but there’s a certain character who could be portrayed as evil but thinks they’re really good. And I think it’s kind of fitting for these times when we’re sort of in a world where we’re being told what is evil when it might not really be evil. And I just think it’s really important for people to really sort of sit down and think about what is evil. What I like about the movie, that it’s not just black and white, those lines are blurred.

The movie effectively creates this sense of confusion and as a result, it's tough to call this the explicitly orthodox Christian film that it initially appeared to be. Reading the interviews here also makes it impossible to understand it as intentionally Christian (and the interviews are excellent reading!). All of the people behind the film seem to be attempting to escape or play down the Christian elements, yet after seeing the film it is impossible to ignore--in fact, it seem what might be called Constantine's redemption dominates the landscape. I completely missed the humanism that Reeves espouses in his interview, perhaps because it's a cynicism and humanism that fails.

I highly recommend Constantine. See it in the theatres, if you can stomach it, and definitely don't take the kids. If not perfect, it is entertaining and thought provoking, which is as much as you can ask for an evening out!

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.