Friday, 30 September 2016

The Hero's Journey: Constantine

Francis Lawrence's 'Constantine' (2005) received a very mixed response after its release. To some it was an engaging tale involving heaven/hell with impressive CG effects, but to others it was a disappointing adaptation of the original comic book, 'Hellblazer'. Instead of getting the blonde-haired, British Exorcist, John Constantine as described in the comic, many feel as though the character in the film "re-imagines him as a stone-faced, charisma-free supernatural superhero...As played by Keanu Reeves, he's The Matrix's Neo in God-mode and in a perpetual snit," (Robinson, 2005). Perhaps this film is more enjoyable to the individuals who have never read the original comics, to them it's just a film and not an adaptation.

Fig 1. 'Constantine' (2005)

Despite the mixed views on the film, there is no doubt that there are multiple parallels between Constantine and The Matrix. However, this may not be caused by Keanu Reeves' John Constantine being eerily similar to Neo, but due to The Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey is a formula used (sometimes subconsciously) to help create stories using different steps throughout three acts.

This formula can be seen at practice in films such as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Back to the Future, and many others. Some believe that this formula has broken down elements that make a story into their most basic pieces, which could be why many people can predict what may or may not happen in films. This could be why Constantine seems to be like The Matrix and why certain films feel familiar even if you've never seen them before.

Constantine can be broken down into these segments that make up The Hero's Journey. For John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), his ordinary life is comprised of chain smoking, being anti-social, arguing with a half-breed angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), and exorcising demons back to hell. John Constantine's character is attempting to win back God's favour after he committed suicide as a teenager, earning him a place in hell. However, due to John's selfish motivations,  he has been unsuccessful despite 'deporting' many demons too hell. Hence why the idea of returning to hell after his lung cancer kills him even more unappealing, "being sentenced to a place of fire, torture and damnation for eternity is bad, but it becomes a lot worse when you've had a hand in sending a lot of people there," (Tyler, s.d).

From here, John Constantine is faced with the call to adventure...a demon possesses a little girl, but tries to 'break through her' and enter the human world as he is performing the exorcism. He also gets attacked by another full-fledged demon out in the open, who is composed of insects and was not possessing a human. Both of these events are 'against the rules' and concerns Constantine enough to consult a former witch-doctor, Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) who refuses to help Constantine because he is 'neutral'(part of refusal to call).

Police officer and powerful psychic (although this is not yet known by her) Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) contacts Constantine after twin sister, Isabel (also Rachel Weisz) commits suicide. Knowing her sister was a devote Catholic, Angela does not believe Isabel would kill herself and asks for Constantine's help. He quickly refuses to assist her (another part of refusal to call). However, a flock of demons go after Angela, forcing Constantine to fight them off. He realises that Angela is part of what is going on and is forced to help her (supernatural aid). 

Fig 2. Father Hennessy with Half-Breed Angel

To see if Isabel did kill herself, Constantine uses a bucket of water to transport himself to hell and returns with a hospital band to confirm the suicide, crossing the first threshold. From here, they enter the belly of the whale, trying to unravel the mystery behind Isabel's death. As the road of trails begins Constantine's colleagues, Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and Beeman (Max Baker) help with the investigation but die in the process. However, they discover clues that leads to a very grim prophecy about Lucifer's son returning to earth using a powerful psychic, The Spear of Destiny, and the help of God.

The audience can see Constantine's attitude changing as he becomes more attracted and protective of Angela (meeting the goddess). Angela decides she wants to be able to see the things her sister saw again, but Constantine warns her once she does this the demons will always notice her (temptation). She still convinces him that she wants this, and he transports her to hell for the first time so she can embrace her psychic abilities. Constantine goes to confront the demon Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale) to get more information about Lucifer's son, giving Angela a protective talisman and telling her to stay behind in order to protect her (atonement with the father). However, this ultimately fails and Angela is abducted.

In order to save her, Constantine returns to Midnite and finally convinces him to use 'The Chair'. By doing this, Constantine experiences a vision and fully see what the son of Lucifer is planning (apotheosis). Instead of abandoning Angela, he prepares to confront Lucifer's son with the help of his assistant Chas Kramer (Shia LaBeouf), and begin to assemble weapons, holy water, and other supplies (the ultimate boon/the refusal of return).

Fig 3. The Chair

From here, Constantine's magic flight begins. Lucifer's son begins the process of taking control of Angela, Constantine and Chas destroy all demons that are guarding the way. After they find Angela and appear to remove the demon within her, an invisible force throws Chas around the room and kills him. Constantine then uses symbols that are tattooed on his forearms to cast out the invisible entity which is revealed to be Gabriel. Constantine is cast aside, allowing Gabriel to release Lucifer's son onto earth. With no other choice, Constantine slits his wrists therefore summoning Lucifer to collect his soul (rescue from without). Lucifer then discovers his son's plans, sending him back to hell, freeing Angela, and burning Gabriel's wings who is now a fallen angel.

Lucifer returns to Constantine to bring his soul to hell but due to his self-sacrifice, is allowed in heaven (crossing the return threshold). At the last moment, Lucifer rips out Constantine's lung cancer to deny him entrance to heaven, forcing him to continue living on earth (master of both worlds). With his freedom to live, he then says his goodbyes to Angela and can be seen chewing gum instead of smoking cigarettes.

Interestingly, it is possible that this formula can be applied not only to John Constantine's journey, but Angela as well if her story is looked at more specifically instead of his. It is difficult to see which character is the 'hero' of this film, as they both have their own adventure and experiences. Angela's character does not appear to be the typical damsel in distress.

While some find this film a disappointing departure from the original comics paired with a Matrix look-alike, not all agree. Admittedly Keanu Reeves tends to appear to have a limited range of characters that he can play but, "to those who couldn't care less about graphic-novel faithfulness, he is a terrifically miserable sod," (Thomas, 2005). In conclusion...some people loved the film Constantine, while others did not. However, the only way to decide if a movie is 'good' or not is to go and experience it for yourself.

Robinson, T (2005) Constantine At: Accessed on: 30/09/2016
Scott, A.O. (2005) Exorcism Is Part of the Job Description At: Accessed on: 30/09/2016
Thomas, W. (2005) Constantine Review At: Accessed on: 30/09/2016
Tucker, K. (2013) Hell's Angeleno At: Accessed on: 30/09/2016
Tyler, J. (s.d) Constantine Movie Review At: Accessed on 30/09/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Constantine [Poster] At: on: 30/09/2016
Figure 2. Father Hennessy with Half-Breed Angel  At: Accessed on: 30/09/2016
Figure 3. The Chair [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 30/09/2016

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