The Image of the Devil in 20th Century Film

The Image of the Devil in 20th Century Film
The Image of the Devil in 20th Century Film
by Julie Lorenzen
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Hey! Where was the all-red guy with horns, tail and the pitchfork who is often represented in costume every Halloween? That is the image of the devil I’m accustomed to seeing, but in Faust, The Devil and Daniel Webster and The Devil’s Advocate, the red devil was nowhere to be seen. However, the devils presented in each movie were appropriate for their respective film. Mephisto with his broad grin and sweeping gestures fit the film’s genre of German Expressionism where most aspects are supposed to be exaggerated. His ambition was to obtain Faust’s soul and to win his bet with the archangel. Mr. Scratch worked to transform Mr. Stone from a friendly farmer with rural values into a greedy capitalist. Finally, John Milton lured his lawyer son, Kevin, in with money and success so that Kevin would sire the antichrist. Each filmmaker gave their evil entity a unique image in their films, which represented a time-span that started in 1926 and ended in 1997. It was fascinating to watch that image evolve over time. Appearance, power, and actions all contributed to the image of the devil. Throughout this essay, I will discuss the appearance, power, and actions of the devil in each of the three films and provide reasons why I think the most recent devil, John Milton, was the most powerful.

Appearance of Mephisto in Faust 

In Faust, the devil goes by the name Mephisto. Unlike the other two devils, Mephisto had three different appearances and each appearance came the closest to looking like the afore-mentioned pop-culture devil than the appearances of the other two devils. In Faust, the devil takes the form of a un-humanlike demon, an old human with some demonic features and a middle-aged human whose hairstyle, facial make-up and cape reminded me of Dracula. Unlike Dracula, however, this Mephisto had a tail. Of the three films, Faust was the only film where horns and tails appeared. 

At the beginning and end of the film, Mephisto appeared as a heavy-set demon with horns, but his other two manifestations were more humanistic. Those two representations of Mephisto reflected the ages of the main character Faust. When Faust, as an old man, summoned Mephisto, Mephisto, too appeared to be old. However, when Faust made the deal with Mephisto and became young again, Mephisto also looked younger, although not quite as young. The middle age-version of Mephisto also seemed to be full of sexual vigor, as was the young Faust. I felt that these reflections of age gave the character of Mephisto a lot more dimension than if he had only appearance.

The Appearance of Mr. Scratch

In terms of appearance, there was a lot less to say about Mr. Scratch, the devil in The Devil and Daniel Webster. Mr. Scratch had just one manifestation throughout the film, unlike the two devils in the other films. He appeared as a white male in his fifties (the actor Walter Huston was in his late fifties at the time) with a sort of devilish look. Mr. Scratch had slanted bushy eyebrows, side burns and a twinkle in eye that gave him a definitive devilish look. He also had the same oblong shape face as the red devil. 

The Appearance of John Milton

 For The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino did not have to spend a long time in the make-up chair to play the devil. Unlike the other two, Pacino did not look demonic, did not have horns and a tail and did not look devilish in any way. John Milton was a white male in his forties or fifties and also appeared as another white male (with a press badge) that spoke to Kevin in the men’s room (in Florida) at the beginning and end of film.

Comments about appearances

The manifestation of the devil went from one who had horns and/or a tail in 1926, to one with an ornery devilish sort of look of the 1941 film to a completely ordinary looking white male. I found it extremely interesting that the main manifestation of the devil in each film was a middle-aged white male. Keeping in mind that the devil in each film did have a lot of power, the trend suggests that not a lot has changed in terms of who has the power in our society. President Bush is a white middle-aged male. His contender fits the same demographic. Middle-aged white men are most likely to hold top positions in politics, religion, business and education. 

Power

Power was an important element of each devil’s image. The supernatural power was what made the devil a devil and not a man. Each devil had a significant amount of power and in the following paragraphs I will discuss and compare the power of Mephisto, Mr. Scratch and John Milton.

Mephisto’s power

 In Faust, Mephisto demonstrated his ability to affect the world by releasing a plague. He also gave Faust anything he wanted—love, money and power. Mephisto also had no trouble taking away what he gave. The primary example is Gretchen’s love. Mephisto drew them together and then split them apart shortly after their first and only intimate encounter.  However, in the end, Faust sacrificed himself and entered the pyre to be burned alive with Gretchen. Love conquered Mephisto and he was unable to collect Faust’s soul after he died. The ending demonstrated that man could conquer the power of the devil with love.

Mr. Scratch’s power

In the Devil and Daniel Webster Scratch appeared the moment Jabez Stone uttered the phrase about selling his soul for two cents. Immediately Mr. Scratch used his supernatural power to put two pennies in Jabez’s pocket. Once Jabez signed the contract on his soul, Mr. Scratch told Jabez where he could find a pile of gold, which Jabez thought was the answer to all of his problems. After Mr. Scratch appeared, Jabez’s situation improved drastically. After signing the contract Jabez always had plenty of seed. His wheat crop was spared from the hailstorm brought on by Mr. Scratch, so that after the storm Jabez was able to hire those men whose crops were destroyed. Over a time-span of seven years, Jabez, became a loan shark, started to dress more extravagantly, took a mistress (whom Scratch sent) and built a mansion down the lane from his modest old house where his mother and wife remained. In short, Mr. Scratch had the power to transform Jabez from a friendly farmer into a greedy capitalist. However, in the end, Daniel Webster, a lawyer and politician saved Jabez’s soul by appealing to the jury’s idea of American freedom. Mr. Scratch lost. Daniel Webster defeated the devil and Jabez went back to being a friendly farmer who once again embraced rural American values.

John Milton’s Power

Unlike the other two devils, John Milton had an obvious group of minions working for him. These minions were the employees and spouses of Milton’s huge corporate law firm. Most of the minions were female. Their main job seemed to be to isolate Kevin Lomax’s wife from him, which they accomplished. The huge firm and the minions that went with it symbolized Milton’s immense power.  I considered John Milton to be the most powerful of the three devils discussed in this paper. The Devil’s Advocate was the only film that really portrayed the devil’s omniscience and omnipresence. In one instance Milton demonstrated his omniscience by speaking Spanish to a thug who threatened him in a subway. He told the thug that his wife was smoking dope with another guy and was about to be unfaithful to him. By including details such as the color of the thug’s favorite bedspread, Milton made the thug and the audience (us) believes him. Milton’s omnipresence, (ability to be everywhere at once) was most evident at the end of the film when it was apparent that Milton was in the courtroom with Kevin Lomax at the same time he was in the apartment raping Mary Ann. 

The huge law firm, the minions, the omniscience and omnipresence all demonstrated Milton’s immense power. However, the aspect that convinced me that Milton was more powerful than the other two devils was that Milton was undefeatable. 

When Kevin appeared to defeat Milton by using his free will to shoot himself in the head, Milton used his power to reverse time. He put Kevin back in the Florida courtroom in order to repeat the process of tempting Kevin all over again. It was evident that Milton would keep reversing time until he got what he wanted—Kevin and Christabella, his biological children, to conceive the antichrist. Kevin had the ability to exercise some free will, but Milton was able to overcome that by simply reversing time. In the end, he, John Milton, would win.

Comments about Power

In the first two films both devils were defeated. Love conquered Mephisto and American law defeated Scratch. However, in The Devil’s Advocate, Milton used his power of reversing time to win. Like Milton, the other two devils had the ability give their subject anything they wanted and had the power to possess souls. Mephisto used his power to scourge the world with the plague, make Faust younger, place Faust anywhere he wanted to be (Italy or back in his hometown) and give Faust what he wanted. Scratch used his power to make Jabez rich and to give him a mistress. (Belle mysteriously appeared in front of the fireplace, inexplicably replacing the plainer, more respectable Dorothy.) Milton, however, was the only devil who was shown to know everything and be everywhere at once. While the other two directed their power toward just the main character, Milton’s power was a little more widespread. Using his power of omniscience, he frightened thugs away in the subway. Also, with the power of minions, he killed one of his employees. Finally, with the power of omnipresence, Milton victimized Mary Ann.

Actions

There is an old saying that actions speak louder than words. Actions define individuals and they defined the devils in all three films. Two types of actions contributed to the image of Faust, Mephisto and John Milton. The actions I will talk about in the following paragraphs fit the themes of voyeurism and dominance that we discussed in class. 

Mephisto’s Actions

Throughout the film, Mephisto continually watched Faust. He was there with a big gaping grin as he watched Faust seduce the Italian beauty and Gretchen. However, he did not watch the intimate acts. He closed the curtain on Faust and the Italian princess and was setting up the deaths of Gretchen’s mother and brother when Faust and Gretchen were in the bedroom. It was apparent that Mephisto was more interested in the act of seduction than the intimacy itself.
Mephisto dominated over Faust and Gretchen by isolating Gretchen. Mephisto caused Faust to flee when he, the devil, made it look like Faust killed Gretchen’s brother. By killing the mother and brother and causing Faust to flee, Mephisto made sure that Gretchen was completely isolated.

The isolation set up Gretchen to be victimized by Mephisto. He told her brother that she was not innocent and then put a sword through him while making sure it looked like Faust did it. The brother, angry at his sister for having sex with Faust, ordered Gretchen to be placed at the stocks while he lied dying in the street. Alone, destitute and snubbed by her community, Gretchen and her child ended up out in the cold winter air, unable to find a warm shelter. Mephisto then tricked Gretchen into thinking she was placing her child in a warm bed when she was actually burying the baby in snow. When the villagers found Gretchen with her dead child in the snow, they charged her with murder and burned her at the stake. Mephisto’s actions were to blame for Gretchen’s misfortunes and death.

Mr. Scratch’s actions

Like Mephisto, Mr. Scratch was always watching his subject once the contract was signed. Also like Mephisto, Scratch was not interested in watching Jabez perform sexual acts. He wanted to watch Jabez transform into a greedy capitalist and always seemed to be there in the scenes where this transformation was taking place. 

In what is appearing to be a trend, Scratch dominated over Jabez and Mary Stone by isolating the pious wife, who appeared to be less interested in being rich and more concerned about going to church and Jabez’s moral decline. To counter the wife’s concern, Mr. Scratch sent Belle to tempt Jabez away from the wife and continued to over see Jabez’s financial success. As a result of Mr. Scratch’s actions, Jabez took Belle as a mistress and built a mansion where he and Belle settled. Jabez’s wife was effectively isolated from her husband because she remained in the more modest house down the lane. 

John Milton’s Actions

John Milton confirmed Kevin Lomax’s suspicions by telling him, “You were right. I was always there watching.” He watched Kevin every second of his life and most likely helped him win every single case. In the other two films, the devil never was interested in watching his subject have sex. However, in The Devil’s Advocate, Milton watched without hesitation as his daughter stripped naked and tried to seduce Kevin.

Milton definitely dominated over Kevin and his wife, Mary Ann—especially Mary Ann. Milton wanted Kevin to create the antichrist with his daughter, so he needed to get Mary Ann out the way. He did so, victimizing her brutally. First, the minions tried to coax the wife into filling her loneliness by shopping. The wife saw demonic forces at work, refused to participate and fled the scene. She became isolated and spent days at a time alone in her apartment. John Milton added to her mental decline by arranging Eddie Barzoon’s murder to occur in front of the wife’s window. Then, when she was emotionally vulnerable, Milton appeared under the guise of a comforting listener. He raped her all afternoon. Kevin didn’t believe Mary Ann because he didn’t realize yet that Milton was the devil. He knew Milton was in the courtroom all afternoon with him and thought it impossible that Milton could rape her. So Kevin had Mary Ann hospitalized. One of Milton’s minions, Kevin’s secretary, then provided the wife with the mirror. After shattering it, Mary Ann slit her throat with one of the shards as Kevin futilely watched. 

Comments About the Actions

The devils in all three films can be considered voyeuristic because they constantly watched their respective subject. Also, they all dominated over their subjects and in particular, the main love interest. It was evident that Mephisto and Mr. Scratch were always watching Faust and Jabez Stone respectively. However, both Mephisto and Mr. Scratch did not seem interested in watching their subjects engage in intimate acts. Milton, however, watched Kevin 100 percent of the time, even when his own daughter was seducing Kevin by stripping naked. 

I felt that Milton was also the most dominant of the three with Mephisto coming in a close second. I tracked the dominance of the devil by measuring the victimization of the leading lady. Mary, in The Devil and Daniel Webster was merely isolated from her husband. She didn’t appear to suffer as much as Gretchen or Mary Ann, who were also isolated by the devil. Gretchen lost a mother, brother and child. She suffered humiliation in the stocks and was burned at the stake for apparently murdering her child. 

 Milton made Mary Ann infertile and then let her know what he did through a dream. He also arranged to have Eddie Barzoon killed within her sight and then brutally raped her all afternoon. Milton drove Mary Ann to the breaking point. Kevin hospitalized her for apparent insanity when she tried to tell him about Milton raping her. After Mary recognized Kevin’s secretary to be one of Milton’s minions, she killed herself. The rape and the suicide convinced me that Mary Ann suffered more than Gretchen. Also, Gretchen was radiant with love in her last scene when she realized that Faust came back for her.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it was interesting to see how the image of the devil was represented in 1926, 1941 and 1997. In my opinion, the appearance, power, and actions of the devil all contributed toward the devil’s appearance. In some ways, the devils image changed over time. In other ways the image stayed the same. The devil’s appearance changed the most in terms of appearance. The 1926 version of the devil had three manifestations with horns and a tail. Mr. Scratch, the only manifestation in The Devil and Daniel Webster appeared as a human with devilish qualities that included bushy, slanted eyebrows and an oblong face. In The Devil’s Advocate, John Milton did not have any devilish qualities that are associated with popular-culture version of the devil. He was not the red, horned, tailed and did not have an oblong face. John Milton had the appearance of a middle-aged white man. I found it interesting that while the devil lost his horns and tail from 1926 to 1997, the main manifestation of the devil was always a white male in his forties or fifties. The power of the middle-aged white man seemed to reflect the power of the devil because it is most often the middle-aged white male who holds the top positions in politics, business, religion, and education in our society. 

While assessing the power and actions of the devil, I found Milton to be the most powerful of all of the devils. He was the president of a large, powerful corporation while the other two devils’ main occupation seemed to be overseeing their subjects—Faust and Jabez Stone respectively. Mephisto and Mr. Scratch didn’t have minions, but as head of a corporation, Milton had many. Milton also appeared to be the most omniscient and omnipresent of the three and also victimized the female love interest more than the other two devils. In short, the image of the most recent devil was that of a white, middle-aged male law-firm president who was omniscient, omnipresent, voyeuristic and brutally sadistic toward Mary Ann. Further and more importantly, unlike the other two devils, the image of John Milton was one of a winner. Love, American law, or free will did not defeat the devil this time. 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 

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