This film gave me the creeps. It deals with the nature of supernatural evil, and is quite horrific and fascinating.Fallen ends with a brilliant and unusual twist, and if you know the ending, the film is much more fascinating. Therefore, if you haven't seen the movie stop reading now, and, after you see the film, join me back here later.
"A weird and fascinating film."
After a narrative opening that places us at the end of the film, the story goes back to the beginning and shows detective John Hobbes (who captured serial killer Edgar Reese) attending the killer’s execution. After the execution, Hobbes discovers that Reese, when committing the killings, was possessed by a demon named Azazel, and this demon is killing again using the same M.O. as Reese. Hobbes also discovers that Azazel wants to destroy him. The story is about the conflict between Azazel and Hobbes.
The film grabs you immediately. When I saw the strange looking smoky credits combined with Reese’s behaviour as he walked to his execution singing, “Time is on My Side,” I knew I was in weird territory.
Azazel, the villain, is a fallen angel or demon. God punished demons like Azazel by depriving them of form and making them mortal. Thus they can only survive in the bodies of humans or animals. Demons have limited power, and they manipulate the world by making possessed humans commit evil acts.
The demons possess humans by touching them. Once a demon joins with a human, he has that person’s memories and thoughts. However, when the demon leaves the person, the formerly possessed individual has no memory of the possession or any acts carried out while possessed.
If a person is pure of heart the demon can not enter that person by touch. Instead, the demon has to be in spirit form to possess that individual. This is complicated by the fact that Azazel can not move as spirit unless his host dies. For example, Azazel finds out in the beginning that he can't posses Hobbes by touch (implying that Hobbes is pure of heart). Then, after a period of harassing the detective, Azazel decides to possess Hobbes. So Azazel/Jonesy tries to shoot himself so he can kill the host body (Jonesy) and transfer as spirit to Hobbes.
Azazel’s weakness, which Hobbes exploits to try and kill him, is that the demon has only as long as one breath lasts to make the spirit transfer. If there is no host close enough, the demon will die.
When Gretta tells Hobbes that the pure of heart can't be possessed by touch, we realize that Hobbes is pure of heart because we have been set up for it by two earlier scenes. The first is where Reese touches Hobbes but can not possess him. The second is the “buddy” bar scene where Lou, Jonesy, and Hobbes are talking about corruption. Hobbes says that he doesn't take bribes and he doesn't judge. The scene is given a semi-religious tone, and establishes the idea of purity in Hobbes through the use of religious words. For example, Lou sarcastically calls Hobbes a holy man and a saint, police are called the “chosen people”, and Jonesy uses the word “Amen.” (We also learn that Hobbes is a non-smoker.)
Gretta later tells Hobbes that God put certain humans on earth to fight the demons, and they can be killed by the right person who has the right character and knowledge. However, Hobbes, who is pure of heart, is still unable to kill the demon. We thus know that the right person must be more than pure of heart, which I would interpret as being morally perfect, or righteous. Hobbes is shown as not being righteous because he likes vengeance (he comes to watch Reese’s execution). Many consider a human’s desire for vengeance a sin: “It is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
The demon touches the executioner and does not possess him. As he is the only other person the demon touches and does not possess, the screenwriter, oddly enough, must consider the executioner pure of heart. (If Azazel had touched the guards and they had not been possessed, it would have made the “pure of heart” idea inconsistent, as it would be hard to believe that both the executioner and the two guards could be pure of heart.)
Gretta tells Hobbes that demons want to cause the fall of civilization. However, if this were the case, I first wondered why the demon was wasting time messing around with Hobbes instead of simply doing something like possessing the President of the U.S. (or some other powerful leader) and starting World War III. However, I then realized that, even though the demon’s goal is the fall of civilization, he has thousands and thousands of years to do it. So, if he wants to spend a few months having some fun tormenting a certain police detective, why not? - Azazel’s got the time.
Azazel doesn't want to destroy Hobbes immediately, but wants to do it bit by bit. As the demon tells Hobbes via the video tape:
"I can’t enter you by touch. But even when I can get inside you
after I'm spirit, I won’t. No, better I get you for real. Fuck you up, down, left, right, coming, going. I’ll get so close to you . . . so close it breaksyou. And if that doesn't work, well, I have other ways. I have so many many ways."
Azazel considers his slow destruction of Hobbes as fun:
Hobbes: It's me you want isn't it? Why don't you
just kill me?
Demon: But I'm still having fun. Aren't you still
and, in a later scene:
Jonesy (as Demon): Can you guess what maximum fun is? Sure you can. Now that I've played you from the
outside, maximum fun is, I become you . . .
Azazel loves teasing and tormenting people. In the police station, Azazel plays with Hobbes by possessing Lou and grilling Hobbes, then by singing excerpts from “Time is on My Side,” and finally transferring from person to person, continually singing the same song. Then, outside the station, Azazel teases Hobbes by moving around him, shifting from person to person and sneering at him. The scene is very effective as the demon’s creepy expressions pass to each new person possessed. (The scene made we wonder how Hobbes would ever be able to catch the demon.)
Azazel’s teasing behaviour is also shown when he chases Gretta down. He catches her, reaches out to touch her but never does. He just teasingly moves his hand around and calls it “foreplay”.
Azazel is a demon mentioned in the ceremony of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in the Old Testament. He is also mentioned in an old Hebrew book called Enoch, which was never included in the Bible, but which was considered authoritative by early Christians.
The book of Enoch says:
Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields,
and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them . . . And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication . . . they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. . . . (Enoch 8:1-3)
According to Enoch, God punished Azazel and cast him into a dark pit until the day of judgement when he will be thrown into hell. This varies from the film’s theology because the screenwriter has selected certain aspects of the actual theology and combined them with his own fictional theology. He has thus achieved a clever, effective, dramatic, and believable mix.
Gretta tells Hobbes that Azazel wants the fall of civilization. This ties in with the clues Azazel gives Hobbes. They were separate clues left as groups of letters which together spelled out the word “apocalypse.” The clues were written on a mirror in Hobbes’ home, on Sam and Arts’ chest, etc. This, combined with the numbers 18 and 2 (which Hobbes got from the words “Muskavich” and “olom”) led Hobbes to Revelation 18:2 which says: “Babylon the great is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons” This passage is significant as the city where the story takes place is unnamed, making it a generic city, thus symbolizing all cities everywhere. Azazel, through the Biblical passage is making his presence known to Hobbes.
The passage, being prophesy, is actually referring to the falling of Babylon as a future event. I wonder if this means that Azazel knows he will lose in the end, or does it mean that he is deluding himself and thinks he won't lose? Finally, is there anything in Azazel’s narration throughout the film that can give a clue to these questions? This is something to think about over coffee after the movie
The demon narrates his part of the story in a matter of fact way. This shows Azazel has no morality or conscience. That is the nature of pure evil. It wasn't caused by trauma, early child abuse, etc. It is carried out for pure pleasure.
I’ll now quote significant parts of Azazel’s narration, and explain what I believe he is telling us:
1. “If I go back to the beginning, that’ll take forever.”
According to Biblical theology, Angels were created before the creation of the world (Job 38:7). Therefore, if Azazel started telling his story at the beginning (creation) it would take forever to explain all the events between creation and the present situation. (Note the demon also says, “I never thought it would happen to me. Not at this age.”)
2. “Something is always happening. But when it happens people don't always see it or understand it or accept it.”
Hobbes was in the demon’s presence from the time he was dealing with Reese. However, the detective didn't see what he was facing, and, then when he saw it, he didn't understand or, at first, accept it.
3. “Gretta Milano. Now, what was she hiding, what was she so scared of?
Azazel knows (and assumes that Gretta knows) that he is not after her as she is not one of those people who can kill demons.
4. “And then her question about God. What was that all about?”
Azazel believes he knows and understands the nature of God (although from his - unrealized to him - deluded perspective), and he would assume Gretta would understand the nature of God as well.
5. “There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same. And time is divided into two parts. Before this and after this. That’s the test. Or so I tell myself. I tell myself at times like that strong people keep moving forward anyway. No matter what they’re going to find.”
Azazel said the above words when Hobbes was in the old house discovering clues about Azazel. The demon knows this was the turning point in his life because that was when he realized that Hobbes was a dangerous adversary. I also believe the demon feels Hobbes has realized that something supernatural is afoot and has come to a turning point as well. The passage after the words “the test” relates only Hobbes. (This is shown by the fact that Azazel uses the word “people.”) Azazel is saying he realizes Hobbes is strong and will keep working on the case.
6. “I like the night. The street. The smells. The sense of another world. Sometimes you come face to face with yourself.”
The demon likes the evil environment of the street. And to Azazel, the human world would seem like another world. Also, Azazel says that when he is on the street, he sometimes comes face to face with evil, that is, with himself. This is quite condemning of humanity, as Azazel is saying that human evil is as strong as his.
7. “Nobody likes to get hit from every angle. But evil just keeps on coming. You know what I mean? You saw it before, but now it’s in your face, laughing at you.”
Azazel will hit Hobbes from every angle (“Fuck you up, down, left, right, coming, going”), and will keep “on coming.” Azazel emphasizes he is having fun when he says that his evil is “in your face, laughing at you.” Also, Azazel says this at about the point where Hobbes’ brother is killed – so the evil is “in your (Hobbes’) face”
Hobbes is laid back and calm in his approach to the supernatural situation he finds himself in, even though it is beyond his experience. He is a persistent cop, relentless in getting to the truth. It is this persistence that Azazel notices when he looks back later on what he observed about Hobbes. Azazel says:
“A cop knows, a cop sees. Even the most casual things. It registers. Often you don’t remember until later on. But then you look back and you realize you knew.”
The important supporting characters (Edgar Reese, Hobbes’ brother, the brother’s pre-teen son, Gretta, and Jonesy) are well rounded and well detailed. An example of this detail is shown in the moving scene when Hobbes’ brother spontaneously tells him that he loves him. This makes the death of the brother all the more upsetting.
Evil is the predominant theme in the film, and several aspects of it are shown.
The universality of evil is shown in two ways. First, in the scene where Reese/Azazel imagines himself in the gas chamber giving a speech to the witnesses of the execution, he says, “Howdy folks, ladies, gents, cocksuckers, pederasts. Hope you all enjoy the show, yes I do.” This shows that evil exists undiscovered among ordinary people. (Among the witnesses, there may be people who harbor an evil of which others may not be aware.) Secondly, the city where the story takes place is unnamed (a generic city), showing that evil exists in all cities.
The contagious quality of evil is shown by Azazel’s ability to pass his evil to others. An example of this idea in the real world is the scenario where the boss disciplines the employee, the employee goes home and yells at his wife, the wife yells at the child, the child kicks the dog, and the dog beats up the cat.
The persistence of evil is shown by Reese’s words, “What goes around really goes around.” (The word ‘what’ representing evil.) This persistence is also shown throughout the film by the tune, “Time is On My Side.”
Hobbes’ death at the end of the film may mean that it is either futile to fight evil, or that it is difficult to find a totally righteous person in the world.
Male bonding is another theme in the film. This is shown in the buddy scene in the bar where Lou, Jonesy, and Hobbes discuss police corruption, in the breakfast scene between Hobbes and his brother, and in the buddy scene where Jonesy and Hobbes discuss the meaning of life, God, and the universe. (In their discussion, they don’t come to any conclusion, which could be a negative message.) Finally, the theme of male bonding is emphasized because all the significant relationships are male.
Self-sacrifice is another theme. This is shown in Hobbes’ willingness to sacrifice his life to destroy Azazel.
The film had a sense of realism due to the set design (e.g., the cluttered detail of the police station), the camaraderie between the cops, the lack of a trite romantic element (or a typical movie-cop wife for Hobbes), and the omission of a “special effects” scary monster.
I felt there were several problems with the plot.
First, the film makes it clear that when one is possessed, he/she has no memory. This would mean that Reese is not responsible for the crimes he committed while possessed. However, Hobbes apparently had no thought about this. One would expect him to feel terrible about having arrested Reese, an action which led to an innocent man's death.
The second problem is that Hobbes leaves Sam with Gretta and goes to kill Azazel, but after Hobbes dies, we never find out what happened to Gretta and Sam.
Thirdly, the writer paralleled the demon’s words so closely to Hobbes’ actions that it is too easy to assume Hobbes is the narrator. If the screenwriter did this to make sure the viewer would be surprised by the twist, the viewer may feel like he was fooled, and thus feel cheated.
Finally, the scene where Hobbes was reading a book about demons while a horror movie was going on in the background was too much of a coincidence and thus looks as if the director sacrificed reality to create a dramatic effect.
The sound track has very distinctive music. The part tied in with the weird color of the demon vision is particularly effective in promoting an eerie feeling.
The color scheme is related to the changing seasons. The beginning of the film takes place in the fall, using burnt colors. As Hobbes and the demon come into open conflict, however, the film starts to get a cold look. At the climax, we get the colors of a frozen and cold winter.
The director’s commentary on the DVD is excellent. He provides an insight into the theme, characterization, and the technical aspects of the film. For example, he tells us that the Syrian Aramaic spoken by the actor playing Reese (Elias Koteas) is real. The actor was coached by a man fluent in the language. However, the man would not teach Koteas the profanity, and Koteas had to learn it from someone else.Fallen is a cerebral film. It is well worth seeing, several times.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=103&reviewer=228
originally posted: 08/12/00 21:45:34