They’re Coming For Us: Xenophobia in Constantine
As of last week, I had yet to watch 2005’s Constantine; I was not a reader of the Hellblazer comics, so it wasn’t anything urgent (I know, I know – I’m a bad comic fan, but really, sometimes, you don’t get to absolutely everything). This weekend, I had a chance to watch it, so I figured, “What the hell?” (unintended pun and it stays). I found that this film – while by no stretch of the imagination a favorite – did have some interesting things to say about a deep fear of that which is not like us. Particularly, this film expressed anxieties about immigration, mental illness and forced maternity in the context of demonic possession and the acknowledgment of the supernatural.
|Sneaky little devil.|
Let’s start with immigration. At the beginning of this film, a unnamed Mexican man discovers the Spear of Destiny. He then, in a red-eyed state of possession, moves across Mexico and leaps over the border. As if that isn’t enough, as he walks, animals drop dead in his wake. He also violently commandeers a car in order to drive into Los Angeles. His goal? Delivering the spear in order to help bring the son of Satan into the world. That’s a lot to unpack. That this man doesn’t have a name means that he is a generalization – he’s not given backstory, nor does the audience really care because he’s a plot device. This means that he’s not seen as a person, which is typical when dealing in xenophobia – people are representations rather than living creatures with feelings and unique experiences that drive behavior. Making this man less of a person means that he gets to represent the anxieties of a nation that is displeased with the current situation of U.S./Mexican illegal immigration. We have an undocumented Mexican – not a Russian, not a Swede, not a Canadian – who can in theory just waltz across the border into the United States. What does he bring with him? A tool to help bring the son of the devil into the world. He operates through mindless pursuit of his goal and violence. This isn’t someone that’s bringing something positive with his work experience, nor is he seeking asylum; this individual is bringing the end of the world via demonic takeover and human suffering. This plot convention and execution throws into view the fears behind the high-level mentality of someone opposed to undocumented workers in his or her country: they will only bring destruction and violence while robbing the rightful residents of happiness, protection and life. (Note: those are not my views.) This is fear of something outside of one’s worldview and norm.
|Love how this is a glaring generalization.|
Something else outside of the norm is mental illness, which also gets a brief yet telling treatment. Two characters are wrongly accused of mental illness: John (Keanu Reeves) and Isabel (Rachel Weisz), both of whom are actually more psychically inclined than truly ill. This is not understood by their respective families, which leads to institution and suicide for both. Later in the film, Isabel’s twin Angela reveals that she too has a supernatural ability, but has remained quiet to avoid the same treatment as her sister. In this respect, I don’t blame her. Isabel was institutionalized off and on throughout her life, and endured anti psychotic medication beginning from the age of 10. John, for his part, reported his demonic sightings to his parents and was rewarded with electro-convulsive therapy when there was actually nothing wrong with him. Both of these characters sought to end their lives rather than continually endure the treatment for their perceived illness. This speaks to two problems: the negative connotations of mental illness and our treatment of those who endure such illness. Mental illness does not mean that a person is somehow broken or has no worth due to the illness. Simultaneously, the sufferers in this film receive harsh medical treatments that border on torture, as well as social stigma. If anything, this film calls out how we seek to “cure” those that are not like us through this label, and how, in the name of treatment, we subject those that are sick to any treatment that could help make them more like us. That this craved uniformity is treated so harshly in this film is quiet telling.
Finally, this film goes after a feminist issue that I feel is both particular to exorcist films as well as a fear that many women have: forced maternity, though in this case, it’s a forced maternity meant to bring about a new, harmful species. In this film, Angela is forced to become a vessel for Mammon, the son of Satan, to exit Hell and enter Earth. While the concept of a woman bearing a supernatural child for which she didn’t ask isn’t something new, this one went in a few different directions. At first, Angela is possessed by Mammon; she’s lost control over her mind as well as her body, making her into a shell for something that needs her to act as a doorway. This reduces her to nothing more than a protective jacket for Mammon, and strips her of both autonomy and humanity. Angela’s soul and body are shown complete disregard in this action. It’s up to John and Chas to help her find her way back into herself, demonstrating that she needs male assistance in order to govern herself. However, once Angela has control over her mind again, she quickly realizes that something is very wrong in her midsection. Mammon’s in there, and he’s twisting around like a baby doing somersaults in utero. This changes the scenario from total possession to unwanted pregnancy, and the imagery provided – the warped belly that obviously has something living inside of it – confirms that. Mammon isn’t in Angela’s back or her leg – he’s in her abdomen, moving around like a fetus. Ever watch a woman’s belly ripple and move as the baby inside of it flips around? The images in this film took it to the extreme, but those are the images that director Francis Lawrence went with. That Mammon is confined to her abdomen ala a pregnancy confirms that she’s carrying something she had no intention of carrying, and she perceives it as a danger to herself and others. Angela gets no say in this – the demon simply shows up and moves in. That she narrowly escapes a forced Cesarean section by Gabriel (sidenote: Swinton, I love you) demonstrates even further that Angela had no say in this birth, nor did she want the progeny due to its nature. There are plenty of women that will tell you that this very idea scares the living shit out of them. Many women don’t want to be forced into having a child; it is the idea of someone else dictating the circumstances of one’s body and subsequent lifeline that produces the fear. therefore, it is the fear that the masses will dictate the life of individual – the fear that someone else will have dominion over one’s life choices regardless of want – that the film presents.
|Way to concentrate the action onto the midsection there, fellas.|
Constantine goes after the fear of others in a supernatural context. Whether or not the group is foreign, mentally/physiologically different, or dictating the biological processes of others does not matter. This film is simply afraid of others. You have to admit, that’s a pretty clever undercurrent. Sure beats the pants off of the “Satan cures cancer” theme.