… or How Netflix Exposed My Inner Demons
There is a devil inside all of us. Even the good natured, the devout follower, and the purest of heart has this devil buried somewhere below. And if we watch closely, sometimes it will peak its head for brief moments… though, sometimes we need not watch too closely because it comes out full force and mightily visible, lingering for weeks, months, or years.
In recent weeks, 2 films, a TV show, and a book, have had me thinking about this darkness… all in different ways. So, I present to you a study on this devil through my viewings of Blue Ruin, the first few episodes of the new Daredevil, and both the book and film versions of Horns.
This all began to start racking my brain when I watched the film adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns, which I have since read. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish, a pretty good dude who gets wrongfully blamed when the love of his life is found murdered. The courts cannot find him guilty but the court of public opinion has made his life a living Hell, perhaps even moreso than the loss of his beloved Merrin, which already had sent his life down a spiral of pain, grief, loss, and rejection. One morning Ig wakes up with horns growing out of his head and a gift/curse where no one can lie to him and he has a strong power of persuasion.
“He threw the Bible into the trumpet case as well. There had to be something in there, some useful tips for his situation, a homeopathic remedy you could apply when you came down with a bad case of the devil.” Ig begins to realize that his plight is supernatural and is somewhere demonically (or perhaps even divinely) inspired. This initial realization spirals to the point of diatribe sermons on the wickedness of God and an embracing of the role of Satan. The book (quoted above) dives deeper than the film into this God vs. Satan vs. Man conundrum, but encapsulated in both the film and the book is this everpresent idea of an actualized devil presenting itself from within Ig when it becomes needed. Unlike Daredevil (our next point in the discussion will dive into the recently released Netflix series) where both father and son have flash moments of this devil bursting out, in Ig, this devil shows itself and stays put until it’s business is finished.
As briefly noted above, Matt Murdock (better known as the alter ego of the protagonist in Daredevil) and his father Jack Murdock have a devil streak that shows itself in brief explosive moments. “Be careful of the Murdock Boys- they’ve got the devil in them,” Matt says to the priest in the opening episode, quoting his grandmother. Matt explains that his dad was a mediocre boxer who occasionally snapped and let the devil out. Ig’s transformation is literal and remains until the job is done and Matt’s is a metaphoric devil-like explosion of rage, but there are many similarities.
See, those of who have read or watched a Daredevil story before know that Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who has a penchant for justice. He fights crime as Daredevil by night and is an honest and careful lawyer by day. His devil bursts fuel asskicking of criminals, mostly. Ig, on the other hand, begins as just a boy who falls in love with a girl, but his devil transformation occurs as a means to investigate her murder and bring the true murderer to justice. The connections are easily drawn when one considers that the devils inside Matt and Ig are used for good, albeit not exclusively, and are tools that can be used for justice. But the devil inside us doesn’t always lead us to positive decisions and we don’t always use the devil inside to support our just causes. In fact, sometimes we see causes as just only to find out that they are not… sometimes when it’s too late.
The devilish brutality that Matt employs against criminals and the ferocity of Ig’s callous words and deeds both serve a noble purpose. Matt doesn’t simply beat people to a bloody pulp for fun, but rather to serve justice. Ig, too, uses his newfound power to interrogate, persuade, and punish. There are seemingly less grandmother down a hill in her wheelchair, even if she had provoked him with hurtful words and accusations, as Ig had in the novel) but the overall scope and of their intentions are similar. Matt seeks justice, as does Ig. The devil inside aids in accomplishing these goals, though it does require the men to employ devilishly cruel tactics.
Dwight, the protagonist of Blue Ruin, also shows the devil inside him when his story begins to take shape. Blue Ruin is an independent dramatic film with horror and suspense elements that uses a different type of “devil inside” story to engender similar questions of faith, life, and ethics. A big question that is tackled in the aforementioned Daredevil and Horns, and also in Blue Ruin, is the ethical dilemma of “What would you do?” This is especially the case in Horns and Blue Ruin, where our protagonists are pushed into a spiral of despair when the people they love the most are murdered. When Ig’s devil comes out and he literally transforms, he uses his powers to solve the murder and avenge the death of his beloved. Dwight’s story is different in that, the man convicted of murdering his parents is released from prison early in the movie and he sets out to exact revenge immediately.
Dwight is shown years after the murder of his parents, now living as a in his car as a vagrant. He stays near Funland, where he eats wasted food and collects recyclables for money. A local officer whom has taken to looking out for Dwight, brings him into the station and gently informs him of the release of his parents’ murderer. A series of preparatory events occur and soon thereafter Dwight exacts his revenge.
Dwight appears frail, unassuming, and incapable of the revenge he seeks and achieves; but, up until he grows horns, so does Ig. Ig’s transformation is outward, while Dwight’s is inside. As Dwight’s story unravels, we find that the murderer may not be the man he killed. Dwight ensures that his parents are avenged, nonetheless.
Blue Ruin presented a more grounded and reality based take on the concepts I’d been processing through the tales of a superhero and fantastical antihero. What I wrestled with in Ig and Matt over the past few weeks, I saw in a new way with Dwight. If my family were murdered, I could put myself in his shoes, where the devil inside me may take hold and control my actions. While I’d love to think that tragedy like those faced by Dwight, Ig, and Matt could push me to act in a way to promote real blind justice (like Matt) or at least revenge fueled justice (like Ig), I must admit to myself that if put in such a place the very real possibility of acting out of pure vengeance is more plausible, or at least as plausible.
So, through this sometimes rambling and sometimes poignant rant, I present a simple question. What does it take for the devil inside to come out and what does it look like? Could I use it for good, like Matt and Ig? Would it simply be my fuel for revenge, like Dwight? Would it destroy the good that is in me or compliment it? Will I ever be forced to find out?