The conflict between good and evil is an age-old battle and one that Hollywood never tires of tackling, whether couched in westerns, science-fiction or religious wranglers.
Keanu Reeves, Djimon Hounsou and Shia LaBeouf. (Warner Bros.)
"Constantine," which opens nationwide Feb. 18, is based on the comic book Hellblazer. It features the very human John Constantine as a man with the ability to see demons on earth. He spends his time sending Satan's minions back to hell in a seemingly futile effort to earn his way into heaven.
Though the movie is a literal and blunt depiction of his efforts—for example, he fights demons with a cross-shaped gun—it does raise issues of good and evil.
Members of the film's cast spoke about these themes recently with religious press in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Rachel Weisz, perhaps best known for playing Evelyn Carnahan in "The Mummy" franchise, plays two parts in "Constantine:" policewoman Angela Dodson and her twin sister, Isabel.
Weisz, a 33-year-old Brit, said the film relies on a sort of "Judeo-Christian mythology" of angels and demons based on the Old and New Testaments.
"I'm very familiar with those two books," she said. "That's what I was raised reading."
Weisz said the movie is "about the capacity that human beings have to do good, to do evil and that good and evil occur on the earth. And I believe that we—as human beings—have free will and we can choose. But there's also the question of predestination, and there's God's will, and there seems to be a kind of tension between these two things."
"It's in a state of flux—our will versus God's will versus predestination," she continued. "It's very—it's one of the biggest questions you can ever ask."
Speaking of her character Angela, Weisz said, "She believes that the devil is manifest on earth in people's actions, which is an interpretation of Scripture."
Weisz's fellow Brit Gavin Rossdale plays a demon named Balthazar in the film. Rossdale, who also is lead singer for the band Bush, was at ease discussing such matters.
"Does evil really exist?" Rossdale asked. "Well unfortunately, of course it does, because people perpetuate acts that portray such evil and such disregard for human life and sanctity of all things we hold good that there only can be the explanation that there are elements of evil at work on this earth. I firmly believe that you can't just explain things away on society."
West Africa native Djimon Hounsou, who plays an indifferent guru named Midnite in "Constantine," said he greatly respects the spirit world.
"The respect that we have for those sort of things in Africa is just beyond anybody's understanding here," said Hounsou, who portrayed the slave Cinque in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad." "It's a huge difference."
"If anything, I truly believe that it does exist—those two worlds do exist," Hounsou said of havens for good and evil. "And if they don't exist in the same sort of God-and-the-devil [literalness], then it exists in the sense of what you do and how you carry yourself around in this life experience that leads you to a better life in the afterlife."
"The choices you make here," Hounsou said, "may propel you to either go to the gate of heaven or of hell."
Hounsou evidenced such reverence for the spiritual realm that he indicated he should stay away from it.
"I think there's only very few that are chosen to see into those worlds just like John Constantine," he said. "I think some of us should understand our limitations and stay away from some things."
"This is one element or subject you don't want to research," he added.
Hounsou's philosophy rubbed off on his 18-year-old co-star, Shia LaBeouf.
"You didn't want to go in depth with the research of your character because you might find yourself in a place you didn't want to be, "said LaBeouf, the star of 2003's "Holes." LaBeouf plays an apprentice to Constantine and someone very much enamored of the demon-battling life.
LaBeouf said a priest with experience in exorcism was on set to help the cast understand some of the techniques used in exorcisms.
"Anytime you'd see people so devoted and think things are so real, you tend to rethink a couple of things," said the actor. LaBeouf said he was raised Jewish and still believes in God, but he does not follow any particular religious discipline.
"I'm still finding myself," said the Los Angeles native.
Gavin Rossdale offered a slightly different take.
"I consider myself very, very religious, but on a much more personal level than a structured religion of necessarily following a particular denomination," said the 37-year-old actor-musician.
"I feel very close to a higher power, which I am used to calling God, but I wouldn't force that idea on someone else," said Rossdale. "I just would hope they would have some idea. To me, that's just a conscience. It's a way of being."
He said, however, that closeness to God stays in direct tension with our natural desires.
"I think that struggle goes through people every day—the idea of temptation, the idea of selfish versus selfless," he said, adding that he infused Balthazar with such ideas to help portray the very picture of an evil being.
"My strategy was to imagine a person without compunction, without feeling, without consideration," he said, "someone who enjoyed other people's pain, took pleasure in other people's pain."
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
The movie's official Web site is here.
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