Sympathy for the Devil: Derrickson on “Paradise Lost”

When the sun sets on the new remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, where will writer/director Scott Derrickson go next?

Call him ambitious, but Derrickson plans to take on one of the most daunting works of big-screen adaptation imaginable: John Milton’s epic poem about war in heaven and the creation of the world… Paradise Lost.

Derrickson’s talking to MTV about it:

Imagine the most evil creature that ever existed, a villain who commits atrocity after atrocity, who has scarred the world and each and every creature in it, a scoundrel so heinous he makes Heath Ledger’s anarchist Joker look like Mother Teresa. Now imagine that you like him.

Director Scott Derrickson says that when you see his upcoming adaptation of “Paradise Lost,” the epic 17th-century poem by John Milton about the Fall of Man, you won’t be able to help but have sympathy for its bad guy: the devil.

“What’s interesting to me is that you cannot help but feel that his initial feelings of being disgruntled are merited, and I feel a lot of empathy for the Lucifer character in the beginning of the story,” said Derrickson, who wrote and directed “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” “I would want the audience to be sympathetic with him at the beginning, and what happens – what he’s up against and what he’s wrestling and struggling with – you certainly feel that.”

The poem, praised by secular and religious scholars alike, opens with Satan’s fall from heaven. He is surrounded by utter darkness before coming to rest in the fiery pits of hell. Defeated in his war against God, and with like-minded fallen comrades in his service, Satan soon concocts a plan to belittle the Creator by desecrating his most recent, and most prized, creation: mankind.

Given that setup (a remarkably futile one at that, since Satan can never actually defeat God), how is it that so many people most identify with the devil? It’s a complex theological explanation that Derrickson can only sketch in the film but one that, if you are Christian, essentially boils down to this: “Because you are fallen too.”

If I had any recommendation for Derrickson, it would be this: Peter Gabriel should compose the score. Have you listened to Passion recently?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • glennmccarty

    This is very exciting. Scott Derrickson is an ideal candidate for tackling a work of this magnitude. After seeing where Philip Pullman went in response to Milton (books 2 and 3 of His Dark Materials), I’m looking forward to what Derrickson does with this. There’s making the devil sympathetic, with is true to Milton and there’s making God a decrepit old man, as Pullman did.