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 is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • 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.


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