People often thank God when they accept awards. Rarely do they thank Satan.
Until last night, of course, when Christian Bale name-checked the diabolical one when he gathered in his Golden Globe for playing Dick Cheney in Vice.
“Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration on how to play this role,” Bale said after winning the statuette for best actor in a motion picture comedy/musical.
Naturally, the Church of Satan was thrilled with the namecheck. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney’s daughter, was not. Linking to an article alleging that Bale had assaulted his mother and sister, she tweeted, “Satan probably inspired him to do this, too.”
Bale denied the allegations and was never charged for them, but there’s no question that the actor can be, um, difficult. He’s obviously a talented actor (and, I think, the best cinematic Batman ever).
But what’s up with thanking Satan? More than you might think, perhaps.
Many news outlets said that Bale was comparing Cheney to Satan, and perhaps that’s what Bale was inferring. (Vice certainly paints the former VP with the darkest of brushes, even suggesting that the guy was literally heartless.) But That’s not Bale said, exactly—only that Satan inspired his portrayal. And that’s pretty interesting. Let me tell you why.
In Hebrew, the word “satan” isn’t so much of a name as it is a term for “adversary” or “accuser”. The heavenly adversary from Job and Zecharaiah is called “Ha-Satan,” or “The Satan,” the ultimate accuser. He serves as something of a prosecuting attorney, pointing his finger at , for instance, God’s faithful servant Job (in Job) or the high priest Joshua (in Zechariah): He loves to tell God just how terrible they are. How terrible we are.
In Christianity over the centuries, the term “satan” has lost its generic roots and become more or less another name for the fallen archangel Lucifer, or the devil. But the word “devil” has some interesting linguistic roots, too—a word that came from the Greek word diabolos, which means “slanderer.” Again, there’s the tang of the accuser here—one who may resort to lies and half-truths to drive a wedge between the Creator and us, His created.
One need not look much farther than the serpent in the Garden of Eden (never explicitly equated with the devil in Genesis proper, but by the New Testament, some dotted lines are drawn between the two). The snake tells Eve that eating from the tree at the center of Eden won’t kill her, as God said, but that “when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5).” The snake was at least partly right: Eve ate fruit from the tree and was suddenly embarrassed by her own nakedness—a revelation that got she and Adam (who also ate the fruit) kicked out of Eden. And sure enough, the fruit didn’t kill her right away. But from that moment on, according to the story, men and women weren’t the immortal creatures God intended: They had a timer on their lives.The serpent’s whispers drove a wedge between God and his created people. And throughout the Bible, we see Satan repeatedly try to drive wedges between God and us through whispers and doubts and temptations. He works not so much as an explicit tyrant but an oily-voiced propogandist, the ultimate Grima Wormtongue.
The Dick Cheney we see portrayed in Vice is certainly a terrible person, selfish and duplicitous and power hungry. Vice takes pains, in fact, to demonize the man. But when we look at the Satan in the Bible—the accuser, the slanderer—it seems the movie itself has more in common with ol’ Scratch.
Director Adam McKay says he stuck to the facts as much as possible, and he tells viewers at the very beginning that what follows is a “true” story. But he throws in a caveat that to be completely accurate is probably impossible, given Cheney’s penchant for secrecy. As Kyle Smith wryly notes for The National Review, “So it’s really Cheney’s fault if anything in the movie happens to be wrong.”
(Ironically, McKay admits he didn’t even try to ask Cheney about anything: “As soon as you go to Dick Cheney, it’s an authorized biography, which means he can cut out whatever he wants,” he told The Daily Beast. “And we don’t want that.”)
Insiders to the George W. Bush administration doesn’t reflect what actually happened. Christian Toto, my friend and movie colleague, interviewed lots of folks who knew and worked with Cheney closely for The Washington Times, and they call Vice a work of unadulterated fiction. “I thought it was hilarious … and so far from the reality that I know,” Alberto Gonzales, who served as Bush’s attorney general from 2005-07, said.
Forget Cheney as Satan: It’s Vice that serves as the biblical accuser. What a terrible person! the movie shouts with pointed finger. Dirty. Unsalvageable. Evil.
But instead of the movie trying to sway God, as Satan does in the Bible, it’s trying to convince us. We are the judge in this scenario.
Listen, I totally understand why people might’ve had serious issues with Cheney and his policies. He was, and is, a controversial guy, and if you want to condemn his ideas or decisions, that’s all fair and good. But I think there’s a difference between disagreeing with someone and demonizing them—throwing them into our cultural Lake of Fire, to burn for all eternity.
Christian Bale thanked Satan for inspiring him in Vice. He was more on point than he realized.