Paradise Lost 2013 Movie: Who is the Hero of Milton’s Epic?

***Oops – the movie adaptation of Paradise Lost starring Bradley Cooper has been canned as of February, 2012! It’s a crying shame…Hope they revive it down the road.***

For the past decade, traditionally marginalized or “evil” characters have gained the limelight – witches, vampires and werewolves have changed from creatures of the night to tragically misunderstood victims of humanity’s bitter prejudice. At the same time, Western humanist values caused us to champion rebel heroes – heroes who fight against all hope to topple powerful governments or tyrants. What is less known is that this impetus towards “Freedom at all Costs” started with Milton’s depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost, whose brilliant speeches on the right to self rule and the right to overthrow government directly influenced the poets, artists and philosophers who developed the themes of resistance and rebellion and the need for absolute freedom and equality. The US Declaration of Independence and Constitution are indebted to the liberal ideology of Milton’s Satan.

So it is with extreme interest that I’m watching the development of Paradise Lost into an epic Hollywood movie made by Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers. Sure we’ve seen this kind of “rebel hero against the gods” motif before, most recently in the Wrath of the Titans movies. But so far any movie with an explicitly Christian theme (God vs Satan, or Devils vs. Angels) Satan has always been the bad guy. Prometheus rebelling against the Gods and tyrannical Zeus, stealing fire to bring to humanity, and being chained to a rock to eternity as punishment, is a hero. Satan, the exact same literary motif but placed in a Judaic context (stealing the apple of knowledge from the possessive/jealous God who doesn’t want humans to be free and independent) is a villain.

So the obvious question is:

Who will be the hero in the new Paradise Lost movie?

There are some indicators that this will be the movie that changes everything.

According to Bradley Cooper, who will play Lucifer:

To me it’s a very small story … about two brothers and their father and what happens when one son feels utterly betrayed. I always loved the depiction of Lucifer as a very sympathetic character. There’s a lot of personal ways into this character, which is why it makes it so exciting to do it with this kind of scope and with a director that has the kind of vision that Alex does.

Another connection you need to make in the Biblical context: we’ve all heard the parable of the prodigal son. The “bad son” returns and the father greets him with warmth and love, as if he’d never left. In Christian teachings, Jesus loves the sinners, the wayward sheep, even more than loyal followers. But how is it that Satan never receives this welcome? Satan rebels because (at least in Milton) he was God’s first born son, the most beautiful of angels, created BEFORE Jesus, but then Jesus comes along and God tells Satan to bow down, give up his place at the table. Jesus was given kingship and authority without needing to prove himself worthy (for Milton, who endorsed meritocracy or rule by merit, this was the chief issue). Satan rebels, not because he wants to rule or take God’s place, but simply because he feels he deserves the ability to retire and think things through, to consider his options, to use reason and intelligence to pick a future path. It is his belief in his right to self-govern when the current authority seems unjust or irrational, that is his “inflated sense of pride or hubris”. The same sense of pride and hubris, of course, led to the American Revolution and the founding of America.

The epic of Milton’s Paradise lost has been going on since the birth of Christianity and is so far unresolved. Countless retellings always place Satan in Hell, because God is still the clear victor, both in terms of moral superiority (immutable laws, infallibility) but also military power. But his rule is on shaky grounds. Many people are starting to grow weary of his yoke. Just like the recent middle-eastern revolutions, the Atheist and Agnostic movements are using social media to quickly spread anti-religious, freethought and humanist material to lead people into open rebellion. More and more people are starting to realize that an unjust ruler does not automatically deserve allegiance, no matter how powerful. If the Paradise Lost movie of 2013 follows this same trend, we may see a sympathetic Satan as the protagonist struggling against the tyrranny of God the Father.

And I’m optimistic that we will – however, given the current state of things, I also won’t be surprised if Satan is again portrayed as a proud and stubborn youth who throws off the love of his family and goes down the path to evil, confirming and perpetuating classical readings of the literary Satan.

The Cast
Bradley Cooper LUCIFER
Benjamin Walker MICHAEL
Djimon Hounsou ABDIEL
Rufus Sewell SAMAEL
Casey Affleck GABRIEL
Dominic Purcell MOLOCH
Callan McAuliffe URIEL
Diego Bonita ADAM
Camilla Belle EVE