A spoiler article for the movie Ghost Rider, staring Nicholas Cage.
Let’s start by saying that it’s only a comic book movie, and that it is fun.
Amidst the stunning explosions and gratifying victories of the skeleton headed fire wielding hero, we find ourselves exposed to a misadventurous love story, an inspirational tale of morality, redemption and triumph over adversity, and a unique characterization of Satan and Hell.
It’s not unusual for the Devil to appear on our silver screens these days. Old Scratch, as the tales of our recent centuries knew him, is of course one of the most interesting characters a writer can place amongst his cast. Neither is it unusual for the American people as a society to be interested and entertained by mythological and religious tales. All cultures are entertained by their mythologies, for instance, in India, some of their most popular television and movie productions are about deities such as Krishna and his love Radha.
Ghost Rider is however, possibly the most confusing retelling of Judeo-Christian Hell mythology. The film, based on the Marvel Comics character, is a story about fighting evil, but not necessarily about being good. Like it’s chain of media predecessors, Hellboy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Constantine, and others, Ghost Rider is less concerned with aligning it’s supernatural understructure with any one religious view or established image, and more interested in creating usable characters and unexpected plot devices.
It is not strange that we reinvent our particular views on mythology; it is the nature of all stories to change as they are retold. It is however, strange that we don’t believe our own mythos, consuming it as a light fantasy. The demon-fighting theme is also not a peculiar fixation of our culture, being shared by Japanese and Islamic mythology among others. Our modern writers have however, surpassed all other societies in our creative flexibility when it comes to religious fables.
Ghost Rider, in our modern tradition, completely reinvents the power structure of the universe, and concocts a particular set of legends and powerful, world-altering relics. Once again, the armies of Hell have come to conquer our world like demonic Napoleons. In this alternate snippet of Dante’s legacy, the Napoleon in question is Blackheart, this Hell’s, “Son of the Devil,” who has escaped his evil yet status-quo father’s control and is now bent on turning our planet into his own personal murder party.
Nick Cage plays the ill-fated Johnny Blaze, who is first duped into his macabre destiny by the scheming, soul collecting Devil. Later, as Johnny is transformed into the mindless skeletal fire creature, he is utilized by the movie’s Devil, called Mephistopheles, to battle against Blackheart to preserve the present cosmic arrangement. Along the way, the Ghost Rider, whose brain apparently catches fire with the rest of his head, learns that he has the ability to bestow karmic vengeance on violent criminals, torturing them with their own guilt and leaving them eyeless and apparently soulless.
In the end, the Devil has another change of attitude and tries to reclaim Johnny’s powers, for completely unexplained reasons. In the triumphant moment of the movie, Johnny emancipates himself from his former employer, vowing to utilize his demonic powers to fight against him.
Ghost Rider is a morality tale, and a high selling one. If the moral is confusing, perhaps it is because our own country’s morals are muddled. We are a culture that loves vengeance and power. The bully cop has become the greatest character of television, and the bully superhero has recently dominated the movies, but the hero must always bully, abuse, and even torture in the name of good in order to sell.
Christianity has always maintained an uneasy balance of forgiveness and vengeance. Perhaps our modern genre of ugly-demon slaughtering is merely a re-visitation of an undying philosophical conflict. Ghost Rider, for its part has further convoluted the American Christian mythos, with indiscernible lessons and a confusing and mostly unrevealed universal order.