About two-thirds of the speaking characters in Constantine are either demons or angels. The paraphernalia of exorcism abound, and Keanu Reeves wears a sick and weary look, like someone whose adventure has not been excellent. When I left the screening, my soul cried for succor. I hurried toward Congregation Anshe Tsurres and my spiritual adviser, Rabbi Simcha Feffeferman.
“Rabbi,” I cried, bursting into his study, then halted on the threshold in confusion. The low, dim space was crammed with leotard-clad women, so many that they rubbed against the sloping spines on the bookshelves and pressed the rabbi to his desk. Each wore around her wrist a thread that was as crimson as her perfect manicure. In the sudden hush, I heard steam pipes. Then, from the desk, came the familiar hoarse voice: “You don’t write, you don’t call, a fax you don’t send. At least you could knock.”
Stammering apologies, I began to back away; but the rabbi held me in place by the crook of a finger, saying, “So, we were finished today anyway, yes? Go, be well.” The visitors, obedient, lifted from the carpet a heavy burden of Prada and filed past me, trailing the varied odors of Saks.
“What?” I said when the last had gone.
The rabbi shrugged. “Kabbalists. You think the mortgage pays itself? Listen, better you should close the door and explain what’s the aggravation.”
“I have just seen a movie,” I said, “Constantine, about Keanu Reeves’s struggle for faith. He chain-smokes and coughs up blood and gets photographed as if in appalling fluorescent light, and why? Because he spends all his time punching demons in the face and sending them back to hell.”
“And from this he makes a living?”
“No, it’s not clear how he gets his money. He occupies about 50,000 square feet of prime real estate in downtown Los Angeles–an abandoned bowling alley, with a retro Sam Spade office-studio on the second floor–and he can afford to keep his own car and driver, but a job? No.”
“And this makes him unhappy?”
“He’s unhappy because he’s doomed. When he was a teenager, he committed suicide and then was resuscitated. And because the experience taught him that all the scary parts of Catholic doctrine are true, he knows that the next time he dies, he’ll go to hell forever. Keanu has seen the place–it looks like Century City viewed from the freeway, only all busted up and red–and he doesn’t like it. So he goes around fighting creepy demonic tempters, in the hope that good works will buy him into God’s grace.”
The rabbi frowned, but only because he was now standing on tiptoe before a bookcase, trying to push a paperback copy of The Time Out Guide to Kabbalah into concealment on the third shelf. “Good works, grace. From this, I don’t know.”
“Well, let me tell you, it’s a losing proposition. The angel Gabriel, who in this case is Tilda Swinton dressed in a suit and tie, tells Keanu that he won’t get into heaven unless he stops being selfish and learns to serve others.”
“Ah!” the rabbi grunted, plopping into his chair. “Topper. You remember–Cary Grant and Constance Bennett die and can’t go to heaven because they never did anything good. So they have to haunt Roland Young and make him happy. Not a great movie, but there’s this joke about his wife’s underpants–”