Monday, March 05, 2007

Paradise Lost: The Movie!

Gustave Doré, Expulsion from Heaven

Michael Joseph Gross reviews a movie not yet made in his New York Times article "It's God vs. Satan. But What About the Nudity?"

The title refers to the nudity of Adam and Eve, and handling that part of the film would be difficult, especially the first couple's first coupling after they've tasted the big apple. Milton implies that their coupling is rough sex, and though he doesn't get pornographic in his description, he doesn't shy away from presenting it:
As with new Wine intoxicated both
They swim in mirth, and fansie that they feel
Divinitie within them breeding wings [ 1010 ]
Wherewith to scorne the Earth: but that false Fruit
Farr other operation first displaid,
Carnal desire enflaming, hee on Eve
Began to cast lascivious Eyes, she him
As wantonly repaid; in Lust they burne: [ 1015 ]
Till Adam thus 'gan Eve to dalliance move,

Eve, now I see thou art exact of taste,
And elegant, of Sapience no small part,
Since to each meaning savour we apply,
And Palate call judicious; I the praise [ 1020 ]
Yeild thee, so well this day thou hast purvey'd.
Much pleasure we have lost, while we abstain'd
From this delightful Fruit, nor known till now
True relish, tasting; if such pleasure be
In things to us forbidden, it might be wish'd, [ 1025 ]
For this one Tree had bin forbidden ten.
But come, so well refresh't, now let us play,
As meet is, after such delicious Fare;
For never did thy Beautie since the day
I saw thee first and wedded thee, adorn'd [ 1030 ]
With all perfections, so enflame my sense
With ardor to enjoy thee, fairer now
Then ever, bountie of this vertuous Tree.

So said he, and forbore not glance or toy
Of amorous intent, well understood [ 1035 ]
Of Eve, whose Eye darted contagious Fire.
Her hand he seis'd, and to a shadie bank,
Thick overhead with verdant roof imbowr'd
He led her nothing loath; Flours were the Couch,
Pansies, and Violets, and Asphodel, [ 1040 ]
And Hyacinth, Earths freshest softest lap.
There they thir fill of Love and Loves disport
Took largely, of thir mutual guilt the Seale,
The solace of thir sin, till dewie sleep
Oppress'd them, wearied with thir amorous play. [PL 9.1008-1045]
I'd like to see how the director would handle this scene -- not for any prurient reasons, of course, but out of curiosity as to how a director might remain true to Milton's vision while aiming at a contemporary American Christian audience. I remember seeing a 70s television program on Adam and Eve that allowed a glimpse of their prelapsarian backsides, a view that left my aunt feeling distinctly uncomfortable and remarking, "I realize this isn't pornography, but I wish that they'd been a bit less explicit." Spoken from a postlapsarian perspective, of course, as literary critic Stanley Fish might point out.

The producer, Vincent Newman, recognizes the problem:
Mr. Newman, by his own account, told the writers he wanted "less Adam and Eve and more about what's happening with the archangels," the battle in Heaven between God's and Satan's armies.

"In Eden there's the nudity problem," he pointed out, "which would be a big problem for a big studio movie."
I guess this means that sex scenes are out. Too bad. If Harry Potter -- I mean Daniel Radcliffe -- can get away with live nude scenes around horses in Equus, why can't some handsome actor and some stunning Eve portray the first couple exactly as Milton's story does? Christian viewers' discomfort with that would make for some interesting analysis in Christian film critics' reviews of the movie.

The focus, however, will be on a Satan clad in military garb, a sort of heroic antihero -- and that's not without its controversial appeal, as Gross reports Stanley Fish noting in a telephone interview:
The depiction of Satan may be a polarizing one among scholars. Some, in line with Romantic poets like William Blake, will want the dark prince to be the hero; others won't be happy unless Satan is a self-deceiving hypocrite, and the story an education in virtue and obedience.

Yet Stanley Fish, author of "Surprised by Sin: The Reader in 'Paradise Lost,'" said in a telephone interview that the filmmakers "could use these two readings of 'Paradise Lost' in a dramatic fashion, as Milton does."

"In the introductory books," he added, "the figure of Satan is presented with a certain kind of heroic glaze surrounding him, but then, as the poem proceeds, Milton quite deliberately, and for some readers unforgivably, insists that you see the terrible emptiness and self-aggrandizing narcissism at the heart of this character. You could pull the audience in by giving them the kind of romantic rebel that is so easy to respond to, and then pull them up short and ask them to re-think the matter and ask them to think about why this figure has such appeal to them."
Well, you could try to produce that sort of film, but you might have difficulty in getting audiences to see that Satan's "terrible emptiness and self-aggrandizing narcissism" was implicit in his incipent act of rebellion -- especially if you're a producer whose enthusiasm exceeds your understanding, as appears to be the case with Newman, who tells us:
"It's a 400-some-odd-page poem written in Old English."
As Gross points out, Newman's "passion is more for the idea of the poem than for the poem itself," for Paradise Lost is "in blank verse, not Old English." Actually, this doesn't quite state things correctly either. Milton's poem is in Early Modern English, which would prove difficult for many current readers even if the poem were in rhyming couplets rather than in blank verse.

That aside, one of Newman's oddest statements is his off-hand remark that the movie will be:
"made with total adherence and respect to any of the three religions' involvement in the story of God, the Devil and the archangels."
Gross specifies that Newman is "referring to Christianity, Judaism and Islam," an odd sort of political correctness to impose on Milton's poem, which portrays a pre-existent, divine Christ as the poem's true hero who defeats the antihero Satan. How this is going to be "made with total adherence" to Judaism and Islam lies beyond my ken.

Still, as Mr. Newman points out "it's a war movie at the end of the day" -- meaning, forget about Milton's view, explicit in Paradise Lost 9.31-33, that real heroism appears in "the better fortitude / Of Patience and Heroic Martyrdom / Unsung."



At 11:33 AM, Blogger usinkorea said...


It made me think of the guy who made The Lord of the Rings movies when he described how working on an earlier project convinced him there was nothing that could not now be done because of advances in technology. I would certainly think bringing Paradise Lost to the screen in nice fashion would be one such undertaking.

This is also interesting to me, because when I was into English literature full time, the Romantics were my primary area of interest, and I once wrote a rather crappy undergrad paper on whether or not Satan could be considered a hero-type character as some of the Romantics thought.

Which makes me HIGHLY CURIOUS how present day Hollywood is going to depict the players in the story...highly, highly curious.

I didn't see the last big budget movie about the crusades - whose title escapes me - because I read the guy tried to make it neutral. To me, that would be like trying to be neutral in depicting World War II ---- you got to pick a side to do the material justice - which ever side you decide has more right with them...

And I had similar feelings about what was done to Homer's work in the recent movie Troy...

given what is possible now via technology ---- if we can bring Lord of the Rings to life in such spectacular fashion ---

we could do Homer's story justice too...but the gods and godesses in it are nothing but words on the lips of men.

And frankly, it would have made the action in that movie a whole lot more compelling and interesting if they had portrayed the active hands of the gods and goddesses that are in the original story...

Secularizing that movie harmed the story and it didn't need to happen.....shouldn't have happened...

But, I was at least minorly satisfied that Hollywood would emasculate the pagans like they do the Christian stories (and others)...

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll be interested in seeing the film. The filmmakers don't seem to be interested in secularizing the plot (despite the odd political correctness), so I'll be interested in seeing how they handle a character like God -- who does play a role in the story.

The original screenplay writers and the producer are all Christian, but some of the rewriting is perhaps being done by non-Christians, and the bottom line in Hollywood is to make a buck, so I'll be interested in seeing how the poem is adapted.

Will they go for the Christian audience or aim for a larger one?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:46 PM, Blogger Ryan Ormonde said...

There is no doubt that seeing a full-scale big budget recreation of Paradise Lost would be hugely engrossing. Who could play Adam and Eve? I'm thinking Eva Green and Djimon Hounsou perhaps...

The fact is, in the same way your grandmother reacted to seeing Bible butt on screen, no matter how beautiful, powerful and tasteful the production, anyone watching it is going to come away feeling a little bit dirty. But, hang on - that's brilliant! A perfect echo of The Fall of Man itself!

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Zillakiller, for noting the way in which viewing the film would involve us in re-experiencing the fall by reminding us of our postlapsarian natures (though the person in question who objected to the bare backsides was an aunt).

A very Stanley-Fishian point to make...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:08 AM, Blogger usinkorea said...

I had forgotten to add last time --

John Huston's Genesis did the Adam and Eve in the garden before and after the fall.

I'm watching it again right now to refresh my memory...

(He also played Noah...)

It seems they somehow got Eve's hair to stay in place despite the wind and running around --- impressive...

On the people making the film being Christians, it reminded me of the Romantics again - and Thomas Jefferson.

Some of the Romantics, and over the seas some social thinkers in the US, were openly non-Christian, but others (more so) were like Coleridge in his youth - he thoguht of himself as a Christian, but he preached against the fundamental tenets of Christianity - arguing against the trinity in favor of a view of Jesus as just a man of exceptional quailty and no resurrection.

And in the time of the Romantics, the interpretation of the Satan character was widely different from what Milton hoped to accomplish.

I'll be interested in seeing if the Romantic hero-type interpretation is what audiences come away with from this movie.

The Romantic hero was also not simply "admired" - he was often shown as a fallen, fragile character, too much trapped in humanity but admired for trying to rise above the norm. A doomed, flawed character, but the Romantics found some type of nobility in his effort.

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Milton would probably say that the people who see Satan as the true hero of Paradise Lost are simply choosing the side of Satan over God out of their own fallen natures and are headed for eternal damnation.

That's also a Stanley-Fishian analysis...

. . .

At 11:42 AM, Blogger usinkorea said...

It would seem to me they are favoring the attributes of Satan Milton seemed to be directly attacking - pride and inability to submit (or as Satan would put it - subjugate themselves) to the authority of another (as Satan would say - tyranny).

"What though the field be lost? / All is not lost—the unconquerable will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome."

Being a king in hell might be cool, but it's still hell...

Paradise Lost is a kick ass book - even for those who aren't literature geeks --- but I doubt I'll be able to convince many teens about that here in the US.

If this movie is good, that should help.

For the literature geeks, here are a couple of links from the Romantics taking from Milton:

Keats' Hyperion fragment #1

The Fall of Hyperion

Shelley's Prometheus Unbound

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

USinK, I didn't realize that you have a thing for Milton. I've posted dozens of Milton entries over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, most cannot be reached easily, but they do exist in the archives...

Thanks for various links.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:49 PM, Blogger usinkorea said...

I haven't been around here much. I haven't been doing the blogs much (or as much) period since I began student-teaching here in the US with this program I started last summer.

Before that, being a lit major in grad school almost killed my love of the subject. For years, I only read non-fiction (except for Tony Hillerman and Rex Stout mysteries). I have been coming back to lit slowly, and then back in a major way when I decided to teach it in high school here in the US.

(I remember some time ago, we discussed medieval imagery for something you were teaching and I recommended a book - if you would still like to read it, I bought a another copy and would gladly mail it to you since I'm done with it).

Milton is great. (I am also a big John Donne fan). Paradise Lost should be a good read for most people given the nature of the story. (I've had trouble convincing teens that is true also of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - I thought with especially the George Bush hysteria in the US and the war, a tale of ambition, pride, intrigue, assassination, coup, civil war, would be a appealing...)

The area I liked best to study was the early Romantics and the time period of the French and American Revolutions. I also favor poetry over novels or plays, but I look at everything for a sense of the nature of the times in a given period.

I have also been into reading on religion and philosophy in the past (--I was thinking of your "about" page--) Over at my blog, I did some spring cleaning since I have a lot of free time these days, and I updated my sidebar with some of my favorite reading and movies....

At 6:57 PM, Blogger usinkorea said...


Finding your Milton stuff was easy. I just typed the name into the search frame at the top left of your blog...

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

USinK, another book would be great to have ... just as soon as I have a new address (or learn my new university address).

We're in the process of moving -- packing things and getting prepared.

I'll let you know an address soon.

And before I forget, thanks for the offer! Also for letting me know that my Milton posts can be found with ease.

Jeffery Hodges

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