I have a confession to make. I love Lucifer. To some, this will come as no surprise, since many of my friends already know that I have a fondness for darkness. But I’m only drawn to it if there is a spark of light shining in that darkness. The promise of redemption. Evil, while intriguing, usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth — actually, it makes my guts churn and fills me with dread. True Evil (notice the capital E) is something I hope to never have to confront face-to-face. Just because someone has a reputation for being monstrous, doesn’t automatically make them Evil. Especially if they’ve been misrepresented since the beginning of time. Lucifer is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, but talk about a reputation. People have been blaming him for all the e(E)vil in the world since he made his fabled fall from Grace. Well, him and that bitch Eve.
I recently finished watching the first season of Lucifer. Twice. Initially I was skeptical. I mean Lucifer is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented fictional characters of all time. Yes, that’s right, I said fictional character. In fact, this particular character made his first appearance in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics in the late 1980’s. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there (cough, cough, Christians) who will read this and be angry that I’m referring to Lucifer (Satan, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, or whatever you’re most comfortable calling him) as a fictional character. But here’s the thing, I’m not a Christian. I’m not an atheist either. I believe in something, but I’m not exactly down with the concept of one all-powerful creator, especially not one as temperamental as the Judaeo-Christian god. If we’re to believe all the promises of damnation and hellfire, there’s no pleasing that guy. If Hell does exist, I’ll probably end up there. Not because I’m an inherently bad or cruel person, but I tend to question everything. Including the word of God. I’m an educated uppity Negro who believes in self-determinism and indulging in hedonistic pleasures. And, since the first overly judgmental Christian pointed a finger in my direction and deemed me a heathen, I’ve had a special place for Lucifer in my heart.
Sympathy for the Devil: Lucifer Morningstar
Before I start talking about my new TV boyfriend, Lucifer Morningstar, I’d like to talk a little bit about the mythical origins of Lucifer and why I – as well as many other people – find him so fascinating, and yes, deserving of our sympathy.
“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” – Mark Twain
Talk about a tragic character. He’s the original scapegoat. In his fascinating book, The Devil: A Biography, Peter Stanford looks at the role the Devil has played in shaping how people view evil and how our perception of evil has evolved over time.
In the modern mind it [evil] is located within each individual — what Jung called our “shadow.” Historically, the tendency was to place it [evil] outside — on the Devil, who exploited a weakness in the human makeup. Of the two placements, the contemporary option is harder to deal with since it imposes a responsibility on each and every individual. The traditional route, while emphasizing that God gave each man and woman free will — the capacity to choose right or wrong — did have the bonus of off-loading some of the burden onto an external force. That is why the Devil still attracts a following. He represents the easy option when we are confronted with evil. (6-7)
All of the world’s sins are blamed on him, and he must forever carry the burden of punishing the wicked – or anyone who doesn’t follow God’s commandments. Once one of God’s favorite angels, Lucifer was cast into Hell after refusing to follow God’s word to the last letter. Pride was his downfall. He exercised his free will and challenged his father’s authority. He rebelled.
12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Isaiah 14:12-14 (King James Version)
As a teenager, I developed an interest in Lucifer’s story even though I didn’t attend church. Maybe because I didn’t attend church. I drew parallels between his banishment to Hell and the punishment my friends received for expressing themselves honestly. I had friends who were kicked out of their houses because they could no longer conform to the expectations their families had established for them. I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen I rebelled. Most of us do. I dressed all in black (wait, I still do that), wore makeup that made me look dead, experimented with drugs, climbed into cars with strangers, flirted with married men, rode on the backs of motorcycles under the stars past midnight, made out with boys in leather jackets, read vintage smut and other banned books, watched lots of inappropriate foreign films, listened to loud rock and roll (1950’s – present), wrote poetry about killing people I hated, daydreamed of becoming a vampire or succubus, partied with drag queens, played with Ouija boards, read Tarot cards, and hung out with juvenile delinquents. Sounds fun, right? There were plenty of people willing to lead me down the primrose path. Oddly enough, none of them were Satan. No matter how badly they wanted to be.
Just to piss people off, or fuck with their heads, my friends and I declared an alliance with Satan and all things considered evil by mainstream culture. We’d shout, “Hail Satan!” and then giggle like schoolgirls. Because we were schoolgirls. Schoolgirls with a very dark sense of humor who were bored with mainstream ideals of good and evil. Let me tell you, we had a great time. If we had done any of those things prior to the latter part of the 20th century, we would have been labeled as witches (in some cases we were) and punished severely. None of us really made a pact with Satan, despite what some of our classmates and teachers thought. Being accused of practicing witchcraft and worshipping Satan only made us laugh, and oddly enough gave us a certain amount of power, independence, and individual voices. Wearing black lipstick to high school doesn’t make you a witch or Satan worshipper. It makes you a scapegoat. But if you stand up for yourself, speak up for your rights to wear whatever you want, and the rights of others to be different, that makes you a strong teen girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming a black lipstick wearing feminist. An uppity Satan-loving Goth Negro.
It wasn’t always easy to wake up in the morning and be myself. Some days it was fucking horrible. Knowing that about myself, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Lucifer’s plight. I knew what it meant to be misunderstood, and feared or hated for being different. People shouted at my mother from a passing car when we walked down the street, “Nigger lover!”, because she was holding my hand. I was five. If there is a Hell, I hope every evil racist asshole who ever made me and my mom and dad feel afraid or feel bad about ourselves goes straight there and suffers the punishments of the damned for all eternity.
Aside from the fact that people treated my family like shit because we were ethnically mixed, I was always too heavy (fat), didn’t wear the right clothes (poor), liked to read for fun (nerd), talked too much (behavioral problems), and collected Star Wars figurines (um, those are for boys). I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point I decided, maybe not even consciously at first, that if people were going to see and treat me differently anyway, I might as well give them something interesting to look at.
I wish I knew the exact moment when the light bulb in my brain switched to black light and I decided to give conformity the finger. I like to imagine I was born that way, but a very specific chain of events occurred to make me think it was perfectly acceptable for a seventeen-year-old girl to smoke pot in her bedroom and listen to the Velvet Underground while lying in bed with her older punk rock boyfriend.
Before I fell under Tom Ellis’s spell as Lucifer, there were a few other devils who captured my heart (and mind) in film and television. He’s in good company. Although technically I’m talking about the same character, the way that different people portray and/or write about him makes this character fresh each time we encounter him in fiction. A purely evil Satan wouldn’t interest me, but a complex character who finds humor in our misery, can make fun of himself, and shed light onto the human condition in a way most of us can relate to, can provide hours of entertainment for me. He’s the ultimate antagonist who can inspire fear or sympathy, and more often than not, lust.
In 1987 I went to the movie theater to see a film starring Lisa Bonet (Epiphany Proudfoot), Mickey Rourke (Harry Angel), and Robert De Niro (Louis Cypher). I wanted to see Angel Heart for two reasons: 1) it was set in New Orleans, and thanks to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I had developed an infatuation with the city, which would eventually become a life-long love affair, and 2) I wanted to see an interracial couple having sex on screen. I may never be as tall and thin as Lisa Bonet, but at age 15 I viewed her as the closest physical representation I could see of myself on TV and in movies. And, she was starring in a movie about voodoo set in New Orleans having completely inappropriate blood-drenched sex with an older white man who is running from the devil. Seriously? The only thing that could have made this movie any better for me as a teen would be for her to somehow turn into a vampire. But hey, she’s a mambo, so I can’t complain. I would LOVE to talk about the intersectionality of racial, gender, and sexual politics in Angel Heart. And, someday I will. Today is not that day.
Today I’m talking about Lucifer, and in this particular case, Louis Cypher (say it aloud in a French accent). If you ever have a chance to pick up the novel this film is adapted from, Falling Angel (1978), by William Hjortsberg, you will be amused by how many parodies of Lucifer’s name one author can think up. And, it’s a great story.
Robert De Niro’s Lucifer is handsome, charming, well-groomed, wears expensive suits, has a taste for unusual jewelry, manicures his nails into pristine points, and has the air of a mysterious European aristocrat. He’s also spooky and sexy, which is always a great combination of personality traits in my book. Louis Cypher hires a law firm, Macintosh and Winesap (get it?), to hire a private investigator, Harry Angel, to find a missing person. If you’ve never seen Angel Heart, shame on you. But just in case, I’ll be nice and won’t spoil it for you.
Needless to say, I love this film. I’ve owned various copies between 1987 and the present, and I come back to it from time to time when I need a pick me up. That’s right, devil-themed suspense films about voodoo cheer me up. What’s it to ya’?
De Niro’s Lucifer is a tough act to follow. He has so many quotable lines, and you can see he is clearly having fun in this role. I always liked Robert De Niro’s work, but this role gave him a whole new depth that made me fall a little bit in love with him. It was a long time before I saw another Devil quite so appealing.
One of the most lust-inspiring, yet unsettling portrayals of Lucifer is Viggo Mortensen’s in The Prophecy (1995). When I discovered this gem of a film I watched it over and over. I made my friends watch it with me over and over. It’s dark, it’s funny, it delves into the age old debate over good and evil, we see glimpses of the war in Heaven, Christopher Walken plays the archangel Gabriel and Viggo Mortensen is Lucifer. What’s not to like?
Mortensen, dressed in a black cassock like a priest and wearing black nail polish, is somehow simultaneously aloof, bored, insightful, petulant, mean, creepy and sensual. He’s attractive, yet repulsive, like a big piece of decadent dark chocolate cake dusted with arsenic. You’ll probably take a bite even though you know you’ll regret it later. He’s beautifully monstrous.
He inspires fear in the people who cross his path in the film, until his mantle of power and control slips and we are shown his desperation, a peek at his loneliness, cravenness, as he threatens to take the two main characters back to Hell with him. As we see the motivation behind his threats to drag them to Hell, his threats seem more like the pathetic attempts of a lonely drunk at last call looking for someone to go home with him. Physically appealing, but loathsome. Pitiful. But not exactly Evil.
Viggo was my favorite Lucifer until I met Peter Stormare’s Lucifer in Constantine (2005).
Seriously, Stormare’s Lucifer is super fucking cool and spooky. When he shows up dressed in all white to collect John Constantine’s soul — in person — it’s like the Godfather showing up to collect an unpaid debt. Rather than ascending from Hell as we might expect, he enters this realm descending from an unseen portal above. His bare feet and the cuffs of his white suit are stained with something that looks a lot like tar. His eyes are red-rimmed, like he hasn’t slept in a very long time. Managing Hell is a full-time job after all. It’s open 24/7.
Aside from Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare’s Lucifer is one of the best things Constantine has to offer. Actually, his portrayal of the Devil is one of the best I’ve seen and it invariably makes it onto top ten lists of all time best Devils in films. Ironically, the only bad casting choice in this film was Keanu Reeves as John Constantine.
After Stormare’s, my favorite Lucifer became Mark Pellegrino’s on Supernatural. Pellegrino first appeared as Nick/Lucifer in the 2009 episode, “Sympathy for the Devil,” in which a man with a tormented past, consumed by grief, with apparently nothing left to lose or live for, accepts a demon’s offer to become the vessel of Lucifer. That’s not an easy gig. Especially if you aren’t genetically predisposed to contain the soul of a deity. Nick is only a temporary skin suit, and we soon learn that Lucifer really has his sights set on Sam Winchester.
Pellegrino’s Lucifer is a bit more complex than the previous ones I’ve mentioned. He’s an emotionally disturbed fallen angel who will never get over being banished to Hell by his father. The way he sees it, his family abandoned him and the psychological aftermath has made him into a sarcastic, spiteful, jealous asshole seeking vengeance in the form of world annihilation. He believes the only thing that will make him feel better is to start the Apocalypse. He hates humanity and wishes to destroy it to spite his father. Some angels support his efforts, while others think he’s acting like a spoiled jerk.
Like I said, Lucifer’s soul is slowly eroding his vessel (Nick) and is looking to take up permanent residence inside Sam’s skin. So, he tortures Sam psychologically by making himself invisible except to Sam in the hopes of driving him insane. Hilarity ensues.
I like Pellegrino’s Lucifer because he is hilarious, but also because when he explains why he does the things he does, no matter how atrocious, he’s very convincing. Does this Lucifer have any hope of redemption? Possibly, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Just because I agree with some of his arguments doesn’t mean I would blindly follow him to Hell. When it comes to charismatic figures, I reserve a certain amount disbelief. I’ve been lead down the primrose path by attractive men with compelling stories more often than I’d like to admit. It’s alluring and exciting for a while, but eventually the emotional roller coaster stops being fun. Especially if your sweetheart has apocalyptic aspirations.
Like I said, pulling off this character isn’t easy. If he’s portrayed as being nothing more than mindless evil, I’m not only bored, but insulted. If he’s portrayed as a simpering, child-like man who throws temper tantrums because he doesn’t get his way, then I’m probably only going to keep watching for the spectacle. Most people fail at portraying Lucifer, because they don’t fully grasp or appreciate his complexity. Tom Ellis is not one of those people.
Admittedly, even if he wasn’t hilarious, tall, dark and handsome, seductive, sensitive, sexy, well-dressed, sarcastic, and yes, at times scary, the fact that he’s a bit geeky in an overly-educated way and has a British accent would have been enough to capture my attention. I mean, for Christ’s sake, look at him! I know what I’m about to say may offend some Whovians, but I don’t care. I think this man would make a fine Doctor. There. I said it. I’m not taking it back. I’d love to see him traveling through time and space in a blue Police Box…with a young woman of color as his companion…and at least one episode with Captain Jack Harkness. Look, you have your fantasies about the Doctor, and I have mine.
When we first meet this Lucifer, he seems pretty shallow. A rich handsome playboy driving an expensive car who buys his way out of bad situations. He owns a club in LA and has a reputation of being a ladies man. Initially, I wasn’t impressed.
Not until he began interacting with people and we had a chance to explore how he manages his relationships with them. Through certain relationships he begins to grow emotionally and each episode we see a little deeper into his soul. His personality is what makes him so fucking attractive. He’s taking a vacation from Hell, but the longer he stays on Earth and builds more friendships, he has even less of a desire to return to his job of torturing the damned. His allure is in his vulnerability, which he tries to hide and deny. Not only because he needs to maintain his reputation, but because he is afraid of this transformation and doesn’t understand it.
Over the course of the first season, Lucifer develops feelings for a police detective, Chloe Decker, and she develops feelings for him. Feelings he doesn’t understand, because he’s never felt that way about a woman. Aside from his confusion about his emotional state, their relationship is complicated by a long list of reasons why they can’t and probably shouldn’t become more than friends. They have some really heavy emotional scenes together, and each time they get a little closer, one of them pulls back out of fear.
In fact, he’s so freaked out about these new and confusing feelings, that he starts…seeing a therapist. I’ll give you three guesses to figure out how he pays for her services.
Although Lucifer is enjoying his time on Earth, there are a few people who really wish he’d go back to Hell.
Mazikeen, or Maze, is a demon who has faithfully followed Lucifer since his fall from Grace. She’s his friend, sometime lover, bodyguard, and assassin. She’s having a good time on Earth, too. Well, most of the time. But as she sees him changing, becoming more sensitive to the plight of humanity, she advocates for returning to Hell so he can become his old devilish self again. His emotional attachments to humans terrify her, and yeah, makes her jealous.
But, the one character who pushes him to return to his duties of punishing the damned more than any other is his brother, Amenadiel, the archangel.
Despite Lucifer’s openness about being the Devil, the detective, Chloe, refuses to accept that he isn’t just an eccentric and overly-dramatic, but well-meaning nutcase. However, there are a few things she witnesses that make her question who he really is. But, like most sane and practical people, she keeps denying the proof that he’s telling the truth.
Ironically, her daughter has no trouble believing he is who he says who he is.
While this Lucifer is fun-loving, cynical, charming, likes to help people he cares about, and…I said sexy, didn’t I?…you still shouldn’t piss him off. Especially when it comes to people or things he’s emotionally attached to.
Yeah, I’m absolutely smitten with Tom Ellis’s Lucifer. He’s everything I’m looking for in a convincing Devil. Smart, funny, emotionally damaged, but open to growth, and I said tall, dark and handsome, right? His body was made for suits (or nakedness), and his accent sends shivers through me.
If you haven’t watched the first season, treat yourself. Honestly, I’m probably going to watch it again. I’ll be fantasizing about Tom Ellis with a sonic screwdriver in his hand, and contemplating the fate of my immortal soul.