God and Satan have placed a bet for the souls of all mankind. Restricting themselves from any direct involvement with humans, they may only “influence” through the use of so-called half-breeds—demons or angels who are somehow part human and walk the earth in human form.
John Constantine was born with the ability to see these creatures for what they are. As a young man, it drove him to madness and suicide, for which he was sent immediately to hell—a real place of fire and torment that exists in a dimension parallel to ours. Then he was resuscitated and returned to our world.
He now lives as a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, exorcism-performing antihero, desperately sending rule-breaking half-breeds back to hell in hopes of earning a pass to heaven. But the foul-mouthed, androgynous angel Gabriel tells him his quest for salvation is hopeless, in part, because he has never done one selfless act. Oh, and he has terminal lung cancer, so the clock is ticking.
Suddenly, against the rules, actual demons are starting to break into our plane of existence. And their actions are somehow tied to the mysterious suicide of detective Angela Dodson’s twin sister. Together, John and Angela must find a way to stop the apocalypse.
Although the film’s supernatural worldview is warped, the main characters do eventually come to the conclusion that God is more than, as John implies early on, just a “kid with an ant farm.” Instead, He seems to have a plan for the world and the people in it. Faith in God is shown to be positive, though sometimes difficult. And Satan is presented as a real, malevolent force in opposition to God and man. (Angela tells John she doesn't believe in the devil, prompting him to say, "You should. He believes in you.") Several characters risk and/or sacrifice their lives for the good of others.
At face value, Constantine’s supernatural worldview seems to be similar to the truth set out in the Bible. (There is a heavy emphasis on Catholic icons and symbolism.) But heavy distortions quickly knock it off-kilter. God is said to be powerful, but self-limited by a wager with Satan. He and His angels are restricted to heaven. Satan and his demons are restricted to hell.
At one point, when John is being taken to glory, Satan drags him back. This moment and others leave the audience wondering who is in charge. So what of Christ? He's mostly a non-issue, and His divinity is swept under the rug. The "spear of destiny" is said to be the cause of Jesus' death, not the crucifixion. (It's neither; He gave up His spirit as a victor, not a victim and was dead before the soldier pierced His side.) Such errors are throughout.
Also, it is unclear how far God’s grace extends and to whom. Suicide is presented as a mortal sin, dooming the offender to hell. However, John seems to be given hope that, if he would both ask for forgiveness and do an unselfish act, he’d have a shot at heaven.
In addition to confrontations with a recently fallen angel, a demonic half-breed and several full demons, John visits hell, giving us an extended view of its demon-infested and fiery landscape. He (rightly) says, "Take it from me, two minutes in hell is a lifetime." (We also see the briefest glimpse of heaven’s clouds and light.) John has a long conversation with Satan. And in dispatching a demon, John invokes the Trinity. Elsewhere, he visits an old friend who used to be a witchdoctor into voodoo (he runs a club for half-breeds, staying neutral on spiritual warfare).
Hell has its own version of the Bible, different from God's inerrant word ("Corinthians" goes to chapter 21). Satan’s son attempts to enter our world through the body of a psychic, aided by the traitorous angel Gabriel who wishes to unleash a “purifying wrath” on humanity. John's protégé, Chaz, avidly reads books about religion, the occult, witchcraft, etc. An alcoholic priest wields a supernatural ability for gathering information.
We see a passing shot of a provocatively dressed couple making out in a bar. Extended shots of Angela reveal her bra.
A woman kills herself by jumping from a building, and we see several shots of her dead body (once in a morgue). A possessed man is absolutely drilled by a car, but walks away unharmed. John fights with a demon that possesses a little girl and battles a demon with a body made of bugs and snakes. That same demon leaves a human dead and covered in insects.
A Catholic priest cuts himself repeatedly with a corkscrew. John uses holy water to burn the flesh off of demonic half-breeds (to disgusting effect), and a cross-shaped gun to blow them to pieces. Angela is forcefully sucked through walls, possessed by a demon, and found to be impregnated with the spawn of Satan (it fights to break out of her abdomen). John slits his own wrists, resulting in lots of blood.
Water is the "universal conduit" between dimensions. So, to gain her "temporary" access to hell, John drowns Angela in a bathtub, somehow knowing just when and how to pull her back into this realm. It's near-death tampering on the level of Flatliners that could inspire spiritually confused searchers to try something dangerous.
Crude or Profane Language
We hear one use of the f-word (from the angel Gabriel, no less), along with a half-dozen or so uses each of the s-word and "a--hole." (Other profanity includes "b--ch," "d--n" and "pr--k.") Most egregious, especially in a film dealing with religious themes, are a "g--d--n" and four abuses of Christ's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cigarettes and alcohol are abused heavily, both with dire consequences. John is dying of lung cancer from a smoking habit (it's frequently condemned; the Surgeon General’s warning on his pack of cigarettes fills the screen at one point). John also drinks a lot, as does a Catholic priest who eventually dies, in part, from his addiction.
Other Negative Elements
John coughs up blood repeatedly due to his lung cancer. He also gives the finger twice, once to Satan.
Constantine is a slick, tightly written, but grotesque and deceptive horror flick. Based on the long-running DC Comics Hellblazer series, it creates its supernatural world from traditionally Protestant and Catholic views of God, angels, demons, Satan, heaven and especially hell. Then it rearranges the pieces, filters them through a lens of superstition and tosses in aspects of the occult to arrive at a misshapen view of God and other spiritual beings.
What kind of God makes a wager with the devil for human souls? Certainly, a weaker, less caring God than the one presented in the Bible who has already paid the price for those souls with the blood of His Son.
And what does it take to get into heaven? Contantine’s answers are muddy and misleading. The angel Gabriel states that all who take their own lives are doomed to hell, but also speaks of God’s mercy to unworthy humans who trust in Him. We’re repeatedly told that John cannot buy his way into heaven with good works, but that he must believe in God, ask for absolution and commit at least one truly unselfish act—which sounds a lot like doing a good work.
You don’t expect a secular horror movie to spell out the plan of salvation, especially one so full of violence and gore. But when a story firmly embraces the realities of hell and heaven—and talks openly about the requirements for salvation—the results of misrepresenting the truth can be devastating. And that kind of deception and confusion is the hallmark of our real spiritual enemies.
Keanu Reeves thinks we miss the point if we focus too fervently on the movie’s mythology of supernatural good and evil. He sees Constantine, instead, as “secular religiosity.” “I was hoping that these concepts could become a platform that are humanistic,” he told a group of religious press. “It’s more flesh and blood somehow than spiritual.” The Apostle Paul disagreed. (See Ephesians 6:12.)
Indeed, Constantine’s greatest deceit might rest in turning those evil spiritual forces into human-faced monsters that can be blown to hell with a little Latin, some holy water and a cross-shaped shotgun.