Friday, August 5, 2011

Milton at the Movies

Thanks to a former student, I've been updated on the forthcoming film by Alex Proyas of "Paradise Lost," the epic poem by John Milton. When I taught a course in Milton's poetry, as I did for 30 years at the Univ. of Central Florida, I often told the students that the long poem from the 17th century, despite its off-putting language, would make a great screenplay, maybe even an actual movie.

According to an article in First Showing, the producers of the film, to begin production in January with Bradley Cooper in the starring role, plan to be faithful to the great poem. I wonder whether this is possible, given what I know.

For one thing, the article emphasizes the (predictable) clash between good and evil, between Lucifer and Michael, as the main event, whereas it is really a poem about the fall of Adam and Eve. How important will they be in the final screenplay, I wonder.

The most colorful character, played by Cooper, is called Satan, not Lucifer, a name Milton studiously avoids, never showing us the unfallen archangel of that name. Satan, the adversary of God, dominates the opening of the epic, nearly stealing the thunder from the other characters, including God, Adam, and Eve. To call him Lucifer, as the movie presumably does, is heretical to any self-respecting Miltonist.

Is Mr. Cooper going to portray Milton's quasi-heroic rebel Satan, or Lucifer? We know that Benjamin Walker, who has a suitably angelic face, will play Michael. Based on this early information, I suspect that the film will go for the obvious battle scenes and minimize the real subject: the temptation, fall, and regeneration of the human characters in a way that makes the poem more positive than the title might imply.

Paradise, that is, is lost on earth, but a greater paradise, Milton contended, is to be found in the human heart (of the Christian believer). So whether this emphasis will be included in the upcoming film remains to be seen.

However, it turns out, the film of "Paradise Lost" is something I look forward to seeing, analyzing, arguing about, and (I hope) enjoying.

No comments: