Chapter 20: Do You Know How To Die?

Cyberpunk film and fiction evolved in much the same way as society itself evolved in the United States, with large metropolitan areas gradually giving way to the sprawl of the suburbs which surrounded them. New York, of course, was the predominant focus of many early cyberpunk films, particularly those released in the 1980s. But later films moved away from the East Coast, and as the 1990s rolled along things moved towards the West Coast and, specifically, the city of Los Angeles; among such West-Coast based films are T2: Judgement Day, Sneakers, Nemesis, Escape From LA, Strange Days, and 1996'sThe Crow:City of Angels.

The Crow:City of Angels (CofA hereafter) was widely derided by critics and the public alike. Some argued that the film failed because it didn't adhere to the general feeling of the first film, which would have been hard to do since it starred the late Brandon Lee. Others argued that CofA failed for exactly the opposite reason; that is to say, that its failure was due to the fact that the film makers were so busy trying to duplicate the original Crow film that they forgot that they were making a new movie, with new actors and a new script. The truth most likely lies somewhere in between, but from my point of view CofA succeeds and fails on its own merits (and lack thereof). Comparing the film to the first is like comparing T2: Judgment Day to the original Terminator film; there are common elements, but the films tell different stories, in different ways, and with different intentions.

From a distance, it seems hard to imagine that the film flopped so badly. The soundtrack, once again, was quite good, with hits by the likes of Hole, White Zombie, Filter, Bush, Tricky, Korn, Deftones and Iggy Pop almost replicating the brilliance of the original film's soundtrack. Graeme Revell's (The Crow, Strange Days, From Dusk Till Dawn) score was moody and appropriate. The cast, too, was quite solid (if not stellar), with the lead role played by acclaimed foreign actor Vincent Perez (La Reine Margot, Cyrano de Bergerac), the role of Sarah played by the luscious Mia Kirshner (Exotica) and the lead bad guy, Judah, played by Richard Brooks (best known as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette on TV's Law and Order). This is to say nothing of the presence of Iggy Pop (as Curve), who James O'Barr has said was one of the major influences for the original Crow storyline. Even the filmography and costume design was right on the money, and as I'll show, the script was a solid piece of writing.

No, the person we have to blame for the final product is the director, Tim Pope. Prior to CofA, his directorial credits consisted mostly of music videos for the likes of The Bangles, Paul McCartney, Neil Young an the Cure, a forgettable 1988 TV sitcom called "The Groovy Fellers" that lasted a whole 6 episodes, 1987's Cure concert film, The Cure in Orange and 1991's Nickelodeon children's program, "Accidentally On Purpose". Not exactly stellar credentials, and certainly not when it comes to the pacing and presentation of a big budget sci-fi movie. And his inexperience shows. Throughout the film, there are all manner of awkward cuts, inappropriately long shots and general sloppiness. It's no wonder that Mr. Pope hasn't directed a major motion picture since. He ruined what could have been a good film, and it's a blessing that he's not been allowed to ruin any others. This is definitely one case where I'd prefer to see a Non-Director's Cut.

As with other films of this genre, color plays an important role, signifying mood, time and place in the absence of any more obvious clues. The harsh glare of yellow sodium lighting (representing many things, but most importantly conflict) takes the place of the softer blues of the first film, with both flashback scenes and foreshadowed death being represented by a milder, but still oversaturated green. The yellows and greens give the film a disturbingly organic feel, not the organic of a happy forest, but rather the organic that comes from mold, mildew, and human waste. This world is alive, but decaying, eating itself alive from the inside. It's an alien world where even the water turns brown and yellow, frothing and churning as Ashe Corven and his son Danny are thrown off a pier to their watery graves. The script sets up the scene quite vividly, as well as organically:

                                      PULL BACK TO REVEAL

                            Garbage-poisoned waters wreathed in fog.
                            Although once part of a thriving shipping
                            industry, decades of decline have seen
                            these docks become a hellish dumping
                            ground. Case in point:

                                    A FATHER AND HIS YOUNG SON

                            are kneeling next to one another at the
                            end of a pier, their arms linked together,
                            then tied behind their backs. DANNY CORVEN
                            (8) is quietly sobbing. ASHE (late 20s),
                            tries to calm the frightened boy.

After the two are dispatched (in the film, we don't immediately see exactly how), our crow appears, fluttering from the scene of the crime to the home of a beautiful young dark-haired woman, the sort of person who's so incredibly Goth that she doesn't call herself a Goth. She is Sarah, Eric Draven's young skater-punk friend from the first film, and she's been having prophetic nightmares (in green) about a man's assassination and death... Ashe's, in fact.

The presence of blatant mysticism and magic in the film detracts somewhat from the overall mood, and certainly causes things to veer wildly away from most of what is typically accepted as Cyberpunk (unless you play Shadowrun). But the religious symbolism that comes along for the ride is quite interesting to watch, particularly when you start comparing it to other films with a millennial feel to them. For instance, Sarah has two red wings tattooed on her back, an obvious allusion to the fact that she's a fallen angel of sorts; her wings are useless to her, mere reminders of a time when she might have been able to escape the Hell of Los Angeles. The young girl she meets on the street, an obvious reminder of Sarah's own origins, is named Grace, as in "Saving Grace" or "Saying Grace." And even the scenery cries out to us that this world is set firmly in the grips of Hell, neon signs that used to say "Jesus Saves" now flickering to reveal a different message, "Us Save," the concern turning inward and decidedly downward in a world where God is dead.

The ruler of this particular part of Hell is a sexually perverted and sadistic druglord (Trinity being the drug of choice) named Judah Earl (i.e., Earl of Judah, or the lord of this besieged realm), described in the script as "A sinewy, slash-mouthed Byronic figure with a guttural voice. Old before his time, touched by childhood visions of his own death." His name is more than just a throwaway; historically, Judah was the more southern of the two Jewish kingdoms that formed in 922 BCE, governed by kings from the line of David (and thus representing the line that would eventually produce Jesus in Christian beliefs). Jesus is, in fact, referred to as the "Lion of Judah" in some places, most notably in Revelation 5:4-5 -- "(4) Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; (5) and one of the elders said to me, 'Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.'" The point being, Judah is being set up to be someone who's going to be considered worthy to "open the Book." What that book is represented by becomes clearer much later, and is only fully understood in retrospect. Still, it's fun to know.

Judah is joined by the usual group of cronies who will all be killed off in interesting and painful ways: Curve (played by the aforementioned Iggy Pop), Kali, Spider Monkey and Nemo. They, however, are all firmly rooted in the world of the physical, unlike Judah and his advisor, Sybil. These two dabble in dark mystical arts, Sybil in particular blessed/cursed with prophetic visions that caused her to carve out her own eyes. As mentioned earlier, the presence of dark magic here damages the film's credibility. We can barely accept that a man has come back from the dead, but even allowing that, how can we explain the crystal ball/viewing pool that Judah and Sybil use to watch the street outside? In the script, there's a non-magical explanation, in that the viewing table is an elaborate camera obscura: "...a series of lenses and mirrors which project images from the outside world onto a circular table." In the film, it's just a magical table. This same convenient "Wizard of Oz type magic" is what ruins the end of the movie, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Let's see... we have our female lead, our new little sidekick, our team of bad guys and their leader... even Gabriel the cat has returned from the first film, evidently being an immortal super-cat since this film takes place over 10 years after the original. So let's see... what's missing. Cool lighting... moody music... special effects... Oh, yeah. Duh.

The Crow.

You wouldn't think a director could forget who his main character is, but if you compare the script to the film, and both to the original Crow movie, you'll see that shot for shot, this film's Crow, Ashe, is almost treated as secondary to Sarah. It's far too long before we really get anywhere with his character, and by the time we finally understand the basics of what happened to him (his son witnessed a murder, so the both of them were executed), we've already showered with Sarah, gone to work with Sarah, been in bed with Sarah, watched Sarah pose seductively, etc. In fact, aside from Sarah, there's not much character development to be found within anyone at all, which is in direct contrast to the genuine pain and sorrow that Brandon Lee's character felt in the original movie.

Once we meet Ashe, it's pretty much nothing but a series of gruesome deaths, too-long sequences of Ashe riding his motorcycle around aimlessly, and green-tinged flashback sequences that repeat over and over again, as if mere repetition is enough to show us how sad Ashe is that his son was killed. Boo freakin hoo. Personally, all the flashbacks do for me is convince me that Danny Corven had it coming, almost as much as Jake Lloyd's snotty little Anakin Skywalker did. He kills Spider Monkey in a fiery drug lab explosion, mumbling incoherently with a thick French accent as he tries to sound self-important, but only managing to come across as a somewhat pissed-off Pepe Le Pew. These scenes definitely needed another few takes to get the sound right, or at the very least some extra looping after shooting had closed, but all we get here is unintelligible blather.

"Daddy corpus habeus vanilla flakes?"

What did he say? Oh: "Does the corpse have a familiar face?"

"Albanian mama's robot twins!"

I think he said "All your nightmares rolled into one," but I'm not sure.

It's only partly because of the mumbled dialogue that Ashe himself is both a pitiful figure and an interesting Crow. It takes Sarah to tell him what's happened to him (in the script, she even plunges a knife into his chest to prove he's dead), and she's the one who applies his face paint, taking the entire process of becoming the Crow away from him and turning him into somewhat of a childish figure. But while it might have been interesting to explore a rather immature adult being plunged into this sort of situation (akin to Kirsten Dunst's Claudia in Interview With the Vampire), it goes nowhere here, and Ashe just runs around and kills things for a while until he has his power taken away from him and falls down. Which is why you shouldn't feed the kids sugar before bedtime.

Of course, while Ash (from the Evil Dead trilogy) may have gotten some "sugar" from the women around him, this Ashe doesn't get sugar or anything else from Sarah, despite the obvious attempt to hint at a developing love relationship between them. Again, I have to think this is a failing of the director, and a conscious decision not to shoot some scenes from the script, and to alter others to avoid the apparent ickiness of dealing with what would have amounted to necrophilia. In the film, there's basically some googly eyes, and then a brief scene in which a barefoot Sarah is rejected by Ashe with a "We can't do this," and then there's killing and she gets stabbed and dies. But the script is much, much more interesting:

                            Ashe drops into the loft.

                                     I needed to see you again.

                            Ashe moves towards Sarah's paintings, pausing
                            to study the one of the woman being cradled in
                            the arms of her ghostly lover.

                            He touches the woman's face.

                                        She looks like you.

                            After a long moment, Sarah responds.

                                        I paint what I see.

                            Ashe approaches Sarah. He points to the
                            wedding ring which hands from her neck.

                                        Were you married?

And then later, Ashe returns...

                            Sarah stands, drawing near. She reaches out to
                            console him, touching his shoulder. She alone,
                            among all the souls of the world, understands
                            the isolation that is consuming Ashe.

                                           Look at me.

                            But Ashe won't.

                                        Ashe. Look at me.

                            Ashe finally turns around, a sense of deep and
                            profound loss in his eyes... Something unspoken
                            passes between them. Sarah leans into Ashe,
                            tentative, eyes searching. It's one of those
                            fragile moments where things could go either
                            way. And then...

                                          (pulling back)
                                          (turning away)
                                        We can't do this...

                            The spell has been broken. Ashe starts away from

                                        I have to finish what I
                                        started. I have to find
                                        the others.

                                        I know.

                            Ashe moves to the door, hesitant, a terrible
                            sense of longing gnawing at his heart.

                                      I wish I'd met you before.

                            Ashe nods, then turns to leave. There's nothing
                            else to say.

This is obviously much more intense than the 30 second exchange we get in the movie because the director wussed out. Sarah is obviously falling in love with Ashe here, and he with her. In fact, it's this love that leads to Ashe's painful encounter with Judah at the end of the film, in a near parallel of the first film's climax. Ashe, having killed all of those who killed him and his son, goes running after Sarah, who's been abducted by Judah and company. Using a lame cage trap (which proves that the Crow's crow mascot is extremely stupid), Judah nabs the crow and stabs it to death with long daggers. Outside, Ashe has decided to skip the elevator and climb up the side of the building for some reason, and about 50 stories up, he feels the crow's pain as it dies, and falls to the ground, powerless and dying. Which is when Judah, who now possesses the Crow's power, comes down to kick some ass.

It's this final fight sequence which truly ruins the film, partly because the lines delivered by the actors come across as flat and meaningless, and partly because the special effects budget apparently was only large enough to include a half-dozen 6-year olds and an old Atari 2600. In the original script, it plays out like this:

                           Ashe looks up at Judah, fueled by righteous
                            rage that's been burning since the moment of
                            his resurrection. He rises. All reason is gone.
                            The only thing that remains for Ashe is an
                            unbridled animal fury.

                            Ashe launches himself at Judah, sending the
                            villain tumbling back into a nest of
                            scaffolding. One of the pipes punches clear
                            through Judah's chest, impaling him!

                            Judah hangs there, transfixed like a butterfly
                            with a pin stuck through it. He struggles to
                            pull himself from the piping, but even so,
                            he's laughing hysterically...

                                        You can't stop me anymore,
                                        Ashe. You don't have the

                            Ashe's eyes boil with hatred.

                                        If it were just me, you'd
                                        be right, Judah. But I have
                                        an eternity of pain to call

                           Ashe lifts his hands up, exposing his
                           bleeding palms.

                                   And the pain gives me strength.

                                         ASHE'S PALMS

                            As we watch the stigmata close themselves up,
                            blood drawing itself back into the wounds.

                            Ashe raises his arms to the sky, gesturing to
                            the crows which spin high above his head.

                                           TAKE HIM!!!

                                 EXT. JUDAH'S CAMPANILE - NIGHT

                            The murder of crows spirals down from the sky
                            like a black tidal wave. They descend on Judah
                            as one entity, SCREAMING down from the heavens
                            like a storm of razor blades.


                            We get one final glimpse of horrified Judah's
                            face, eyes wide with terror, before the tidal
                            wave of black wings engulfs him.

                            lets loose a DEATH-SHRIEK that all but splits
                            the sky as the myriad beaks and talons rend
                            him limb from limb.

Three things are obvious from the script. First of all, Ashe's actions are much more Christlike here than in the film, with the stigmata reference much stronger; this has been downplayed throughout the film, leaving us nothing at all to compare to Eric Draven's "Jesus walks into an inn" joke in the first film, which was one of that movie's most disturbing moments. Secondly, Judah's death is much, much more gruesome, horrifying and realistic here than in the film. As you may recall, in the movie Ashe summons the crows down, and they magically fly right through his body and then right through Judah's body in a horrible special effect until Judah is basically sucked into a black hole and vanishes. The original concept, of thousands of crows eating Judah alive, is much more powerful, and should not have been cut.

The most important thing about the script, some of which does come through in the movie, is that Ashe Corven is the exact opposite of Eric Draven. Whereas Eric had some semblance of morality, even while within the grip of his killing rampage, Ashe's actions are borderline psychotic. His eyes boil with animal fury, his lips spray spittle as he rages and kills with impunity. He taunts his prey, playing card games and performing coin tricks with them before killing them in horrible ways. He sticks his fingers into the eyes of one, ensuring a slow, agonizing death, and in the script he leaves another (Kali) with a broken back, unable to move, and refusing to end her suffering or let her die like a warrior. In short, Ashe is a psychotic loon who dances a lot closer to the brink of evil than Eric ever did, and it's that aspect of his character that makes him so interesting.

Sarah provides his conscience, his only means of staying connected to the world of sanity, because she knows what's going on and is thus quite possibly the only person who's capable of understanding and empathizing with a psychotic dead man. She's also there to provide the tragic counterpart to Ashe's somewhat comic character (albeit in the guise of a Jester with a big bloody axe, akin to Drew Hayes' Poison Elves character, Parintachin). In the movie, you don't get a real sense of how tragic her character really is; yes, she dies, but in doing so her noble sacrifice seems somewhat innocent and accidental, thereby allowing Ashe to return to the afterlife with his son. Of course, this is just the Hollywood ending. The script is much more grisly and nasty about the whole thing.

To understand what happens, you have to first know that after Ashe falls from the building, he sees his son in the crowd. In the film, this is a brief glimpse, meaningless and teasing. In the script, Ashe actually speaks with his son at length.

                           Ashe sits up, stares at the crows, fascinated,
                            frightened. Then his eyes fall to the faces of
                            the people around him. We are in dream-time now,
                            blurring the edges of reality.

                                            A CHILD

                            wearing a skull mask pushes to the front of the
                            crowd. He stares at Ashe a moment, then lifts
                            the mask from his face...

                                           It's Danny.


                            Ashe rushes to Danny's side, holding him tight,
                            his disbelief overpowered by the unfettered joy
                            of seeing his son once again.

                                     What are you doing here?!

                                      It's time to go back, Dad.

                            Ashe looks up at the screaming crows above them.

                                      Is that why they're here?

                                      They're the souls who came
                                      before you. They're crying for
                                      the people they've lost.
                                     Now they're crying for you.

                                      But Sarah still needs me.

                                    You don't understand, Dad.
                                    You work for the dead, not
                                    the living. Your work here
                                    is done.

                            Ashe reaches for his son's shoulders, all but
                            pleading with him.

                                      I can't go, not yet, not

                                          You have to.

                                     Danny, I can't leave her
                                     like this...

                            The CRIES of the crows grow louder as the sky
                            above becomes darker. A shadow passes over
                            Danny's face. He Seems Saddened. For a moment,
                            it seems as if another entity creeps into
                            Danny's voice.

                                    If you turn your back on the
                                    dead now, you'll be trapped
                                    between the worlds. You'll
                                    never be allowed to cross over.
                                    You'll be alone, Dad. Forever.

                            Ashe hesitates a moment, realizing the enormity
                            of what he is about to do. It's an agonizing

                                          I have to stay.

                                          Danny nods.

                                          I know.

                            Danny reaches out to touch Ashe's painted

                                         Good-bye, Dad.

Because Ashe and Sarah's relationship is downplayed in the film, a sacrifice like this would make no sense; it's much easier (and dumber) to just streamline everything and have Ashe reunite with his son with a silly "If you give up now, we won't be together." But in this case, Ashe's entire purpose for being has just been wiped away. He's no longer an avenging angel; he's just an ordinary dead man trapped in the world of the living (if there is such a thing). This gives extra reason why his powers are now stripped from him; like Eric, he's now got to face the bad guy all alone. Well, with a little help from Sarah, of course. She, after all, distracts Judah by stabbing him in the eye with a misericord. In the film, Judah's response is handled sloppily and accidentally, almost mimicking the death of Shakespeare's Mercutio;" Judah seems surprised that he's stabbed Sarah in the stomach, as if he didn't mean to do so. The script makes no such concessions: "Judah has torn the misericord from his eye. He rushes up to Sarah and...THUNK! Drives it deep into her chest." Judah is a cold blooded murderer here; the power of the Crow has corrupted him even further, and rather than ordering his cronies to do his dirty work, he's now capable of murder himself.

After everyone's dead, Ashe says his final goodbyes, and we fully grasp the import of what's just happened.

                           Ashe returns to Sarah's side, lifting her up
                            off the ground and cradling her in his arms.

                                    You can't die, Sarah... I
                                    stayed for you.

                                    There's a balance that needs
                                    to be kept...someone had to
                                    cross over...

                            Sarah takes a ragged breath, wincing as a
                            wave of pain washes over her.

                                    I didn't want it to be you...

                            Sarah looks up at Ashe, tries her level best
                            to smile. She's at death's door now - one
                            foot already over the threshold. Her face is
                            pale, having lost so much blood. Tears spill
                            down Ashe's cheeks, causing the war-paint
                            makeup to run in rivulets.

                                           (in anguish)
                                    I can't go with you, Sarah. I
                                    have to stay here now.
                                         (cursing his fate)
                                          I have to stay.

                                         Do you love me?

                                           Ashe nods.

                            Sarah reaches down to the wedding ring which
                            hangs from her neck on the chain. She tugs at
                            the chain, snapping it apart. She holds the
                            ring out to Ashe.

Sarah and Ashe are become even more tragic than Romeo and Juliet, as they are lovers who cannot be together, even in death. Sarah will die and pass on to a sort of Limbo, unable to cross over into true death as she becomes a dark rider ("As the dark rider comes towards us, we realize that it's Sarah whose baleful eyes are now shining behind the irony mask war paint."). The notion that Sarah now becomes a sort of Crow is the ultimate irony and tragedy; the Crow can only return to the world of the dead when he/she has completed the mission of avenging their death. But Sarah's killer is already dead; she can never avenge herself, and so she's trapped forever. Likewise, Ashe has sacrificed eternity for Sarah, and so he's stuck forever in the world of the living. In the script, there is no happy meeting with his son in the afterlife; Ashe revisits the priest we met earlier...

                                       Why are you still here?

                                    Because I have nowhere left to go.

                            Ashe steps past the priest, moving towards the
                            doorway and the daylight beyond.

                                      What will you do, then?

                                          (looking back)

                            This city is filled with shadows. One more
                            won't make it any darker.

... and realizes that he has no answer. He's merely another lost soul. He, unlike Eric Draven, has failed in his mission. He will never again be with his son, or with Sarah. He's lost everything that gave him purpose and strength, and now he's merely a shadow on a dark street.

What's clearer here than even in the first film is that these characters, for all their power and strength and advantage, are all trapped in Hell. Judah's tethered beetle is more than just a rip-off from a nine inch nails video; it's symbolic of the futile struggle of everyone in the story. For all their ranting and raving and killing and climbing the tower of Babel to reach the world of the Gods, they all fall down and find themselves not just where they started, but somewhat worse off.

Aside from the garish yellow lighting, there's not much obvious Hellish symbolism in the film, though the script is full of it. When the crow flies over a river, it's referred to as "the Styx - the city's polluted, man-made river," a reference to the river of the same name in Dante's Inferno and in Greek Mythology. Sarah wears a tattoo on her back, "a pair of black angel wings sweeping over her shoulder blades. She's got a ring in her navel, another in a nipple... In short, the skate-waif we knew back in Detroit has matured quite a bit since that fateful Devil's Night." She's a fallen angel, her wings blackened and burnt (in the film the wings are red), her psyche damaged by the events of a Devil's Night long ago.

Ashe himself is an interesting case; in some places, as in his resurrection scene, he's compared to Jesus Christ with his crown of thorns: "Blood from the razor-wire wounds has smeared across his face in patterns which eerily recall the Crow make-up." In other places, Ashe is more clearly an antiChrist figure, as he "rockets beneath the gothic arches of the freeway overpass on his motorcycle, hellfire burning in his eyes, his coat flapping behind him like a fallen angel's wings." The latter is the stronger image, as Ashe apparently loses all semblance of sanity and starts doing things like shooting himself in the head. To his first victim, he says "I'm the plague of Darkness and the death of the first-born," likening himself to the Angel of Death in the Bible's Exodus story, but later in the same scene he echoes Spider Monkey's earlier words and says "You're wasting your breath, angelito. Nobody's up there listening." Nobody in Heaven can hear the cries of those in Hell, and Ashe is most certainly in Hell now; as he tells Nemo before plunging his fingers into his eyes, "You took away the only piece of light left in my soul." Ashe's soul is now burnt and black (like ashes), and he, too, will find no rest, not even after he wreaks vengeance on those around him. Though he may have been capable of something Christlike once, he completely turns away from what is good and towards more selfish things; as he's about to fall from the side of the building, he first calls out, like Jesus on the cross, "...oh me...," but moments later, realizing that God will not help him, he instead calls out to another fallen angel: "Sarah."

If Ashe and Sarah are fallen angels, then Judah Earl is definitely the figure of Satan here. Not only does he reign supreme over this little part of Hell, but he does so with a callous, businesslike attitude that makes you wonder if he's not right after all. When challenged by Sarah about his drug empire, he simply shrugs and replies, "I saw a need, I exploited it. It's all economics, Sarah. Supply and demand," and something in the way he says that almost makes us want to believe him. Later, he explains his "origin story" to Sarah, asking her if she's ever read Dante's Inferno: "It says that the only true path through Hell lies at its center. If you want to escape it -- you have to go further in."

                                     When I was a boy I fell through
                                     the ice of a lake. I remember
                                     seeing the sky through the ice
                                     above me, close enough to touch.
                                     The world grew cold around me.
                                     Dark. Eventually my heart stopped
                                     beating. And in that moment, I

                            Judah sweeps his hand through one of the candle
                            flames, then pinches the flame out of existence.
                            A tiny wisp of smoke trails up  into shadow.

                            Judah settles back in his chair, overcome by a
                            memory that for him has never lost its vibrancy.

                                    A half-hour later I awoke on an
                                    operating table. I had returned to
                                    the world of flesh and bone -- But
                                    I brought a knowledge back with me...
                                       (tapping his forehead)
                                       Forbidden knowledge.

Judah's tale makes more sense when you realize that in Dante's Inferno, Satan himself is trapped at the center of Hell, encased in a prison of ice. Judah has, indeed, tried to escape from Hell, by going further in, but he himself has already gone as far as anyone can go, and now he's trapped in a lake of ice, filled with the Knowledge of Good and Evil (like Adam and Eve's temptation), but unable to do anything with it. "Every angel's got a devil," he tells Ashe when he meets him, but what he fails to realize is that Ashe is no longer an angel, but a fallen angel-become-devil. Evil begets evil, and evil defeats evil. But at what cost? In an interview, Mia Kirshner (Sarah) explained how she perceived the characters in the story: "People are just fallen angels. There's a commonalty between all the characters; each character has a certain pathos. It's difficult for me to say Judah is bad or Curve is bad. I like to think of Sarah as a dark angel; her soul is almost dead and she's simply waiting to die. She's led this horrible life up until the point that she meets Ashe and suddenly she finds the will to live. After she's found it, she dies."

And this, then, is Hell -- rolling the stone up the hill, only to have it fall back down; reaching for the grapevine, only to have it eternally out of reach; struggling to achieve your goals, and finding that you never can. Hell isn't fire and brimstone, it's not getting what you want. It's an eternal struggle for something you can't have.

And that's precisely why, for all of this film's failings, I count it as an important Cyberpunk film.

Certainly, CofA doesn't contain glittering skyscrapers and chromed cyborgs and police in hovercars; like many later Cyberpunk films (and a few of the earlier ones), the film instead focuses on post-apocalyptic imagery. Burned out cities, heaps of smoldering cars, dark figures wandering the streets in a world that's no longer theirs to control. It's what happens when man tries to control too much and finds it all slipping away back into chaos. It's what happens when man tries to touch the power of the Gods, and gets slapped back down to Hell instead.

This constant struggle for some sort of divine power is certainly far older than the Cyberpunk genre. It goes way back to Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, and having his liver eternally eaten out by a giant vulture. It goes back to Lucifer getting tossed out of Heaven for trying to be too like God. It goes back to Adam and Eve getting kicked out of Eden for wanting too much knowledge. But it's also a theme that is present in most Cyberpunk works, partly because most Cyberpunk works contain traces of Frankenstein in them. You know that story: mad scientist dabbles with God's realm and creates artificial life, which then rebels against him and returns to destroy him. And that's the fine line that Cyberpunk dances on all the time: how much technology can I integrate into my body before I go insane? How much power can my corporation amass before my competitors overthrow me? How much influence can I gain within my street punk gang before someone stabs me in the back? How much like God can I become before I get kicked out of Heaven and back into Hell?

Ashe Corven certainly doesn't have cybernetic implants, but cyborgs are merely modern Frankenstein monsters, and the monster was nothing but a reincarnated collage of dead bodies, and Ashe (and Eric, before him) is certainly that, at least. And nobody goes skipping around in Cyberspace in The Crow: City of Angels, but Sarah, Judah and Sibyl all have some sort of ability to see into a sort of prophetic dream world, a world of "magic" that affects everything that's going on within the physical realm. they may not be Netrunners, but then, what is Cyberspace except a consensual hallucination, a representation of collective consciousness, a dream world, if you will? And certainly, there's no corporations ruling over the world of the little people below, but then, isn't Heaven the ultimate corporation, the good people looking down from their homes in the clouds on the filthy refuse down below in the gutters?

Ashe's story is what happens when it all goes bad, when the Burning Chrome is done burning, and some crazy Netrunner decides to fry all of Cyberspace, and the police vanish from the streets and the world is ruled by criminals and druglords. When that happens, even the heroes can only survive if they, themselves become anti-heroes, if the Neuromancers become necromancers, cheating death and dealing with darker things. Every angel must fall when Heaven is burning. It may not be pleasant, but it sure is fun to watch.

Next time, I'll set aside time for a while and skip ahead a bit to check out yet another creation from the mind of Alex Proyas, the director of the original Crow movie. Like many of the more recent films I've discussed here, this one isn't your ordinary Cyberpunk movie, but it definitely shows a continuation of the progression towards Hell that I've been suggesting. In this world, everyone is trapped in a world where buildings change shape around them, mysterious people manipulate events from the shadows and the sky is always dark. No, it's not the forthcoming Cyberpunk V3 -- it's 1998's Dark City.