Faust, postmodernity and schizophrenia in the thriller Angel Heart (1987). plot summary, explanation of the ending.
Country: UK, Canada, USA
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Detective, Film adaptation
Year of production: 1987
Directed by: Alan Parker
Actors: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet
tagline: “Nothing can prepare you for the ending of Angel Heart”.
Alan Parker’s film belongs to the genre of “black films” (film noir). Based on the novel Fallen Angel by William Hjortsberg, it is imbued with an atmosphere of pessimism and cynicism, characteristic of American society in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the plot of the movie “Angel Heart” does not exactly follow the book. It is rather a free presentation of the events of the original source. The picture tells primarily about crime, punishment and awareness. She also raises religious and spiritual and moral questions, which everyone will have to answer on their own.
What is the movie about
Brief description of the content of the film “Heart of an angel”. America, mid 1950s. New York private detective Harry Angel is approached by lawyer Herman Weinsup and introduces him to his client, an elegant, elderly foreigner named Louis Cypher. The meeting will take place at the Harlem Baptist Church. Cypher asks the detective to find a certain Johnny Liebling, who was mostly known by the name of Favorit. Cypher has very little information about him – he only knows that Johnny, with whom he entered into an agreement in the mid-forties, first ended up in a psychiatric hospital, and then completely disappeared.
The role of Harry Angel was played by Mickey Rourke. Frame from the film.
However, until recently, Cypher received messages about Johnny, but he is sure that he is being deceived. He asks Harry to go to the hospital and see if Johnny is still there or not. The detective politely refuses – he specializes in much more complex and interesting cases. But Cypher promises to pay generously, and in the end the young man agrees to help the old man.
Going to the hospital, Harry learns that a patient named Liebling was transferred from there 12 years ago, in 1943. All the signatures in his medical record were put by a certain Dr. Fowler. The case still seems simple to the detective. In order to find the clue to the missing Johnny as soon as possible, he easily finds the doctor’s house and gets inside.
After waiting for Fowler, he begins to ask him questions. He is forced to admit that he really created the appearance of Johnny’s presence in the hospital. For this, as well as for his silence, he was well paid. He perfectly remembers the clients – they were an elderly man and a girl. What Johnny looks like, no one, including him, knows, since his face was always tightly bandaged.
The detective leaves, but, being sure that the doctor did not tell him everything, he returns. Alas, Fowler is dead – someone shot him in the eye. Frightened Harry, confident that suspicions will fall on him, from everywhere (including the gun found in the house) erases his prints.
Meeting in a restaurant with a client, the detective informs him that after the death of the doctor, the case took a more dangerous turn. However, Cypher asks him to get to the bottom of the truth and increases the fee. Angel agrees – he himself wants to know what is the meaning of everything that happens.
Having met with a familiar journalist, the detective receives from her collected materials about the object of the search. After studying them, Angel learns that Johnny had an affair with Madame Margaret Cruzmark, but at the same time was secretly in love with a girl named Evangeline Proudfoot.
The role of Louis Cyfer was played by Robert De Niro. Frame from the film.
An interesting idea comes to the detective’s head, and he goes to the store of the occult goods, which is owned by Madame Zora. There he learns that this is the pseudonym of Margaret Cruzmark. The woman herself has long been gone from the city – she moved to live in New Orleans.
Arriving at the scene, the detective makes an appointment with Madame Cruzmark. She reluctantly talks about Johnny. He was once the meaning of her life, but he is no more. At least for her.
Then Angel starts looking for Evangeline Proudfoot. Upon learning that she, too, is no longer alive, he meets her daughter Epifani. The girl remembers that her mother told her about Fayvorit, but her information is very vague and cannot clarify the matter in any way.
Harry soon meets Toots Sweet, a guitarist who knew the deceased well. However, Toots does not tell him anything interesting. The detective decides to follow him and witnesses a creepy voodoo ritual at night. Escorting him, much to Harry’s surprise, is Epiphany. Like her mother, she is a priestess of a cult.
In the morning, the detective learns another terrible news: Toots has been killed. Moreover, in a very barbaric way – they cut off his genitals. In the man’s pocket, the police found Angel’s business card. The detective goes to Mrs. Cruzmark, but she is also found dead – the unfortunate woman’s heart was taken out.
Angel soon realizes that he is in big trouble. Firstly, the local police look askance at him, and secondly, they send him an ultimatum from Margaret’s father Ethan Cruzmark. Being a very powerful man, he tells him to get out of the state immediately.
The detective returns to the hotel and is visited by Epifani. After rough sex, she tells him about her father. According to her interpretation, Favorite was a terrible, terrible person who ruined the lives of everyone who dealt with him. At this point, the detective begins to suspect that Johnny is alive. Upon learning that Angel is on his trail, he kills everyone who once knew him.
Lisa Bonet as Eepifania Proudfoot. Frame from the film.
After analyzing the few information he has on the Fayvorit case, Harry decides to meet with Ethan Cruzmark. After convincing the old man that he wants to figure everything out, he learns from him that Johnny was a powerful sorcerer and could even summon the devil. Moreover, Cruzmark is sure that the failed son-in-law sold his soul to the unclean in exchange for fame. But he didn’t want to pay the bill.
Calling on Toots and Margaret for help, Favorite kidnapped a soldier on New Year’s Eve. After conducting a voodoo ritual, he killed the guy and ate his still living heart. In this way, he stole the victim’s soul and assumed her identity.
The sorcerer thought to slip away, but the war decided everything. Having been severely wounded, he lost his memory. After that, Margaret and his father took him from the hospital and left him in Times Square – this is the place imprinted in his memory before the tragedy.
Harry soon finds Ethan dead. The detective realizes that now he must find a dog tag with the name of the unfortunate soldier. This one was sealed in an urn kept at Miss Cruzmark’s house. Breaking open the door of Margaret’s house, Angel finds the token. To the detective’s dismay, his own name is written on it. Suddenly he realizes that Johnny Favorite is himself.
A few minutes later, a sobbing Harry meets with Cypher. Imposingly sitting in a chair, the devil says that it is impossible to violate the contract. Of course, the fallen angel knew who he was from the very beginning – he needed Johnny to remember everything himself. The protagonist of the film “Angel’s Heart”, scared to death, but tries to threaten the “client” with the fact that he can “hang” all the crimes on him.
To this, the devil, with a mocking grin, does not deny his involvement – after all, all this time it was he who led Johnny Harry’s hand. After that, Cypher disappears.
Going to his hotel, Angel sees the dead body of Epifani on the bed – the girl died from a gunshot wound.
Angel Heart Ending explanation
Explanation of the ending of the movie Angel Heart. Closer to the finale, the “detective”, resigned to reality, recognizes himself as Johnny Favorite. The policeman, referring to the electric chair, promises the criminal that he will burn. To this, Angel replies that he knows very well about this – he will burn in hell forever.
At the very end of the film, he enters the elevator, which begins to slowly descend. After the final credits, an ominous whisper is heard – a mysterious voice calls both names of the hero and falls silent.
The meaning of the ending of the film “Angel Heart” is that Johnny remembered the truth and pleaded guilty to all crimes, including incest.
The fact that he descends in an old metal cage of an elevator is very symbolic. There is a hidden meaning in this mise-en-scene. The main antagonist character was arrested for multiple murders and alone, without escorts, he could not be in the elevator. Therefore, the slow and ominous descent in the elevator can be interpreted as follows: the soul of the criminal, caught in the cage of his sins, descends lower and lower. The stop she needs is the underworld.
The meaning of the film Angel Heart
There is a play on words in the title of the picture: the surname Angel in English means “angel”. Given who Harry-Johnny turned out to be, one can see the irony in this, but angels can also be fallen …
To understand the essence of the film Angel Heart, you need to understand that he, not being a classic detective story, lives by his own laws.
The reality of the picture is somewhat violated and the slyness here is hidden in a cultural and stylistic clash. This tape is both a mystical detective story and classic noir at the same time. Each plot move and at the same time – each step of the main character-antagonist takes place in two parallel universes. The outlook of Angel and the audience is limited to only one of them. The director, like Cypher, hide in the void between the worlds and see both. They will remain silent until the very end, because they are the creators here.
Charlotte Rampling as Margaret Krusemark. Frame from the film.
Who is the main character in the picture? In a word, it’s a monster. However, it would be too easy to show an ordinary monster, so the viewer observes the anxiety and horror of dissociation (a mental state in which the human mind divides either memories or thoughts into parts). Only closer to the finale does it become clear what is at stake – about the inability for a clear self-identification, about the disintegration of the personality.
In one of the key mise en scenes, the hero stands in front of a mirror and repeats, like a mantra, the words: “I know who I am.” And here it becomes really creepy, because, apparently, we are talking about controlled schizophrenia.
Louis Cypher is infernal from the start. This is not the charming John Milton from The Devil’s Advocate – the heavy, gloomy look of Robert De Niro’s character is chilling from the very beginning. His presence in the picture certainly makes it even scarier. However, his image, like the very idea of selling his soul to the devil, is symbolic here.
Alan Parker’s excellent direction can easily be misleading, but don’t be fooled. “Angel Heart” is not a modernist arthouse, but a typical postmodern product, which, according to many researchers, is “cultural schizophrenia”. Truly, “Angel’s Heart” tells not only about the Faustian deal with the dark forces and its tragic consequences. This movie is about how easily a person can get lost in the modern – total irrational world. Parker’s movie is really scary. But here you are not afraid of something mystical, but, like the main character of the picture, of yourself.
In this tape there are not only terrible murders, but also incest. At the same time, it is impossible to call “Angel’s Heart” a bloody film with naturalistic details. It’s just a fake detective story like Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. But at the same time, the viewer is still afraid. And all because the director broadcasts here the horror of culture itself. To be more precise, we are talking about her painful impossibility of self-coincidence and the loss of spiritual and moral guidelines.
According to some viewers, Angel Heart is not only a postmodern film, but also a film about postmodernity. The modern cultural epoch is represented here in the person of Johnny Harry by illness. Probably, the director wanted to show that we have entered the era of the new Middle Ages with its irrationalism and post-secular mysticism. However, the Renaissance follows the Middle Ages… It will certainly come if we, looking in the mirror and knowing the hard truth about ourselves, instead of the mantra “I know who I am”, say “I know what I need to do”.
Frame from the film.
Here are a few films similar in meaning to Angel Heart:
- Devil’s Advocate (USA, Germany, 1997). Lawyer Kevin Lomax is known for defending inveterate scoundrels in court and has never lost a case. One day, a talented young man is noticed and hired by a charismatic owner of a large New York firm.
- Ninth Gate (France, Spain, USA, 1999). Dean Corso, a specialist in rare books, takes a strange but lucrative job. Trying to fulfill it, he goes on a dangerous journey.
- Secret Window (USA, 2004). Mort Rainey is a writer in writer’s block. One day a strange man comes to his house and accuses him of plagiarism.