Angels are quickly and visibly present in Angels & Demons through the use of statues, but the demons are much more subtle. The first clue is not in the film, but is present on the cover of the book. The font used is an ambigram—like that of Illuminati in the film—so that the title reads the same when inverted. This tells us where the demons are: alongside the angels, hidden in plain sight. The test then becomes how to differentiate the two, which is the basis for the book.
While Brown’s inspiration may have come from the artwork of John Langdon—who lends his name to the protagonist Robert Langdon—ultimately, the concept of demons hiding within is taken directly from the Bible. The Old Testament has a few scattered instances of demons and many more which are retconned—such as Jacob’s famous wrestling match being with a demon despite the verse naming him as a man (which is alternatively translated as angel or even God).
The New Testament, however, has an explosion of demons on the scene, with seven notable ones in the synoptic gospels (John, well, he wasn’t big on the whole demon thing theologically, so he skips them). The prevalence of demons now is interesting given that they weren’t explored before. They pretty much show up, en masse, at the time of Christ. Their origins are largely unexplored in the gospels, leaving theologians to ponder later. However, the gospels do give us a lot of information about them.
Every instance of a demon in the New Testament is one that directly causes harm to the host by means of possession. Several times these are referred to as unclean or evil spirits. This is the first important clue as to their nature. These entities have no corporeal form. In order to affect the physical world, they must inhabit the body of another, frequently causing medical symptoms such as mutism, seizures, foaming at the mouth, and other conditions, all in need of healing.
The most famous demon in the gospels is also the only one associated with a name: Legion. In this demon, we see that a group of spirits is capable of inhabiting the same body, an event which occurs multiple times throughout the New Testament. While many ascribe that the reference of Legion is to that of a Roman legion, there’s no basis for it to literally mean the exact number of a Roman legion. However, as the passage indicates, “for many demons had entered [the possessed man]” (Luke 8:30).
This group is the next big clue. While an entire Roman legion of 6,000 is likely not in this person, a goodly number are. Combine that with the rash of possessions throughout the gospels, and demons are a force to be reckoned with—all of which are taking over the bodies of otherwise good people.
Even the devil is sometimes ascribed to this kind of being, such as when “Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3). By inhabiting people, these unclean spirits—in this case including Satan—tempt people into doing evil, no matter how high their station, as Judas was one of the Twelve Apostles, as high as they come.
The only method of dealing with these demons was to drive them out by way of exorcism. Christ manages this easily, as the demons that make up Legion already recognize and fear his power. Other apostles are also able to drive out demons, especially after Christ’s death and resurrection in the book of Acts. However, this requires that people recognize when someone is possessed.
The four gospels contain three different accounts of the betrayal. Luke, as previously said, attributes Judas’s betrayal to demonic possession. John implies that Satan tempted him, but did not possess him. Mark and Matthew state literal facts, that Judas betrayed Christ without attempting to explain things of a supernatural nature. It could very well be that Judas had been possessed, but without any definitive outward signs that resembled other possessions, the demonic presence would have gone unnoticed.
This is where the demons from the title come into play. There are no literal demons in either the book or the film, just as there are no literal angels. Brown is playing with people’s perceptions, misleading the people in the book—and the audience—with an ironically blatant secret society, but what he truly means is that there is evil within. Those willing to do evil are always hidden in plain sight, masquerading as those among us.
The promotional statue for the film—half-angel, half-demon—is apt in showing the dual and hidden nature of people, though that hasn’t exactly been a secret, as people have been trying to hide the evil within as far back as Cain, who murdered his brother and lied to God about it (which takes stones). It’s a shame that this statue doesn’t exist in reality (though understandable as that would likely have caused a stir in the medieval church).
The choice of Luke for the name of the Pope at the end of the film is interesting. You’ll notice that most of what I’ve been quoting has been Luke. As a doctor, he was interested in healing, including demonic possessions. He sought to expel sickness of all kinds, from possessions to ordinary conditions. Regardless of the cause, the illness had to be expelled in order for a healing to take place. So while Langdon attributes the choice to a combination of science and religion, it’s probably more symbolic in order to heal a church that went through a major trauma.
Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.comabout writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.
Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.