CLASSIFICATION MC Mature Catholics
RATING Four of Five Stars
Distributed by Sony Pictures (released on 15 Nov 2007)
Gabriel is an Australian supernatural action movie set in purgatory. It is the first feature directed by Shane Abbess, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Hylton Todd. It is unconventional film for Australian standards.
This film ran through a background story that purgatory has since been the fighting ground between angels of heaven (Arcs) and of hell (Fallen) over the souls of those trapped there. Each side have seven warriors assigned to purgatory who must assume human form in order to enter it. When the film started, hell has taken control of purgatory, transforming it into a dark seedy city. And six archangels already disappeared in its shadows.
The film opened with Arc angel Gabriel (Andy Whitfield) arriving in purgatory and assumed a human form. His first work was to check on the apartment of Arc angel Michael, and found it abandoned. Meanwhile, four Fallen angels–Sammael (Dwaine Stevenson), Asmodeus (Michael Piccirilli), Balan (Brendan Clearkin), and Baliel–gathered, with Sammael killing an insubordinate Baliel.
Walking through the city, Gabriel received a vision on the location of his comrade Arc Uriel (Harry Pavlidis). However, Sammael, the leader of the Fallen, sensed Gabriel’s presence and sent the Fallen Molloch (Goran Kleut) to kill him. Gabriel fought and killed Molloch, afterwhich he proceeded to find the now-dishevelled and alcoholic Uriel hiding in a rundown bus.
Gabriel learned from Uriel what happened to the other five Arcs–Remiel (killed before Uriel arrived), Amitiel (now calling herself Jade, forced to work as prostitute after Sammael defeated her and stripped her of wings), and the whereabouts of Ithuriel (Matt Hylton Todd), Raphael (Jack Campbell), and Michael were uncertain. Uriel believed that Raphael may have hidden in the East Side and Sammael may have killed Michael.
Gabriel found Amitiel in the brothel, and encountered Asmodeus (the Fallen who ran the brothel). Gabriel rescued Amitiel and killed the Fallen Balan who tried to rape her. He healed her from drug influence. Amitiel took Gabriel to the soup kitchen ran by Arc Ithuriel in hiding and found there also hiding the gravely wounded Raphael.
Gabriel healed Raphael, expending much of his strength. Raphael rebuked him for wasting his energy.
Gabriel fought and killed the Fallen Ahriman (Kevin Copeland). In retaliation, the Fallen Lilith (Erika Heynatz) killed Uriel while Asmodeus killed Ithuriel and Sammael killed Raphael. Driven mad by anger, Gabriel killed Asmodeus in the brothel. His imminent fall halted when he healed a young woman that Asmodeus surgically altered.
Gabriel returned to Amitiel distressed; she comforted him through sex. Afterwards, Gabriel sought and killed Lilith. Then he chased Sammael to the nightclub’s rooftop.
Sammael refused to fight Gabriel, and instead revealed himself as the Arc Michael, Gabriel’s closest friend and mentor. Apparently Arc Michael killed the Fallen Sammael, but he was overcome with evil in the process, eventually assuming the identity of Sammael. He persuaded Gabriel to join him in taking control of their destiny, but Gabriel rejected the offer.
The two angels fought. With Gabriel weakened, Michael managed to drive a metal pipe to Gabriel’s chest. Gabriel told Michael that while he felt rage and anger, he still felt positive emotions that Michael had not. With brotherly love, Gabriel embraced Michael allowing the metal to drive deeper into him as he told Michael that Gabriel forgave Michael. It however also pierced through the chest of Michael.
With both angels mortally wounded, Michael used his last strength to heal Gabriel’s wound, and then died. Light returned to purgatory.
The film ended with Gabriel kneeling beside the dead body of Michael, shouting at God and asking Him if this was what He wanted. Gabriel moved to the edge of the rooftop wondering why all this happened. It closed with the final words of Gabriel: “Forgive me… I hope to see you again…”
A post-credits scene shows Gabriel (now wearing a different clothing and without tattoo and with the brown eyes of the Fallen), joining Amitiel and smiling.
Gabriel is a strong movie depecting the spiritual struggle against darkness that many people can emphatize. And with the film’s low budget, it was able to deliver a moving film that successfully delivers its story convincingly both with its great cinematography and believable storyline.
In general, the film is faithful in expressing certain Christian beliefs but of course with a good dose of fictional background, a mythology, that attempted to create a more interesting but still generally plausible story.
Purgatory as battleground. In the Christian tradition, the purgatory is a place where souls are purified from the sickness of a sinful earthly environment and worldly attachments before they could gain entry into Heaven. This place is reserved for those who died under the grace of God and who need purification. As a place of purification, it is obvious that the influence of evil could not reach it. The film however redefined “purification” as a preternatural battle of angels competing for human souls in purgatory (this is what actually happened on earth not in purgatory). In fact it turned out into a battle field for the faithful and the fallen angels. In addition to that the story became a place for humans in flesh instead as souls. Obviously this is a storyteller’s tool to create tension in the story. But this is purely mythmaking for the purpose of entertainment.
Limits of the flesh. The film proposed that even angels may lose their connection to God when they take on human flesh. In a way it indicates a good understanding on the limits imposed by the fallen flesh on man’s sensitivity to God’s will. It is an element that added to the tension in the story–how hard would life be for an angel to start losing God? But it failed to consider that God can show himself and still be heard by people in flesh who are in God’s grace (e.g. the state of grace found in Adam and Eve in paradise before the fall), and it is a reasonable to believe that angels too would have such a level of connection with God even in flesh (e.g. flesh of Adam and Eve again) as compared to humans by birth. And there’s the question of how these Arcs are able to take on human flesh when Jesus has to be born to be able to do so in order to submit to the order of nature that God created. The story wrongly concluded that the Arcs who take on human flesh also take on a “fallen” human flesh (these angels are not “fallen” angels, in the first place). This is another mythmaking element of the tale.
Pride and Freedom. The film successfully hit on the subtle relationship between pride and the concept of freedom which was the reason why the Fallen fell. The fallen angels perceived submission to God’s will as a bondage instead of an act of loving obedience. Obviously love has been lost in the equation of desiring freedom to control one’s own destiny. It reflects the essence of pride that caused the rebellion of angels led by Lucifer as far as the Christian tradition teaches. The film obviously captured these differences in the spiritual struggles of Michael and Gabriel.
Divine abandonment. Another myth created by the film is God’s abandonement of the angels sent to the purgatory. The angels are cut off from God, they die if they fail, and there appears to be no hope that God would intervene in their behalf. It is here where confusion can be generated. Unlike humans who must go through life on earth as a way of redemption, the angels do not need redemption. They have not fallen, and there is no redemption to angels who fell. It is unbelievable that God would send his angels into battle and then abandon them to die there without help, and left on their own (that’s never consistent to divine love). It would have been a stunning spectacle if the divine might would have been allowed in the film to face head on and in full force, and defeat it. But apparently the theme of the movie is on the struggle of losing God instead of seeing the true power of divinity. The angels in this film are more human than divine.
Ithuriel’s Soup Kitchen. The free soup provided by Ithuriel is a symbolic gesture of consolation that angels are sometimes ordered to give to the souls in purgatory. Christian tradition often mentioned the archangel Gabriel to have been ordered to do this. The soup somehow fills the hunger. But the character of Ithuriel in the film is that of an angel who has no confidence of God’s power in him to fight the Dark is total contradiction to the idea of an angel–a perfect spiritual being perfectly secure in the love of God and His power over the dark powers of the fallen angels.
Wheat among the weeds. Despite the evil in Sammael, apparently he kept in check the energy of goodness (of Arc Michael) that still remained, allowing him to find the strength to heal Gabriel in the end. It is a positive twist in the story; a redemptive element so to say. It unfortunately contrasted to the obvious fall of Gabriel thereafter. But it remains to say that the scene tells of the goodness that may be found even in the most evil of humans, without saying however that the goodness will be followed eventually. In this film, this goodness was followed by Michael/Sammael before he died.
Other elements of mythmaking. There are other assumptions employed in the story that are purely myths as far as Christian theology is concerned. Such suppositions include (1) the need for angels to take on human flesh to enter purgatory (angels can visit purgatory as God so wills in order to bring some consolations to the soul being purified there without having to take on human flesh), (2) dominion of darkness in purgatory (this falsely attributes so much power to the darkness to even be able to set foot in purgatory more so dominate it), (3) battle of equals (while the film assumes that there is equal power belonging to the Arcs and the Fallens, that is far from the truth based on Christian theology. Christ’s victory ensures the dismantling of evil designs and dominion). Together with other mythmaking elements, the film generally portrayed a team of angels who came to fear the darkness, a very weak developmental ground for the story.
While the screenplay appears to be generally sound and its weakness understandable on the basis of its goal of entertaining and delivering a moving story, it suffers some serious defect as far as Catholic viewers are concerned.
Laxity on sex. One serious defect of the film centers on the easy use of sex as a tool of physical need instead of giving it the proper respect given to it by Christianity. It betrayed the influence of Hollywood’s culture of moral laxity and evidently tells that Gabriel may have actually fallen (brown eyes in post-credit) instead of winning against the darkness (light reappeared in the city). Despite its successes, this failure makes the movie not recommendable to people who have weak understanding on the spiritual issues of sex; they may end up getting more myths about sex than they would need for their salvation.
Gabriel is an intelligent and moving film for Christians but cannot be recommended to less mature viewers.
Reviewed by Zosimo Literatus