Have you ever been painfully aware of a dark side of yourself, which tests and tempts you constantly, and most of the time you can control it, but sometimes the desire becomes so real you can almost talk with it, and on occasion you simply succumb?
That's what happens to Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner). By day he's a very successful businessman; owning his own international shipping company. His beautiful wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) seems charming, attentive, and appealing. His secretary is both efficient and attractive, as well as being willing, on occasion, to tend to the boss' personal matters. His beautiful daughter is off at college. Earl attends his AA meetings with a determined fervor; the kind of guy who volunteers to clean up afterwards, reciting his AA prayers like a mantra, hoping to contain and control his own abject depravity.
Alas, it's a losing effort. To make his temptation more personal, an evil alter ego (William Hurt) appears to him regularly, encouraging Earl in his basest desires, but sounding like the voice of reason. Yes, he acts like the Devil, but he's never called that (in the movie, his name is Marshall, but he's not often called that, either). When Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Luke 4), the encouragement by Satan was also for Jesus to give in to His baser, human, side, thereby forsaking not only anything that would help anybody else, but also abandoning His sense of purpose, and thereby His own sense of integrity. Jesus could have acted selfishly, all right. But to do so would have meant to give up His righteousness for the sake of a fleeting indulgence which does not satisfy, because it constantly prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).
Mr. Brooks, it appears, is addicted to the rush of killing. He chooses his victims carefully, profiling those who would have no connection with him that could be easily traced. He enters their domicile stealthily, hoping to "catch them in the act," so he can then re-arrange their bodies in a deathlock-embrace, a caricature of the love they were making, but then, isn't evil often a caricature of good? And he fastidiously cleans up afterwards, making sure there is no trace of his presence, not even a stray thread or hair. (The Devil is never seen; only known by the tragically permanent consequences of his work.) Mr. Brooks thinks of himself as a (demented) kind of artist; maintaining a "potter's studio" where he can hide his criminal costumes, and his incriminating photographs.
Mr. Brooks is pursued by the dogged police detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who has her own share of troubles, with a gleefully cuckolding husband pursuing a juicy divorce settlement because of her family money, and an escaped serial killer seeking revenge for her successful prosecution of him. She correctly senses that the clues are right in front of her, she just can't piece them together, because she's too distracted, and too vulnerable herself, but that makes her strangely eligible for Mr. Brooks' surprising desire to help---if for no other reason than to preserve her status with him as Worthy Adversary. (So, does Jesus need a Devil in order to define His goodness?)
When Mr. Brooks makes a rare mistake, and is seen by another in the commission of his crime, the voyeuristic witness (Dane Cook) stupidly tries to blackmail our Mr. Blackheart. The Devil doesn't have any friends, because he's not capable of really caring about someone else. But even our cold-hearted Mr. Brooks can feel remorse, however briefly, and can repent any number of times. The one feeling he is unprepared for is fearing his own progeny, which gives him hellish patricidal nightmares. Truly, those who choose to succumb to their depravities will live in a Hell of their own making. And they won't realize, until they are eternally trapped there, how terribly lonely it is.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Have you ever encountered evil? In what form?
2) Do you think that God will avenge the innocent victims? (Revelation 6:9-11)
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas