The Mark of the Beast: Gnosticism and Curses in He Never Died

**Warning: The following post contains spoilers for the film He Never Died. Read at your own risk.**

I went in to writer/director Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died based on two reasons: good word of mouth reviews, and Henry Rollins. If the people I know like something enough to rave about it, I’m in; my friends typically have good taste. To boot, I’m a sucker for Rollins; he never disappoints. The man is like cinematic Bacos for me: he makes everything better (apply liberally and savor the delicious flavor). So imagine my surprise when Krawczyk’s plot advanced in ways I didn’t think he would go. Honestly, I was expecting the fallen angel route, or the fate of the Roman soldier that killed Christ. What we got instead was an interesting take on the Cain mythos, one that cleverly combined elements of various religions in order to craft a smooth story.

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Everyone knows that Cain story, or more appropriately, the Judeo-Christian story of Cain and Abel. Born to Adam and Eve, the Biblical figure Cain was a plethora of firsts: the first birth, the first male born of human copulation (and therefore the first person afflicted with the notion of original sin), the first farmer, and, infamously, the first murderer. You see, while Cain was busy tilling the land, his little brother Abel was the first shepherd, which curried far more favor with God than Cain’s farming efforts. After getting a pep talk from God to suck it up and keep tilling, Cain got angry and killed his brother, then lied about it. In retribution, Cain was punished: his children were killed, he was no longer allowed to farm, and he was forced to wander the Earth with a mark upon him as warning not to socialize with him. After a certain point, he was forgiven and died in a house collapse.

But that’s only one story.

You see, the beauty of different sects of religions is that the stories sometimes get different endings; Cain is no different. In some Jewish texts, it’s thought that Cain was the result of Eve’s tryst with the either the devil or the demon Sammael, meaning that he’s not even Adam’s son (and therefore closer to the root of all human evil, being the child of the woman who sinned first and the flipping devil). In Gnosticism, though, we get an even wilder story: according to Hypostasis of the Archons (an interesting read if you ever want to go down the rabbit hole), Eve was either lured into an affair with Yaldaboth or gang raped by a pair of archons. Sounding weird? Let me explain: Yaldaboth was a demiurge, which is a type of god that’s not as all-knowing as THE God, but is still plenty powerful; this figure is often a trickster in nature, and functions under the notion of stirring the pot for its own arbitraty whims rather than moving things around for the greater good. Think more of the lord of chaos: tons of power, but not really in it to make you smile – that jealous cheerleader that has the popularity and hates other for irrational reasons. That’s Daddy Choice Number One. Our other option for potential fathers of Cain are archons. Those are servants of the demiurge – think angels and demons. They’re also known in some thought circles as guardians and world-creators. Either way you slice it, it’s not exactly a good beginning. Eve either was seduced into an affair that left her with passing off a baby as her husband’s (making Cain’s birth a demonic, lie-based experience from conception to adult behavior), or left to bear her rapist’s child. The latter is horrifying from both the victim and child’s perspectives – really, that situation is not ideal, and implies that she carried to term because she had no other choice. That’s a pretty crappy hand to be dealt. It also gives different dimensions to the figure Cain: he either can’t help the violent streak as a type of genetic predisposition, or he is the result of a rape and was therefore treated differently throughout his life for something he couldn’t control. Suddenly, the story’s more complex than by simply knowing what the Bible states.

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Orazio Riminaldi, “Cain and Abel.” 17th century.

That being said, this background gives quite a bit more depth to Krawczyk’s story, which makes me respect it even more. One of the first things that the audience notices about Rollins’s Jack are the two large scars on his back. While we later learn that he’s Cain, we can confirm that this is the mark of which the Bible speaks; however, at first, we can’t help but wonder if this character isn’t a fallen angel that has lost his wings. The thirst for blood and hunger for human flesh is an interesting touch as well: it’s as though the character must continually pay for his transgression by consuming others, going into a rage in order to do so. It’s the constant mastery of the nature of his curse that drives him to seek solitude, which falls in line with the notion that he can’t be around other people lest the cursed nature rub off on them too. The real kicker is the admission that he’s not even sure that he has a father – Cain doesn’t recall having come from two parents, which lends creedence to the Gnostic idea that he’s either the son of the devil or the product of a type of angelic rape. This makes it easy to see where he gets his rage: it’s not just that he’s being punished – it’s that his entire life is an exercise in being ostracized and rejected simply for existing, something of which he had no control over. Throw in that his brother was heavily favored, and it’s an easy jump to see where he’s mad. Rollins delivers a venom-fueled rant at one point, in which he refers to his brother as a “little shit” while incredulously attempting to deal with the notion that he started the whole murder thing, thereby damning humanity to continue committing the act. I’d be angry too, kid. That’s a lot to swallow, and when placed in the context of the various stories, it comes across as well-researched and lovingly integrated.

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Krawczyk, whether he knew it or not, placed a lot of love into this character’s backstory. Rollins, for his part, plays the role well, channeling the rage of a long-suffering, angry soul. The real prize, though, goes to the interpretations that one can make regarding the true story of Cain. Is this person still among us? Has he been allowed to die? And what of his true origins? That, dear readers, is something to research and ponder.

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