Movies

Suicide Squad's Devil in Disguise

Josh Larsen

There isn’t much to recommend about Suicide Squad, an ugly, incoherent and dizzyingly chaotic adaptation of the DC comic-book series. Set in the same universe as Batman and Superman, this side saga follows a collection of imprisoned supervillains who are recruited by a secret government agency in exchange for lighter sentences. If there is a gravitational force in the film—a stabilizing presence that mitigates the encroaching nausea—it is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the mastermind behind the villains-for-hire program. In fact, Davis not only offers relief from the inanity, she also portrays a fairly provocative god figure.

Davis, an Oscar nominee for The Help and Doubt, establishes Waller’s authority right from the start. Debriefing a pair of stern and stuffy military men—the sort who are usually in charge in a movie like this—the middle-aged, plain-clothed Waller digs into her steak dinner and declares, between decisive bites, that her unconventional task force is the United States’ last, best hope for national security. Later, demonstrating her control over this squad to a group of generals in a Pentagon war room, she reveals that she carries the heart of an ancient, evil sorceress in her briefcase. By holding it hostage, she can force the sorceress (Cara Delevingne) to do her bidding. The generals give Waller the green light, and soon that sorceress—along with the likes of Deadshot (Will Smith), a sharpshooting killer for hire, and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), The Joker’s girlfriend—are back on the street, at the end of Waller’s leash.

Davis brings such no-nonsense command to the part that we never doubt Waller will be able to keep these scoundrels in check. And her command is framed in divine terms. “I see everything,” she tells her charges at one point. When the squad leader who carries out Waller’s orders holds up a mobile phone with her image on it, he announces, “Behold the voice of God.”

Waller promises new life, but delivers death. She dangles freedom, but secures chains.

It’s not only her seeming omnipotence that marks her as a god figure, however. If the squad members are sinners—declared guilty and in search of a way to pay off their debts—then Waller is their chance for clemency. This is familiar language for Christians, who understand that although this world was created good, it—and we—have fallen under the sentence of our own sin. We need a deal because on our own we will meet certain death. Enter our own personal Waller?

Well, not exactly. As Suicide Squad goes on, Waller becomes less and less reminiscent of the God we know. Consider, for example, that the squad members must earn their clemency by following her (suspect) orders. This is no gift freely given. What’s more, Waller’s trump card is an explosive device that she has implanted in their necks. If they step out of line, she presses a button and the offender will explode. The squad members lack any sort of free will. They are essentially in chains, a far cry from the promise Jesus makes to us as forgiven sinners: that we are “free indeed.”

By the time the movie reaches its climax and Waller ruthlessly stabs the sorceress’ heart (never mind that it means the innocent woman whom the sorcerer has possessed will also likely die), she has begun to resemble someone else we know from the Bible: the deceiver. Indeed, perhaps the slyest thing about Davis’ performance is how long it takes us to recognize this. Waller promises new life, but delivers death. She dangles freedom, but secures chains.

At one point Harley Quinn, no angel herself, directly asks Waller, “Are you the devil?” “Maybe,” she answers, giving Quinn the same steely stare she’s worn all movie long. Leave it to the father of lies to not give a straight answer.

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