“These people are blemishes at your love feasts,” Jude declares, “eating with you without the slightest qualm — shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” I know, right?
“But you, dear friends,” Jude continues, “by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
But naturally, we don’t have time to wait for the mercy of J. Christ; the movie is only 91 minutes long, and the clock’s ticking. We’re going to need a quicker way to dispense eternal life, and here it comes, courtesy of a big soggy swamp zombie.
Now, the whodunnit of Jude’s murder is easily established, because right after Cable sees the kid’s body float by, the repellent Ferret appears and carries her away to a new life as a hostage, but the how and whydunnit of it all is a bit opaque.
Ferret’s been told to capture the queen, so that’s what he’s doing, forgetting that the whole point of this little enterprise is to find the red leather notebook that contains all of Alec Holland’s notes on his secret swamp potion. So Ferret goes to the trouble of slaughtering the kid, and then leaves the notebook behind with the corpse, like the unparalleled chump that he is.
There’s not a lot of information about how Ferret killed Jude — we hear the kid yell “Cable!” and then ten seconds later, the boat drifts by. It wasn’t a gunshot because we would have heard it, and it wasn’t a machete across the throat, because his throat looks fine when Swamp Thing comes along. I imagine it was blunt force trauma to the head, cause that’s where all the blood is.
I’m not saying that I want more details about this. I absolutely do not want that. I’m just saying it’s mysterious.
But a child is dead, is the point, so this is a perfect time for the terrifying man-monster to demonstrate that he isn’t just another blemish at the love feast. The movie has been noodling around with the idea of how to show that yes, Swamp Thing may be a hazard to marine traffic, but he’s also a superhero, who’s trying to make the world a better place.
In a more traditional superhero movie, the lead character might take a minute at this point to fight some incidental street crime, or rescue a cat from a tree. But Swamp Thing is turning out to be more of a metaphysical endeavor about the fundamental nature of consciousness and identity, so interrupting a purse-snatching is not particularly germane.
What we get instead is a man in a rubber monster suit kneeling down and gently cradling a dead child in his massive, mossy arms…
and then generating a green, glowing bio-restorative healing force that instantly repairs whatever’s been done to young Jude, and restores him to life. Wherever Jude’s soul has flown to over the last sixty seconds, it is now being recalled to active duty.
So it needs to be said that this is not a power that the character has, in the comics. Later on in the 80s, once Alan Moore starts writing the book, Swamp Thing does develop magical rejuvenating powers, but it only applies to plants, and it doesn’t work like this. In the 1970s run, which is what this movie is based on, the character is strong and patient and impervious to bullets, and that is pretty much the extent of his supernatural prowess.
So what we’ve got here is some kind of demented remix of Frankenstein and Jesus Christ: an undead monster imbued with a healing touch, restoring sight to the blind and making the lame walk. It is a very strange thing for a rubber-suit monster movie to do.
Now, to be clear, the movie is not suggesting that Swamp Thing is entirely Christ-like, because the very next thing that he does is crush a man’s skull with his hand. I have to admit that I haven’t read the entire New Testament, but I’m pretty sure that kind of behavior is not part of the package.
Still, this opens up new lines of thought. Alec Holland clearly isn’t just a scientist that turned into his own monster, a mad science lab experiment gone tragically wrong. That kind of movie, with a judgmental “he tampered in God’s domain” type ending, would see Holland’s human personality slowly unraveling, as he descends into an uncontrollable berserker rage that ultimately destroys him and everything that he cares about.
Instead, Alec is descending into uncontrollable berserker rage and becoming a Christ-like spirit of the forest at the same time, switching opportunistically from one mode to another depending on the scene.
The movie is going to suggest that there’s an alchemical process at work, purifying the base metal of Alec’s humanity and turning him into a living philosopher’s stone — a panacea capable of eliminating disease and disfigurement, and granting eternal life to any random swamp child in distress that he happens to come across. But he also crushes people’s heads sometimes, like an avenging angel wielding a flaming sword, dispensing brutal mob justice instead of God’s mercy.
And now little Jude is counted among the walking dead, and who knows what that might wreak? The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
3.30: And Another Thing
— Danny Horn