The Movie: The Usual Suspects, 1995 (Christopher McQuarrie, screenwriter; Bryan Singer, dir.)
Who says it: Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint, a small-time criminal with a bad limp
The context: Verbal’s talking about the mythical crime lord Keyser Soze, who might or might not have been responsible for an elaborate heist and the deaths of almost everyone involved.
How to use it: To bolster your latest conspiracy theory, or to stop yourself from making one more excuse.
Here in Hollywood some people are staging a mocking version of "Hell House," the fundamentalist Christian version of the Haunted House. Teenagers put on "Hell Houses" that are supposed to illustrate the dangers of drug use, drinking, premarital sex, etc. in very lurid ways. As always with these things, there's a fine line between demonstrating an activity as a bad example and making it look really exciting and glamorous. A documentary on the "Hell House" phenomenon made this point, and also showed the adults involved as misguided, hysterical brainwashers.
A friend invited me to a preview of the "Hell House" show here tonight, but I don't think I can go. Despite my Catholic discomfort with fundamentalist extremism, I'm even more uncomfortable with making fun of anyone else's sincerely-held beliefs, and particularly of anyone else's respect for evil.
As a child I used to be afraid that Satan would pop up in the dark to tempt me. (Where I got this idea I couldn't say, probably from the copy of Rosemary's Baby I read in secret when I was eight.) But as an adult I have four godchildren, so four times now I've stood at the baptismal font and promised on a child's behalf to reject Satan, and all his works, and all his glamors. And I think the Catholics are right about this: if Satan exists -- and looking at the world today, it's kind of hard to argue that he doesn't -- he's not a scary monster. He (or she) is a beautiful creature who encourages us to laugh at the idea of evil, who tells us not to judge, and who offers complex rationalizations and psychiatric explanations for the worst types of human behavior, everything from Abu Ghraib to pornography.
Satan says, "Don't take yourself so seriously" -- which by extension gives us permission not to take anyone else so seriously, either. Not taking other people seriously is where the trouble starts.