Angels & Demons is a 2009 film by Ron Howard based on the thriller by Dan Brown of the same name. The film tells the pulse-pounding story of a supposed attack on the Roman Catholic Church by an old enemy known as the ‘Illuminati’. The grave danger of the church’s ‘preferiti’ being branded and then murdered under the four fundamental elements of science which is a key aspect of the story. The main character, Robert Langdon also mentions “the ancient Illuminati threat” of Vatican City being consumed by light which is the main focus of this particular scene. The fact that we presented more or less immediately with a distinct idea of the plots structure with one of the ‘preferiti’ being murdered every hour from 8pm until midnight when the city will supposedly be consumed by light helps to create tension and confusion throughout the film when the story repeatedly veers off from the given order.
The scene begins with a tracking shot of the Camerlengo sprinting up the stairs from the Vatican necropolis, followed by three members of the Vatican police. The film then cuts to a shot from the point of view of Robert Langdon in which tension is created as the camera frantically looks around. The camera then cuts back to the camerlengo and the three policemen as they are seen pushing through the crowd in St Peter’s Square in order to reach the helicopter in the centre. A big close shot of the Camerlengo’s face is used to convey the determination and fearlessness of the character. The camera then switches to a close up of the anti-matter canister to allow the audience to be faced with the same danger as the Camerlengo. Another close of the Camerlengo is used again to convey emotions but this time to show a split second reverse of emotions, showing a sense of self-doubt in the character in order to make the audience sceptical about his survival.
A tilting shot of Langdon and Vetra is then coupled with a close up of the helicopter, with the Camerlengo visible through the glass. This employsthe idea of a telepathic connection, an unspoken understanding between Langdon and the Camerlengo as Langdon’s gaze is fixed on the Camerlengo from the moment he is visible. The point of view shot used from inside the helicopter, obviously that of the Camerlengo, looking down at Langdon and Vetra as the helicopter gradually gains altitude adds the well-known aspect of religion into the scene as a metaphor for the Camerlengo’s spirit rising up towards heaven, This also adds an element of momentary power and superiority over all others as if he is the Lord, watching over the world, protecting everyone from danger.
The aerial shot used of the helicopter rising up towards the camera coupled with the wide shot of the helicopter hovering over the masses of people in St Peter’s Square, with the Basilica being used as a back drop give the audience as great sense of the scale of the location as well as slightly belittling the presence of the helicopter holding the Camerlengo which in itself, restores our personal view of him to normal. The shot which directly follows of Langdon and Vetra looking up with bemused expressions at the helicopter creates a sense of wonder and mystery while also suggesting that there is something quite hypnotic about what they are gazing up at.
The very long shot used of the helicopter rising way above St Peter’s Square in it entirity with Rome vaguely visible in the distance once again strongly conveys a sense of the sheer enormity of the scale of the threat that currently opposes not only the Vatican, but the entire city Rome. The close up shots of the anti-matter canister which gradually show the small red lines on the battery indicator disappear creating an extreme sense of tension as well as a great deal of fear for the Camerlengo, allowing us to engage with the character much more deeply.
The reiligous aspect of the film is once again accented in the big close up of the Camerlengo kissing his holy cross with a very apparent glint of fear in his eyes as he looks down at the anti-matter canister. A high angle shot of the helicopter rising towards the camera is used once again which then tilts to become a low angle shot as a close up of the canister is then shown afterwards which clearly indicates to the audience a switch over of power as if his fate no longer rests in his hands.
The next few shots switch between big close ups of both the Camerlengo and the antiimatter canister which is evidently in order to create even more tension within the viewer’s mind and possibly create a personal fear for the character’s life. The proceeding high angle shot of the helicopter disappearing behind the clouds forces the audience to lose pretty much all hope for the Camerlengo’s survival as the shot suggests, he is out of reach.
A reverse aerial shot is used to display and convey the enormity of the forecoming cataclysmic explosion as the sky is suddenly lit up when the canister’s battery runs out. At that point, an extreme close is used of the currently blinking final red bar as it disappears indicating to the audience that the character’s time is up. The camera then cuts back to the previous reverse aerial shot, now during the explosion to strongly convey to the audience the true meaning of the Illuminati threat of Vatican City being consumed by light. Visual effects are used to create ripples throughout the shot to indicate the sheer power of the explosion.
The repeated appearances of the anti-matter canister and its battery gauge effectively create a subliminal time bomb in the viewer’s mind, gradually counting down to the moment of the explosion which greatly helps to create tension and fear throughout this build up. The film uses the mise-en-scene to its advantage throughout its entirety, but especially in this scene. The way it is different in this scene in particular is the way that colour is used to create the opposite effect to what would be expected. Instead of the Camerlengo, who is presented as the saviour, the man who is willing to sacrifice himself to save the city of Rome being dressed in white to represent hope and life, he is dressed completely in black which is a big contrast as it is usually associated with death, fear and unhappiness. The way in which this is used adds to all of the other negative aspects of the scene concerning the Camerlengo in order to convince the audience that he is doomed and has no hope of survival so that it creates a massive shock when a low angle shot is used showing a parachute opening in front of the now colour filled sky.
A low to high angle shot is used of the Camerlengo gradually descending from the clouds before the explosion. This being the opposite to the high to low angle shot of him in the helicopter represents him returning to earth as if when the helicopter diappeared behind the clouds, his existence had ceased whereas now, the director seems to be trying to convey a feeling of renewal to the audience. Various visual effects are again used after this to create another rippling effect, in which this time the true effects of the explosion are shown. There are a lot of slow-motion shots used during this explosion of objects and people being thrown around by an unknown force which in the case of this film, may be God himself. The various low angle shots of the sky which is now lit up with vibrant blues and reds may be interpreted also as a suggestion towards the presence and existence of God to the people below as well as the audience while hinting towards ‘the moment of creation’ as mentioned earlier in the film by Robert Langdon which may also be referring to ‘the Big Bang’ as it is also linked with the anti-matter project.
In conclusion, the use of cinematography, mise-en-scene and visual effects in scene twenty four of Angels & Demons dramatically improves the effectiveness of the key aspects presented in the scene as well as throughout the film while also helping to convey a clear religious and spiritual connection to the audience.