Monstrous Femme

Wearing Our Mark: When Mary Ann Plays in The Devil’s Advocate

Wearing Our Mark: When Mary Ann Plays in The Devil’s Advocate

In the 1997 movie The Devil’s Advocate (directed by Taylor Hackford and based on Andrew Neiderman’s 1990 novel of the same title), Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) plays submissive, but the boundaries depend on what’s at stake and how we sacrifice women’s bodies to feed our house of horrors.

As a defense attorney, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) glorifies the courtroom: it’s the modern-day Colosseum where you never have to say sorry. He performs apprehension while defending a predatory school teacher accused of sexually assaulting one of his students. Still, when a local crime reporter suggests that Kevin can’t win every case, he accepts the challenge—and when he senses his client’s guilt, Kevin proceeds. In his opinion, the accuser attempts to distract everyone from her promiscuity and hatred of the man who disciplined her. He wins the case, which lays the groundwork for chaos.

He’s addicted to narcissism, but his wife stands in as a crisis of conscience. She is indifferent to her husband’s legal outcomes as long as he wins. Mary Ann plays like freedom instead of confinement, punctuating our path, and she’s too naive to realize that consequences always come home.

Kevin is approached with an opportunity to work for one of the most prestigious law firms on the East Coast. Despite warnings from his religious mother, who urges him to reconsider, Kevin trades their desolate Florida landscape for the metropolis.

They say New York is like Babylon, a place to worship your wound. Mary Ann feigns a peaceful surrender and molds herself by way of Park Avenue. For a wife, it’s simple: you can work, play, or breed, yet she must remain unspoiled. Kevin and Mary Ann could never have predicted how quickly reality would reap what they sowed.

The Devil’s Advocate paints marriage in the flesh, a business contract etched into a shrine. Here, we begin to see the edges and the nightmare of purpose that befalls a supportive spouse. It starts with an oasis in the middle of a haunting. Fertility is a mission and a last resort. It becomes an out-of-body experience, a stylish weapon to protect herself, so infertility is her execution. She becomes increasingly isolated, evolving from the loneliness, discouragement and fear, morphing into dimensions she can’t exhaust.

In the wake of a psychic collapse, sex becomes her broadcast, but Mary Ann plays to succumb. She begins to experience her body disconnected from the fantasy. To start, she blossoms into a chess piece, an idol for the war between a man without his conscience, an ego with an endgame, a mad scientist and his lab rats. Their encounters merge into opposing oracles: sex turns synonymous with the phenomenon of being together but agonizingly alone. She is fractured against the other women in the film, all of them foils to the measurement of a soul. He begins to hold Mary Ann in pieces and soon intangibly. In his cyclical pursuit of self-construction, he puts new faces on what she once exuded, and suddenly, the grass is greener everywhere.

When Kevin finds Mary Ann naked, wrapped in a blanket in a nearby church, she plays the part of a storyteller, presenting Kevin’s mentor as a predator. She wades through the madhouse of sexual assault, reconstructing a third-person vision into a first-person narrative. In her disorientation, she contemplates details like the time of day and the lure of being heard.

After seeing the damage to her body, what should have been a moment of reciprocity becomes a justification for detachment. Kevin meets her mental health struggles with resentment and disbelief. His grandiose façade overrides her emotional well-being. His ambitions have poisoned her; her body is the bait for the final stages of his evolution. She descends into catatonia when committed to a psychiatric hospital, eventually taking her own life to escape the misery. This loss propels Kevin into the end, a significant becoming.

Mary Ann’s death is the final blow, but it isn’t the catalyst. Kevin’s mom finally confesses that his boss is his birth father, sending him spiraling. It’s like watching deception take its final breath. This is what it looks like to get what you wish for.

We watch Kevin orient the deaths of coworkers and loved ones, but he is set ablaze when he learns the case that started everything was a false flag. His former client is caught with the body of a five-year-old girl in the trunk of his car. After being acquitted, he escalated to taking a life, and Kevin bears the burden of putting his ego before all else.

He cannot absolve himself or escape his persecution in the aftermath of his failure as a husband, a protector, and a compassionate human being. With his wife’s body barely in the ground, Kevin intuits the end of the tunnel but has to light the way himself. He takes his own life, rejecting his destiny as a pawn in someone else’s destruction.

Suddenly, we’re back at square one, and Kevin refuses to repeat his mistake. The anxiety subsides after he recuses himself from that case, but the ego is all-knowing, multilingual, and skilled at disguising itself. When the same reporter offers Kevin notoriety and praise, he succumbs to the lore, endangering loved ones for the admiration of total strangers. It’s the kind of history that is inexplicably doomed to repeat.

For most of us, there can never be a shortage of victims, and loved ones end up wearing our mark.