"What was it that Doctor Channard sought after and how did his desire and desperation to reach it lead to his eventual downfall?"
Humans, as a general rule have always wanted to better themselves. Whether as a race or an individual we strive to go beyond what we can do and to achieve more; going further is an integral part of the Hellraiser Universe, in fact it is the basic idea that the Leviathanic Mythos is supported on. The tag line for the first film was "There are no limits" and that is the basis of the whole concept; going beyond and seeking out your deepest, and darkest, desires.
So we come to the focus of this essay, Doctor Philip Channard, a man who has dedicated his life to "going further, to tread the unexplored corridors in hope of finding, ultimately, the final solution"; he is a complex and intriguing character whose ambition is so strong it leads him to sacrifice the lives of any around him to obtain his goals. This is very important as he is a Doctor, something associated with healing, good health and of science; for a medical man everything should be explained by logic and the application of scientific theories.
Yet this is at odds with the later revelation of Channard’s obsessing with the occult, the opposite to what we expect. Far from embracing science and healing he focuses on death, the mystical and the unnatural; the skeletons, puzzles and diagrams that litter his home show a confusion and contradiction of ideas. Here is a man who has used science to explore the unnatural instead of explaining it. His opening monologue gives us a good insight into his beliefs, the fact that he is performing brain surgery whilst saying it adds to the disturbing nature of what he articulates. The human mind is just another puzzle to solve and when he explains how its "paths are deceptive" he is also referring to his search for an answer.
Channard mentions "the final solution" and states that he has to "see" and to "know" but what exactly is it he is referencing? His aim, on the surface, is to enter ‘Hell’ but the reason behind that is because he feels this will offer him the answers he seeks; the question, though, is never specified. "I have to see, I have to know" is all he gives Julia to work with and she understands him, as should we. He is representing the desires in all of us, wanting to know the ‘truth’, to understand what is the route of everything; to know everything, the meaning of life or whatever else you can think of, would make you God-like as only a entity like that can know all. Channard himself doesn’t know what he is searching for because it is too far beyond his grasp; his lust for knowledge, his desire of power is driving him forward and it is all down to the basic human drive in all of us to go further. He, like Dr Faustus before him, feels he has reached the limit of what Science and the normal world can offer him and so looks to the unnatural and the unholy.
Desire itself goes far back in mankind and, to go by Christianity, was part of our downfall. Sin and desire are bound together always have been; both were there as Adam and Eve ate from the tree of Knowledge and desire has always been seen as negative and against God. To lust and to seek out knowledge is bad, especially if it is beyond what we are meant to understand; Channard still strives for this yet due to the nature of what he wants to discover it can never be found through natural means, only mysticism and death. Though the Hellraiser Mythos does not feature "God" or Christianity is still shows us how those who try to go beyond the limits do so only at the expense of their humanity.
Of course, he cannot achieve his aims alone and as Faustus had Mephistopheles, so Channard has Julia. In the first film Julia herself was the one seeking desire and it did lead to her downfall; however she was chosen by Leviathan and put into the service of Hell and one of her first tasks is to bring Channard to the centre of the labyrinth. He summons her up by giving a cut throat razor to one of his mental patients who begins to slash at himself screaming "Get them off me" in reference to the creatures he imagines are crawling across his skin; as the lunatic slashes himself the blood allows Julia to pull herself into our world. Doctor Channard, a healer, has caused a horrific death in pursuit of his desires and the first step involves a huge amount of red; the bloody mattress from which she arises, the self-mutilating mental patient and the glistening muscle of the skinless Julia. Red is not just blood but also lust and desire, passion and sex; all these things that not only go against God but also Channard’s oath as a Doctor, he has lost his basic humanity long before entering Hell.
The relationship between Julia and Channard is very interesting, once she has emerged into our world he lusts after her and she becomes a representation of what he aspires to. She has ‘seen’ the knowledge and experiences he seeks and this fills him with awe; he lusts and desires not only her but what she represents. This, in itself, creates a parallel to the Holy Trinity but one that is full of the ideas of incest; Julia has been called the Bride of Leviathan, making her a mother figure. She uses this image when attacking Kyle and when showing Channard through the labyrinth. Channard is a suffering the Oedipus Complex where he is loving his own Mother, Julia; where Leviathan is the father who, with her, gives birth to the Doctor as a Cenobite. But more on that later, for now, it is just clear to understand that this ‘Unholy Trinity’ not only mocks Christianity but shows how deep and hidden desires are allowed to be brought to the surface within Hell.
Tiffany is the ultimate innocent, silent and unknowing, she walks through life doing what she is told and taking each challenge as it comes. Her ability to solve puzzles is what draws Channard to her and it is later revealed he killed her mother and locked Tiffany up in his hospital; this revelation shows that even before the film started he was willing to do anything to reach his goal. When Tiffany solves the Lament Configuration the Cenobites do not claim her it is because, as Pinhead proclaims, "It is not hands that call us, it is desire"; she is a tool and it is this that saves her from being taken into Leviathans domain. Channard, meanwhile, slips in with Julia and begins to explore a very real ‘labyrinth’ that links back to his opening comments about the mind.
When Channard eventually reaches the centre and confronts Leviathan it is almost comical that he proclaims "oh my God"; he is referencing the Christian entity that, if it did exist within the mythos, would have turned away from him following his actions. Upon reaching Leviathan his soul is, quite literally, laid bare by the black light that shines from the God and he is forced to witness the dark aspects of his life in seconds; he finds his own truth and it is so beyond him that he attempts to flee from it. His last words, as a human, are "help me" but it is too late, there is no going back; he is forced by Julia (his mother and betrayer at the same time) into the transformation chamber where his body is quickly cut into and dismembered. As it descends away Julia comments "goodbye Doctor" which is very fitting as the last vestiges of humanity and science are ripped from him.
The film takes a break from Channard at this point as will we as the point about Chaos versus Order needs to be discussed. Desire, death, sin and lust are all usually associated with chaos and so how can they play apart in Leviathans Hell? It must be remembered that we are looking at this with limited minds; Leviathan, the deity, is obsessed with Order, that is true, but with its own kind. The tearing and remoulding of flesh is one part of this as is desire and lust; chaos and order are very comparable in some aspects and different in others. Leviathan has an Order that it understands and strives for and by answering the search for knowledge by individuals it brings them further from Chaos. This is important to remember when watching the Channard Cenobite.
In the first film the Cenobites are said to be "Demons to Some, Angels to Others" and this specifically applies here; Channard performs a Christ-like resurrection, rising up from the depths, wires wrapped around his skull like a crown of thorns. As he steps out of the chamber and utters "And to think I hesitated" we see he has un-embraced his humanity completely and has reached a state that he aspired too. Though, also like Faustus, he is still a servant and despite having the knowledge he is not as powerful as Leviathan the God of Hell; he has reached his height and, like many before him, is now ready to fall completely.
Even his form as a Cenobite shows his desires and lust, the tentacle that carries him through Hell is very phallic as are the tentacles that burst from his palms. The shift and change into various horrific tools, the imagery showing the power of sexuality and of desire. He feels he now has it all and mocks his old life, making references to medicine as he butchers his victims and threatens Tiffany, for example "You have your whole lives behind you now, no anaesthetic at hand. Shame" Nothing is beyond him now and he destroys the old Cenobites, as they rediscover their humanity, brutally and effectively; however the very thing that led him to this state is also his downfall. As he attempts to force Tiffany into a transformation chamber Kirsty distracts him by ‘dressing’ in Julia’s skin and kissing him. His desire and lust for her as well as the fact he believes he is now unstoppable allows Tiffany to solve the puzzle that effects Leviathan directly. Upon realising he has been tricked he acts rashly and accidentally pins himself to the floor at the same time that the tentacle attached to his head tries to return to Leviathan. The power he held went to his head and, as the tentacle tugs upwards, so he ends up loosing it!
At the end of the day it is interesting to note the events that occur; the same desires and lusts that led to him reaching a state of power that he had "always wanted" are what cause him to be destroyed. Upon reaching this higher state these things should have been behind him but he held onto his basic instincts and allowed them to dictate what he did; Kirsty took advantage of this to instigate the Doctors downfall. Channard wanted to go further and represented the deepest desires in all of us but what his eventual fate shows is that we must let go of the baser pleasures upon reaching our goals or otherwise be distracted by trivial things that should no longer matter. He was controlled and directed by desire and lust and so it is perhaps fitting that he eventually met his end at the hands of two girls and giant penis-like object.
By Mark Adams.
Thursday 21st March 2002.