If I could interview Glorious’ director Rebekah McKendry and the screenwriting team, I’d love to ask about the inspiration for this gnarly tale. The H.P. Lovecraft references are obvious. The slimy, tentacled demi-god voiced by J.K. Simmons oozes the kind of universe-destroying threat that appears in the author’s stories. However, there’s a less obvious reference throughout the film, Dante’s Divine Comedy. The film’s star, Wes (Ryan Kwanten), is an everyman at a crossroads. He needs to pull it together because the fate of the universe literally hangs in his hands. What he undergoes changes him, just like Dante in the spiritual trilogy.
Glorious is a smart, beautiful, and even humorous film that eschews nihilism. It’s a movie that we need right now, a celebration of life and love above all else. The Lovecraft and Dante references are pure brilliance, too.
Some spoilers below.
Glorious’ Wes As a Man at a Crossroads
When Glorious begins, we see Wes at his lowest point. He’s an inch away from a full-on breakdown. Nothing in his life is going well. Tormented by a breakup with his soul mate, Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim), he drinks himself into a stupor and wakes up in a grimy rest stop without pants. It gets weirder from there.
This is the first parallel I see between Glorious and Dante’s epic trilogy. At the beginning of The Inferno, Dante (the character, not the poet/author), wakes up in a field. He’s at the mid-point in his life, at a crossroads. There, he meets the ancient Roman poet Virgil, author of the epic poem The Aeneid and a major inspiration for the writer. Virgil becomes Dante’s spiritual guide through the layers of hell and later purgatory in the second book. Like Dante, Wes is forced to contemplate all of the decisions he’s made leading up to that point and what he plans to do moving forward. Otherwise, what he faces could literally be hell.
Wes doesn’t have a major poet to guide him, however. Instead, he’s introduced to a demi-god that speaks to him through a bathroom stall with a glory hole. Simmons is fantastic in the role, landing several deadpan lines. But the demi-god forces Wes to think about his life and what led to his breakup with Brenda. It’s the first time that Wes really contemplates the consequences of his actions, the aftermath, and what he can change moving forward.
Glorious’ Demi-God Explained
Simmons’ character is a bit more nuanced than some of Lovecraft’s monsters, though its design certainly has Cthulhu-like inspiration. The demi-god was created by a creature out to destroy the universe and return everything back to nothingness, pure blackness, the void. However, the demi-god rebelled and doesn’t want to partake in such a life-shattering fate. Maybe the demi-god grew fond of life on Earth. Who knows.
Wes plays a major role. The fate of the universe literally comes down to a dude whose life is a complete and utter mess. To hide from his vengeful father, the demi-god requires that Wes make a major sacrifice so the creature can outsmart and thwart daddy. The ending shouldn’t be spoiled. But for the latter half of the film, Wes needs to decide if he’ll go along with the demi-god’s plan. Save the universe or wallow in his own misery? It makes for a tense bit of storytelling that totally defies expectations.
Brenda as Beatrice
Wes has one thing that keeps him going, memories of Brenda. When he’s tormented by the demi-god or stuck in his own head, his thoughts return to Brenda. He also keeps a picture of her that he continually looks at when he’s really down. The flashbacks regarding their relationship are sprinkled throughout the film, detailing the couple’s history and why everything ended.
Brenda is Wes’ Beatrice. Beatrice was Dante’s Muse and his guide through The Divine Comedy’s final book, Paradiso. Not only was Beatrice Dante’s inspiration for The Divine Comedy, but she was the love of his life. According to Giovanni Boccaccio, author of a biography of Dante, we know her real identity is Bice di Folco Portinari. She married a prominent man in Florence but died when she was only 24. Dante dedicated most of his poetry to her. The two were neighbors, and the poet first glimpsed her when he was nine and she was eight after his father took him to a party. He was totally smitten with her ever since.
Memories of Brenda are the only positive thing in Wes’ life. While we don’t know much else about him, it’s safe to assume nothing else is working for him. He turns to the past and keeps envisioning her as a means to keep pressing on, to imagine a future for himself and the rest of the universe. At one point, he realizes they were made for each other and she’s the only thing that truly made him happy.
Does Wes Undergo a Spiritual Change?
Wes is a mess in the beginning of the film. But the encounter with the demi-god, bizarre as it is, does force him to change. I’m not going to spoil the major plot point that’s revealed in the film’s final act. Doing so would ruin the experience for viewers. However, in the final shot, Wes glimpses the sky, noting the Earth’s beauty, including lush trees, a blue sky, and chirping birds.
Previously, Wes floundered in his own misery. He was a man of inaction, refusing to turn his life around. However, by that final shot, he realizes the magnificence and brilliance of the universe. It only took a life-threatening demi-god and its wrathful father to get him to that point.
Overall, Glorious is one heck of a feature by a director with a promising career. Lovecraft is the most obvious influence here, but this film made me think of Dante’s Divine Comedy the most and an everyman’s journey through his own personal hell, catching a glimpse of heaven, maybe, by the conclusion.
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Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.