Is there a face to evil?
It’s a question that has oft crossed my mind while sitting in court sketching the face of the accused. Most look rather unremarkable, like people you might pass in the street. Evil can look quite benign and can even hide in plain view. Hannah Arendt famously wrote a book called “Eichmann in Jerusalem” which detailed the mundane bureaucracy of the Nazi killing machine. Eichmann, was essentially a civil servant who was piqued because he thought he was victim to the inconvenience of having to do a dirty job as part of his civil duties. The banality of evil… C. S. Lewis also noted that Hell is filled with men in brown suits busily pushing pieces of paper back and forth over their desks. He may be right.
All of this puts me in mind of an urban legend told about Leonardo da Vinci. When painting his famous last supper, he chose a man to pose for the figure of Jesus. Much later on, he was looking for a model for Judas, and ended up unwittingly choosing the same man, whose appearance had been altered since posing as Jesus. The story recounts that the man had lived a derelict lifestyle, and had started to acquire the dissipated look that went with his actions. How he lived was written on his face.
They say eyes are the window of the soul. It is also widely asserted that hands are a summary of character. Whatever you think of the veracity of such claims, a wise man pays some attention to old wives tales because of their tendency to come up as true.
Hands tell you a lot. I had a former girlfriend whose hands bothered me, and I could not say exactly why. She had long spear-like fingernails generally coloured blood red. When she talked to you at a restaurant over dinner, she would start rapping her fingernails quite aggressively on the table by way of making a point. That was a cue I missed, to my own detriment. So now, I pay more attention to hands.
What hands say was also reinforced to me during an appearance of Henry Morgentaler during his abortion clinic trials. I was the sketch artist, and waiting to hear the case, I ended up oddly sitting beside him in the courtroom. Whatever you may think of abortion, I will note that his hands were quite remarkable. They most closely resembled those gnarled hairy kind of hands which would come out from behind a curtain in a black-and-white horror flick and strangle you – killing hands. However that worked out I am not sure; whether his hands came to look that way after years of making it his mission to deal with ‘unwanted’ children, or if they just came that way out of the box. It might be Aristotle’s sage observation that you become what you repeatedly do.
Eyes are another one. I recall drawing Karla Homolka during her sentencing hearing. For those who may not recall, Karla Homolka is famous in Canadian crime annals. She had aided and abetted her boyfriend Paul Bernardo in the abduction and murder of two school girls, and the drugging and sexual assault of a number of other minors. She had also drugged her own fourteen year old sister, whom she offered up as a birthday gift for her boyfriend. The subsequent rape went astray when her sister asphyxiated on her own vomit and died.
None of this was known at the time of sentencing however. She had a plea bargain which gave her twelve years, and at that stage she was playing the victim card. She presented as someone forced to take part in things she did not agree with, an abused woman and an unwilling participant.
Her eyes said differently however. In the sentencing hearing, she went about with downcast eyes, looking dour and affronted. But people driven by vanity like getting drawn. There are stray moments when they stop playing to the camera, and something real comes across. There were three or four sketch artists all busy drawing at the same time. At a certain point, Karla gazed up at us surreptitiously, and smiled, a moment frozen in time. It was an oily and evil smile. Smug and self-satisfied. The only apt description I could give, is that her eyes were ‘hooded’ like a serpent. They communicated a moment of pure evil. I involuntarily shuddered in the middle of my drawing because the look so unnerved me. Checking with the other sketch artists, it seems they had experienced the same reaction at the same moment.
Later on, the level of her participation in the murders became clear when the video tapes of the assaults were found. Karla ramped up to a level of evil that people who are fortunate only read about in newspapers. She was no doubt a psychopath, the kind who enjoys malice for its own sake.
There is something to old wives tales that can be relied upon. It is the truth at the bottom of archetypal children’s stories, that evil is real. It exists and the wise take note. I know, I saw the hands and eyes and they do not lie.
Gentle as doves, wise as serpents Jesus said. Good words to remember in the real world.