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John Constantine explains that water acts as some sort of lubricant to facilitate the transition into the hell dimension. However, I don't see how exactly this works. In particular the film left open some questions:

  • What does it take for a human to make the transition?
    Obviously the water is not enough, people have been known to come in contact with water, to submerge themselves in it and even to drown. They don't all cross over, so clearly there is more needed. (Note: Even those who "see" would wash themselves and thus come in contact with water. I don't suppose they cross over every time.) We also see that people can be forced to transition several times.
    The cat John uses once doesn't seem to be there for the transition but just to locate Angela's sister.
  • What is the nature of the transition?
    Does the respective person actually cross over or is it just some sort of hallucination? John seemed to have the same clothes and objects when in hell. And related to that ...
  • How does one "cut the link" to get back?
    When we see John trying to get out, he smashes what can be assumed to be a flask of holy water against his chest. Is this necessary? If so, how does Angela manage to get out? She didn't seem to have any holy water on her person.
  • Does John help Angela get out somehow? I remember that he helps her go in. – Pixel Feb 7 '13 at 2:24
  • @Pixel: No, the bathtub kinda explodes on its own and pushes John away. I don't think he could have helped here. Remember the different time scales: Two minutes in hell are a (literal) life-time. – bitmask Feb 7 '13 at 2:38
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    I thought the water only helped to make the transition easier. A "lubricant" would just make the shift go smoother. You can run an engine without oil but it's not ideal, and it won't run for long! – Monty129 Feb 7 '13 at 13:28
  • @Monty129: Actually, John uses exactly that word to describe the role of water. – bitmask Feb 7 '13 at 13:31
  • @bitmask My point was that the water wasn't absolutely required for the transition back and forth. I was agreeing with your point about there needing to be more than just water in a sort of sideways manner. – Monty129 Feb 7 '13 at 13:35
7

It appears to be a form of magic ritual that allows the 'transition' to hell and, as such, it does not necessarily follow logical, or even consistent, rules.

I haven't read the Hellblazer comics but it seems that the film version of Constantine committed suicide, possibly by drowning himself:

John Constantine: I'm a suicide, Angela. When I die, the rules say I've got just one place to go...

and

Angela Dodson: You tried to kill yourself.

John Constantine: I didn't try anything.

So it appears that Constantine may initially have gone to hell as part of a suicide. Now note the bold part in this quote:

Angela Dodson: So, umm... So, what's gonna happen?

John Constantine: Lie down.

Angela Dodson: What do you - What do you mean, lie down?

John Constantine: You have to be fully submerged.

Angela Dodson: For how long?

John Constantine: As long as it takes.

In the moments after this we see Angela drown while Constantine holds her down. From this we can deduce that there are three factors as part of the magic ritual for a first time crossing to Hell:

  1. It must be a gifted person
  2. They must 'die'
  3. They should be submerged in water

It seems that the first time someone goes to Hell via this ritual they should be fully submerged and suffer a death.

Later we see that Constantine can manage it simply by putting his feet in a basin of water. Thus it's also probable that the ritual, after a person has gone through it once, is easier to accomplish on subsequent attempts.

As to what is transferred the answer is obvious: the soul. The concept of residual self imnage gives us a reason why clothes and so on are also 'transferred'.

What's not clear in the movie, as it is simply not shown except in one instance, is how a soul returns from Hell. we can only deduce that Constantine is somehow extra gifted in that he has the ability to return his soul from Hell or help another soul return. It may be to do with his ability to send demons to Hell.

  • We see John perform the ritual in Angela's apartment (with the cat) without dying. And regarding returning: John has to break a small bottle of (presumably) holy water to return. Does this belong to his RSI? What about Angela when she visits hell? – bitmask Feb 7 '13 at 15:10
  • I've edited the middle paragraphs to be clearer, but as I've pointed out there's simply not enough information in the movie to deduce how a soul returns from Hell. – user11295 Feb 7 '13 at 18:22
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    I believe John needed the holy water due to being a suicide; he basically belonged there. When he helped Angela get there, we don't see how she left, but she had nothing powerful holding her there, the way John did. – K-H-W Feb 7 '13 at 23:25
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    I don't think there was anything said in the film to suggested that John's suicide had any connection to why the ritual worked, what are you basing this on? His suicide and experience of the horrors of hell inspired him to work to fight demons in hopes of earning his way into heaven, and he also said that when he came back "I knew all the things I could see were real" (since he'd had visions since a young age), but I don't think his suicide was relevant to any elements of the plot besides those two. – Hypnosifl Oct 9 '15 at 18:08
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The mystic journey is often "lubricated" by immersion in water; in induces an altered state of consciousness in many cultures. It's particulalry common in a kind of Jewish ritual magic/mysticism called merkaba. See, for example, this article on "The Use of Water as a Medium for Altered States of Consciousness in Early Jewish Mysticism"

You can learn it here.

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    Is there any useful information from those links that you can add to your answer? The trouble with links is that they occasionally die, so we'd prefer to have some of the most important and relevant information on this site – Jason Baker Oct 9 '15 at 18:18
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In my point of view. John uses water not just for transition to hell and vice versa..but also water is like mirror and it is said that "mirror is the gateway to other dimensions " Also water he uses to temporary kill angela so that he can bring her back same thing happen when john killed himself by drowning when he was a kid and the medics trying to bring him back that is the reason why he ascend again to earth with the powers he got from hell. Question is what happen back then when he was dead in 5 mins? Need a deleted scene maybe?

  • An opinion is better suited as a comment friend. An answer is yes or no and here's the proof... – Daft Nov 18 '15 at 15:25
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It isn't holy water - it's a cat's eye marble. The cat was the courier into hell so it broke the marble to break the connection and leave hell.

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The hell- earth seemed to be almost an alternate universe to me. The same basic structures and landscape seemed to still be there, just in a "hell" state. It almost seemed to indicate that heaven and hell are "just" alternate universes or dimensions that our souls go after the mortal coil has been shuffled.

As another user pointed out, the water seemed to be part of a gateway to have a still living being travel between dimensions. The water being both a real world lubricant, and having a mirror effect could indicate the mirror dimension, same basic place but reversed to hell (mirrors being a backward image)

The people were almost drowned to death but still alive suggesting that a balance of half dead and half alive must be reached to be able to return back to this reality.

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