Monday, June 8, 2009
Case in point
With apologies in advance to Lord Vader ...
Yesterday I wrote about religion in movies, and how religious characters in Hollywood films usually get a bum rap. I wasn't getting all pious on you -- I'm still the same non-affiliated guy I've always been, and don't relate particularly well to people whose faith dominates their lives. But that doesn't mean I'm blind to cinematic injustices perpetrated against people who believe in God.
And so the timing couldn't have been better for me to have rented The Mist, or Stephen King's The Mist as the title is more regularly listed, yesterday. My wife and I were babysitting for people who have a BluRay player (we haven't made that leap yet ourselves), so we wanted to rent something that might take advantage of that format. We were on our second time through the BluRay section at the local Blockbuster when we noticed this 2007 release that had intrigued both of us. I'd read Stephen King's -- novella? short story? -- back in my King days (the late 80s and early 90s), so I might even have seen this one in the theater if it hadn't gotten lost in the holiday shuffle (it was released just before Thanksgiving). Knowing there would be a bunch of CG creepie crawlies emerging from the aforementioned mist, which trap a bunch of locals in a small Maine town in the grocery store, I figured this would be a perfect choice. Plus, it was directed by Frank Darabont, whose other King adapations -- The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile -- were both highly praised. I haven't seen The Green Mile, but I frequently describe Shawshank as a movie I will watch until the end if I come across it on cable.
Boy were we wrong.
I really didn't like anything about this film, but even if I had, the ending would have totally ruined it for me. I'll do you the honor of not spoiling that ending, but I'll also urge you not to see it if you haven't yet. (And warn you that there is a spoiler or two in this post, but nothing serious). The creature effects are terrible, and the acting ... well, let's just say I can't believe this is the same director who coaxed such subtle performances in Shawshank. But then Darabont actually does us one worse by also being responsible for the terrible script.
But what I want to focus on today is the weird application of liberal values in this film, first and foremost with regards to the film's resident religious nutjob, played by Marcia Gay Harden. She's not the only example, but she's a good place to start.
Simply put, Gay Harden is the personification of all the worst things about Christianity in one grating character. But she doesn't get killed off right away. In fact, she sticks around for most of the movie, whipping others around her into the same blind fervor, basically eradicating the idea that faith in God could be anything but a crutch of the weak-willed and weak-minded.
As soon as the mist rolls in, she starts quietly quoting chapter and verse, only loud enough for the people around her to hear a few distracted mumblings. But as things grow a little more confusing, long before they grow dire, she's accusing various others around her of being sinners, even when they aren't doing anything particularly sinful, and suggesting this is God's vengeance against them. Then she rejects an overture of friendship from a nice woman, telling her that if she needed a friend like her, she'd squat and shit one out. Huh? See, that's what really tells me this film hates this woman -- a truly godly person would accept offerings of love and friendship from another person. Harden's character thinks the woman is making fun of her, but there's nothing that would suggest that other than Harden's paranoia.
I won't tell you how her character ends up playing out, but let's just say that everything she does for the rest of the movie can be considered a misapplication of religious teachings. Often, an egregious misapplication.
I'll give the movie this -- it's perfectly believable, in a scenario where the world seems to be enveloped in a fog containing giant tentacled bugs, that the most religious people would interpret it as some sort of coming of the end of days. But if this movie wanted to make us believe in it, it would have shown a flicker of this woman's charity or goodness. Instead, she is one-dimensionally hateful.
As I mentioned earlier, The Mist's liberal agenda goes awry in other ways as well. The second least charitable character in this film is a hayseed played by William Sadler, who first comes to prominence when he threatens the college-educated protagonist (the eternally bland Thomas Jane) for trying to fool them with talk of monsters in the mist. He gets all tough and bullying and threatens to knock out Jane's teeth. Well, what follows is a string of indignities for this character, basically intended to indicate that such people are all bluster and no action. First he stands back in horror as a young stock boy is dragged out the loading dock by a giant octopus leg. Then he screams like a little girl when confronted with an over-sized bug at the pharmacy next door. Finally, he falls in with the religious wacko's flock and starts mindlessly chanting her God-fearing hocus pocus.
More evidence? The three military men stuck in the grocery store are passive and ineffectual. Instead of helping barricade the store against the intrusion, they huddle in a group in the middle of one of the aisles, looking glum. This after they complained at the beginning that they were just moments from going on leave when the leave was canceled due to this crisis. And oh yeah, two of them later hang themselves. (Sorry for the spoiler).
On the flip side of the coin, the guy who takes the leadership role is Jane's character, a graphic artist seen at the start painting some kind of book cover or movie poster. Traditionally, he'd be the passive intellectual, not the man of action. But he jumps in as the only courageous person in numerous scenarios where he's surrounded by trained professionals or rugged country types. And oh yeah, the only guy in the store who knows how to shoot a gun (including the military guys) is the jowly, balding, bespectacled cashier played by Toby Jones, whose most famous previous role (pun sort of intended) was in Infamous, where he played Truman Capote. As far as I can tell from my searchings on the internet, Jones is not actually gay -- and in fact, he played quite the opposite as Karl Rove in W. -- but let's just say they wouldn't have picked him to play Capote if he reminded anyone of Dirty Harry.
One of the things I value about myself as a thinking person -- which I hope I indicated in yesterday's post -- is that I can recognize when my enemies are right, and when my guys are wrong. I know it's pretty facile to take two films (Fireproof and The Mist) and force them to represent their core political philosophies. After all, each is only one movie. And The Mist may not have even intended to peddle an overtly liberal agenda -- it could have just been Darabont's massive failure to check himself, which resulted in him writing a bunch of unbelievable caricatures. But the film he made ended up being just the kind of fodder the church crowd needs, if it wants to say that Hollywood is out of touch with this country's many Christians. I don't want to see a bunch of Christians become the heroes of summer blockbusters, but making Christians as unsympathetic as pedophiles and pet stranglers doesn't do anybody any good either.
Maybe if Darabont gets back to basics -- I don't see another directing job slated on his schedule, but I can't imagine he's done -- his next movie can function as "the Darabont redemption."