Thursday, September 24, 2009
I saw Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's "The Mist" back in its summer release back in '07 and kind of hated it. It was that rapid-build kind of hate as well where you like it marginally in the theater and by the time you hit the exit you're convinced you've somehow been... I don't know, swindled?
The film was is a "hell is other people" piece about a small New England town and the thick mist that covers it after a mysterious storm. The townies and some vacationers end up holing up in a supermarket when they learn that the mist is inhabited by all manner of vicious creatures from somewhere else. Of course as a microcosm of American values and types (the elitist lawyer, the noble artist, the barking mad evangelist) it's only a matter of time before conflict breaks out between the natives.
The ideological gulf is between Tom Jane's pragmatic artist character and Marcia Gay Harden's bible-thumping Miss Carmody. Harden's character spins the events in apocalyptic-mystic terms, equating the monsters with divine retribution due to the litany of complaints one gets with any zealots: people are having the "wrong" kind of sex, abortion is murder, cats are sleeping with dogs, etc.
Carmody was painted in such broad strokes that it took me out of the movie when some of the townspeople started coming around to her side of things by the midway point. Harden gives a foaming at the mouth, foul, bitter performance (note, I'm not qualifying it as "good" per se) and it felt like a cheat on the part of the story to generate artificial tension. By the end of the film some of her followers are calling for human sacrifice in their panicked need to assuage a conception of God closer to King's "Children of the Corn."
So why did I rewatch it recently? I can't really answer that in any satisfying way. I was compelled to take it in again, though. Two years out the acting is still rough (Tom Jane's last scene unintentionally gets a laugh), the CGI is still dodgy, and Mrs. Carmody is a broad as ever but somehow it kind of works now in a way that it didn't back in '07.
I'd say part of it - if I'm being honest, most of it - has to do with the seismic emotional shift the country has gone through post '08 election or at least the cable news version of the national attitude anyway. We seem more balkanized than before and some on the right appear just plain mean. In particular, the religious right has been co-opted by some of the most vitriolic voices in the Pat Robertson mold. Some of the most nasty thoughts have been given voice recently by religious leaders (which happens with any real cultural sea change) but what's most appalling is that there are too many nodding their heads in agreement or at least not calling bullshit.
There's a real feeling of blood in the water right now with the people who've been sharpening their knives for years waiting for some kind of ultimate confrontation between the people and the state, black against whites, or Christians vs. everyone else enjoying the increasingly hyperbolic and hostile mood out there.
The emotional violence of yesterday is becoming the actual violence of today. Just a couple of weeks ago it was a Baptist minister praying for the death of the President and today it's the discovery of the body of a Census Bureau employee hanged in a cemetery with the word "Fed" written on his corpse.
It remains to be seen how much of it is the cable news cycle giving voices and legitimacy to fringe elements but there's an element out there, increasingly vocal, that mimic the sentiments of the Mrs. Carmodys of the world. That is, they're the folks that believe that "something's not right" with the country, and wouldn't mind a little bit of bloodletting to get America back to the "good old days" (i.e. cultural hegemony, minorities "in their place," and a simpler black and white moral spectrum).
Also, as overwrought as the ending to the movie is, there's some subtle, maybe even accidental comment there about how leaving the crazies to it and bugging out will get you nowhere. Those final apocalyptic moments get kind of silly with Tom Jane's extended "noooooooooooo," and I can't dispute that at all. At the same time, it's kind of poignant - the sense that the loudest, craziest voices have won out and forced the voices of reason to beat a hasty, bloody retreat.
Again, "The Mist" hasn't suddenly become transformative art but it has become very much of the moment.
Please note the images I selected from the recent Teabagger rallies were selected with a Google search for the words "teabagger + racist." These are intentionally slanted images but it was alarmingly easy to find them to justify my point.