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Messages in The Mist

September 19, 2015 | By

Frank Darabont’s 2007 film The Mist is a horror film based on Stephen King’s novella with the same name. The film still haunts in its depiction of the monster that lies latent within us much more than the ones in the mist.

Poster of Messages in the Mist

Poster of Messages in the Mist

Frank Darabont considers himself a screenwriter first, and then a director. Three out of the four feature length films that he has directed so far have been adapted from novels or novellas by noted writer Stephen King. Darabont has received wide critical acclaim for his films The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both prison dramas, and both based on works by King.

These two films were followed by the competently made film The Majestic, which failed miserably at the box office, leaving Darabont disillusioned. For six long years after the failure of this film, he didn’t make another one, but his fans kept begging him to return.

Finally, when he announced that he was making a horror film titled The Mist based on King’s novella of the same name, fans and critics all around the world sat up and paid attention. Among much fanfare, The Mist was released in cinemas, and the immediate reaction of the public, including his fans, was of utter dismay. Some said Darabont had finally lost it, others said not only should he stop making films, he should also stop writing. That was in 2007.

Over the years, as film-lovers watched The Mist again, and then again, it began to dawn upon them that they had grossly misunderstood the film. What they were expecting was a formulaic monster movie, rife with shocks and horrors. And the film had very few of these. But what people did begin to realize, albeit gradually, was that the film was not so much about the monster in the mist as it was about the monster within us, that it was not so much about the horrors that these fiends bring upon us as it was about those that we bring upon ourselves, that it was not so much about the shocking nature of these creatures from hell as it was about the shocking nature of man. The Mist, it was soon realized, was a monster film where WE were the monsters.

Drama inside the store

Drama inside the store

Let’s not talk about the technical aspects of the film. It was never intended to be technically superlative. But keep your eyes open and you’ll soon see that the film is full of symbolism and hidden messages. It’s a commentary on the very nature of man, on our existence on this planet and the way we live our lives with infinite complacency and under the shroud of not one, but several dangerous illusions.

The story of the film is simple. A group of men, women and children are trapped inside a food store as a mysterious mist of unknown origin envelopes them. Any attempt of stepping outside and walking into the mist is dangerous because it is soon learnt that there are ‘things’ – inter-dimensional monsters – out there in it. The film shows how people react to the mist while trapped within the store. It’s a simple holed-inside-a-small-space crisis story, with an idea that has been seen in several other films of the monster or disaster genre. But the treatment? You have to see it to believe it.

Almost immediately after the crisis is established, multiple groups are formed, groups of differing opinions. Each group is completely closed to even listening to the reasoning of the others. One of the group leaders refers to his group as ‘my people’, which is an obvious reference to the colour of their skin. Another group is led to believe by a religious fanatic that the mist is a punishment for all the wrongs that the others have done on this earth, and that the Gods can only be appeased through human sacrifice. Another group believes in scientific evidence and the natural law of logic and reasoning.

The ending without a hope in The Mist

The ending without a hope in The Mist

Darabont paints all his characters, without exception, in shades of grey. Even the protagonist flatly refuses to see a lady home to her children, because “I have my own boy to worry about”. The lady leading the religious group systematically brainwashes her congregation, leading even sane men and women into doing unspeakable things, including literally feeding a young and promising soldier to the monster. As the soldier is stabbed repeatedly and thrust outside in the mist at the mouth of the monster, he watches helplessly, begging to be let inside, thus proving once again in a symbolic scene, that contrary to established ideas, fanaticism and blind faith are the most powerful forces on the face of this planet. In another scene, when the same group tries to sacrifice a child, their leader is shot down by a store manager and the group immediately disperses, indicating that almost everything in this world is in its own place only because of the underlying principle of fear and greed. Throughout the film, Darabont explores the idea of fear in different ways – the fear of foreigners, the fear of the unknown, the fear of God, the fear of losing one’s own, the fear of suffering – one could go on and on.

But the final shocker of the film comes right at the end, where the director delivers his masterstroke in one of the most shocking twists seen on film. As I always say, a good horror film is all about hopelessness. The director proves this point, and how! The protagonist gets out of the store and somehow makes it to his car with four other people – a young woman, an old man, an old woman and a child – his own son. They go as far as the  fuel carries them, but realize that the mist has spread much farther than they had thought.  Now, as they run out of fuel, they have nowhere to go, and the sound of the approaching monsters continue to grow louder and louder. All hope is lost, and not wanting to let them die long-drawn-out and painful deaths, our hero shoots all the four people in the car in their heads, including his own son. He tries to shoot himself too, but is out of bullets. He gives up, and steps out of his car for the final confrontation with the monster, waiting for it to appear before him from within the mist, only to find that the sounds he had been hearing all along were the rumbling of tanks, which have come to rescue the townsfolk. Had he waited just a few minutes more, had he not lost hope, had he not been gripped and overpowered by the fear of a painful death, four innocent people, including his own son would not have died needlessly. It’s a terrific commentary on the nature of man, a truth as bitter as gall, the ultimate horror – because it lies within us. Darabont pokes us in the eye and tells us that we have been doing it wrong all along, that in order to be truly terrified, all we have to do is take a careful look at ourselves at a moment of hopelessness. Because it is only in the complete absence of hope, that true horror exists.

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Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is a writer and translator. His translations include the anthology 14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray (Harper Collins), Shirshendu Mukherjee’s adventure novellas No Child’s Play (Harper Collins) and The House By The Lake (Scholastic), and the forthcoming sports novel by Moti Nandy Shiva (Penguin Randomhouse). His original works include the forthcoming novels Penumbra (Fingerprint) and Patang (Hachette). A cinema enthusiast, Bhaskar lives and works in Bangalore.
All Posts of Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

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