The 13th Floor

The Politics and Hyper-Relevancy of Stephen King’s THE MIST

THE MIST presents an “end of the world” scenario and, without attributing it to anything specific or plausible, the potential for analogies is endless. Films about a nuclear holocaust carry more weight during times of nuclear threats, and zombie films about a viral apocalypse can scare a little more after outbreaks like H1N1. In THE MIST, the survivors speculate as to what might be happening to their quaint little town during this apocalyptic event: it’s a chemical explosion, it’s a natural disaster, it’s the End of Days. None of these turn out to be true, but this is how THE MIST becomes hyper-relevant—it can shape-shift with the times. The threat is ambiguous and becomes a “fill in the blank” answer to a question about what scares us today.

Let’s define hyper-relevant cinema as any film with an innate ability to sustain relevancy across decades and generations. Perhaps the most famous example of this is INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS which found a way to speak directly to anxieties about Communism and identity in the ‘50s. Remakes in 1978, 1993 and 2007 altered the content to reflect their own contemporaneous concerns. THE MIST also employs this “blank canvas” approach, allowing the eponymous mist to represent many things to many people. It’s the unknown, it’s unknowable and it is the perfect vessel for ideas.

Based on a Stephen King novella from 1980, THE MIST tells a story about a mysterious fog that descends upon a small town in Maine and the residents who take shelter inside the local supermarket. At first, it’s just a curious weather phenomenon, but then Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) comes running, bleeding and scared. “Something in the mist! Something in the mist took John Lee!” Thus begins the TWILIGHT ZONE-inspired drama of regular people who find themselves in irregular circumstances, trying to survive foreign threats from outside and domestic threats from inside the store.

The film was released in 2007, and it speaks to those specific times. September 11th had primed us for global threat stories and revelations from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay helped us doubt our righteousness while eroding our faith in the military. Ten years later, it is speaking to us again. Culturally and politically, there is an abundance of issues right now that could be applied to THE MIST’s “insert terrifying thing here” equation. This is a movie about division and how easily fear can divide us. No matter what side of the divide you’re on these days, perhaps the one thing we can agree on is that there is a divide, a massive one.

After last year’s campaign leading up to the election and inauguration, it would be difficult for anyone to not see their own terrors in the mist. For some, the unfathomable creatures could be refugees, “others” bent on invasion. For others, they could be symbolic of the hate-fueled nationalism unleashed from its (previously assumed) dormant state. Consider this more literal analogy: the mist represents ignorance. And monsters do, in fact, reside in ignorance.

In 2017, we have a truth problem. We rely on information and the security of knowing, but what happens when our sources are tainted? We have an Administration who denounces the media for spreading lies but they are also guilty of spouting improvised statistics and secondhand analyses. We have Facebook, a self-serving bias filter that allows the opinions of a few to become facts for the masses. Who do we trust with the truth? When credibility is subjective, especially on such a massive scale, bad things are bound to happen. When people are trapped inside a grocery store surrounded by monsters, and they are denied an explanation or a solution, bad things are bound to happen.

THE MIST’s Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) comes off as your stock religious fanatic. Her deduction that the mist and the monsters are clearly the beginning of the biblical apocalypse is initially disregarded as inane exaggeration. That is, until things get worse. At the height of their panic, at the pinnacle of their desperation, Mrs. Carmody’s answer is the only one that makes sense. She and her ideas only become a threat when others stand beside her.

As she rallies more and more to her cause, as non-believers become believers, as reason becomes faith, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) provides a succinct analysis of how this process works: “They’ll turn to whoever promises a solution.” It is not hard to see parallels between Mrs. Carmody and outspoken political figures. They both claim to have an answer to our problems, no matter how far-fetched it seems. They both capitalize on fear to convert believers. They both isolate others as scapegoats. They both agitate their followers into (often) violent action. The ironic part about this analysis is that Mrs. Carmody was right, in the end. For all our sakes, let’s hope that life doesn’t imitate art.

 

 

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