Just prior to Thanksgiving, I went to see Stephen King’s The Mist. Since the movie is an adaptation of a story I like, I went to see it with some trepidation. After all, film makers often have an anti-Midas touch: they can turn gold (or silver) into garbage.
I am pleased to report that I found the vast majority of the movie to be enjoyable. This was due, no doubt, to the fact that the movie stuck very closely to the story. Sadly, the ending of the film was so badly done that it came close to ruining the entire movie for me. In order to discuss this ending, I need to reveal it-so if you plan on seeing the film and don’t want to know how it ends, then read no further.
The Mist tells the story of what happens when a military experiment opens a doorway into another dimension. Terrible creatures and a mist (hence the name) pour through into our world. The story itself focuses on a group of people trapped within a grocery store. They are beset by these vicious creatures which range from venomous bugs to tentacled monstrosities. Naturally, this takes place in Maine.
Through the course of the film, the main character shows great strength of character. He is brave, decisive and unwilling to give up even in the face of such horror. Some of the other characters descend into a religious madness, but the main character attracts a small group of rational people who put their faith in action.
The original story ends with the main characters escaping the store and then, after driving quite a ways, seeing a massive creature striding by-this nicely conveys that the world has changed and that things will never be the same again. As such, it is a wonderful ending for the story-things are bad, yet the mystery of how things will ultimately play out is left…well, in the mist.
The movie does, to its credit, include the final scene of the story. The magnitude of the beast nicely conveys the magnitude of the change. Unfortunately, the movie does not end there. After the scene that ends the story, the movie continues with the characters driving along until the land rover runs out of gas. There are four people in the rover along with a gun that has, amazingly enough, only three shots. The main character then, with the consent of the others, shoots the three other survivors (making them former survivors). The last survivor then leaves the rover and yells for the critters to come kill him. A rumbling sound is heard and one suspects that something will be coming to eat him. But, in a twist ending, it is the military-they are retaking the area and killing all the nasty creatures.
While a twist ending can be effective, this ending actually damages the film severely. The main problem is that it shocks and offends without really adding any value to the story. To be a bit philosophical about the ending, here is why it fails.
As Aristotle argued, the events of a story should follow logically from preceding events and the nature of the characters. The characters should act consistently (and, as he says, if they are inconsistent they need to be “consistently inconsistent). Throughout the story, the main character acted with courage and was willing to face danger without giving up. The three other adult characters he shoots showed similar traits. To have them decide to commit suicide simply did not fit in with the way the characters had been developed and presented. As such, the suicide ending simply did not fit and thus created a disharmony in the work.
Another flaw with the suicide ending is that the characters had no reason to commit suicide. First, while the creatures were rather alien, they tended to kill rather quickly and the characters knew this. If the creatures were known to inflict enduring and horrific torture, then suicide might have made sense. Second, the characters drove for a rather long time without being attacked by or even seeing any more creatures. They even pass other vehicles, including a police car, but they never stop to get more gas or to pick up weapons. Given how the characters behaved early in the film (acting intelligently and bravely), this struck me as rather strange. Oddly enough, when they run out of gas and decide to kill themselves, they are in no immediate danger. If the vehicle had been surrounded with monsters eager to do terrible things, then suicide would have made sense. It was also rather strange that they decided to just let the rover run out gas when they were near no other vehicle. If they had stopped near another vehicle, they could have done what they did before when they knew they were surrounded by monsters-rush to get in the vehicle and drive away. Thus, the ending of the film did not fit the way the characters had acted earlier and did not make much sense. My overall view is that the film should have ended as the story ended-that would have made it a good movie. So, my suggestion is that if you see it, stop watching when the giant creature strides by and shakes the rover with its steps. Pretend the movie ends there-you’ll like the film much more if you do.