08 February 2010

Rationalists, Doomsayers, & Survivors

Though not generally a big fan of horror movies, I really enjoyed The Mist (2001).  Here's a very brief thematic summary from Wikipedia (Spoiler Alert:  the full entry in Wikipedia outlines the whole movie, including the end):

[. . .] the central theme is what ordinary people will be driven to do under extraordinary circumstances. The plot revolves around members of the small town of Bridgton, Maine who conceal themselves in a local supermarket when a violent thunderstorm cuts off the power. While they struggle to survive an unnatural mist which envelops the town [. . .], extreme tensions arise amongst the survivors.

What's interesting to me about this movie is the way Stephen King (the novella's author) and the script writers of the movie present three distinct hermeneutical lenses through which the people in the supermarket view the crisis they find themselves in and how they come to deal with the horror they have little control over. 

The three lenses are clarified once a small group of those locked in the supermarket try to leave the building through the loading dock.  I won't give away exactly what happens, but this group witnesses an event that confirms for them earlier reports of what the mist conceals.  When they report what they have seen, the people divide into three hermeneutical groups:

Evidence-based rationalists who believe that the men are lying about the event they witnessed, steadfastly insisting on empirical proof and refusing to credit the incredible story w/o such proof.

Apocalyptic doomsayers who believe the men but interpret the event as a sign of God's wrathful judgment on a sinful world, demanding expiation in blood.

Pragmatic survivors who are unsure of what the men saw but nonetheless prepare themselves for survival as if the men are telling the truth.   

Each group proposes its own explanation of the crisis according to its hermeneutical lens and sets out possible responses to the crisis given their initial assumptions.   Each group is sorely tested by events, and each experiences potentially debilitating set backs.

The ending is heartbreaking.  And you will be very surprised to learn which of the three turns out to be true. 

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  1. A small correction: The three hermeneutical groups are evidence-based rationalist stereotypes, apocalyptic doomsayer stereotypes, and characters we're supposed to care about even though the movie gives us no reason to care about them.

    The ending isn't heartbreaking; it's a rude gesture to whatever part of the audience has managed to sit through the whole thing.

    Having seen the remake of Fame, I can't say The Mist is the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's definitely in the top ten.

  2. Tom,

    Hermeneutical lenses are always stereotypes in some sense...all three groups represent extremes within their respective types. None of the types were truly Catholic in that the sacramental view wasn't presented...really, not even a Christian view was present.

  3. Anonymous10:24 AM

    "Evidence-based rationalists who believe that the men are lying about the event they witnessed..."

    Once I saw a skeptic actually score one. The discussion was about the miracles of Fatima, and when one Catholic disputed it, he piped in: "Lemme get this straight. You fully believe the witness of 12 men from 2,000 years ago, but you don't believe the witness of tens of thousands from not even a hundred years ago?"

    Scott W.

  4. I think discussing current films through modern lens of faith could be of interest to many people.

    By the way, Fr. Powell, I have left Liguori and I don't have your email address at home. This is the only way I have letting you know that I've moved on to a position in the Archdiocese.

    deb m.

  5. Deb, leave your email in a comment. I won't publish it.