Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mist: The Psychology of Religion

Religion has always been a tool when talking about or making a horror movie. It seems as though every other film debunks it, exploits it or trashes it but not many films actually tap into the psychology of religion and why so many people are religious. In movies like The Omen, Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby or Warlock (I’m picking ones that really take an axe to religion), the religious fanatics’ belief is true but they worship this God to the point of killing in his name. It’s not necessarily explaining religion but rather showing us how far people are willing to go to prove themselves. Then you have a movie like The Mist, which actually brings up a topic in religion that has been greatly analyzed academically but not so much in film. Aside from the monsters, the main human antagonist is the town religious zealot Mrs. Carmody. She preaches the “good word” of God and sees the monster invasion as a sign of the apocalypse. She believes that God is angry at how we are destroying his “paradise” and exploiting each other so, in order to appease God and to make the monster disappear, they must offer a sacrifice. So you can tell that she is absolutely nuts but lets break things down a little.

Note: I am discussing the movie and not the book.

Many people have analyzed how the supermarket has broken up into two distinct factions; you have the God-worshippers who believe that a blood sacrifice is worth it, and those who are rational and believe in escaping and finding help. I read that that it’s sort of Darabont’s (and perhaps King’s) commentary on the Bush Administration. It makes sense because it seemed like the world was divided in half with those who believe in religion (Republicans) and those who believe in rationalization (Democrats). It’s an interesting concept that could go further than just the fractions but rather comparing the monsters to terrorism and how it was made to believe that terrorists were attacking the American Dream. But how does religion play into the state of affairs?

David Drayton, our down-home American hero, states in the beginning that Carmody is preaching to four followers and that by the next day she would have four more, and so on. Ollie, our comic relief, tells the group of freethinkers that humans are naturally a violent race and that we will jump on anything that promises us the most answers. I’d say that one major theme of the film has just been directly stated. It’s very interesting that he brought that up because it’s a point that has been proven many times throughout history. Many post apocalyptic films are based on the notion that religion will reign because it offered more answers as to why the world ended. Carmody takes the stand and tells everybody that God is pissed; if you see massive monsters attacking and killing people, logic states that this isn’t possible because such things don’t exist in nature. However, religion states that these things do exist in hell and are known as demons. Facts are immediately thrown aside (because there are none) and religion is given the podium because it provides the facts. Not many of us would believe that a portal to another world was opened. Furthermore, I see it as being connected to the old saying; “There is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.” There are bombs blasting all around you, you could die any minute, your scared and frightened, nobody you now is going to help you, who do you turn to? The person beside you is dead, the person on the other side is shooting at the enemy, and all you have is God. Now, replace the bombs with giant insects and the bullets with torches. It’s the same thing.

On that note, Drayton adds to the conversation by stating the extremes that people will go to when scared, provoked and pushed into a corner. It’s basic psychology that if we are frightened and somebody is backing us into a corner, we’ll go crazy just so that we could be set free, even if it mean that we loose our sanity. This would explain why Carmody jumped to the conclusion that God demands blood; her logic is that if ritualistic prayer and worshipping isn’t working… than sacrifice is the only other option. She brings up a story, a particularly outrageous one, of how Abraham sacrificed his only son Joseph to prove to God that he is a believer. The problem with this story and the whole comparison is that it’s outrageous. Why would a friendly, caring God make people do such things to prove each other? If God is so caring, why would he unleash demons from hell upon the Earth and then demand blood sacrifice? It’s all a method to scare and control people, so in essence, Carmody is setting the establishment of human society all the way back to the Medieval Ages. This was back when the Church inspired fear to control the towns, kingdoms and villages. I think the best example of showing how crazy we will go to stop the bad things from happening is when Carmody orders her followers to stab and offer one of the soldiers to the monsters. It’s such a powerful scene because he pleads and begs people to cease and even goes on to tell them that he was born in their town, that he’s one of them. It’s sad when the people you grew up with turn on you because they have been brainwashed with fear and false answers. He became a martyr to show people just what we are capable of doing when in the shadow of fear.

I think the biker guy says it best to Carmody, “Hey, I believe in God but I don’t think that he’s the bloodthirsty asshole you make him out to be.” There is no problem with religion or religious people, there is a problem if you are an extremist who is willing to kill and press you religion upon others.

Strangely, there is so much more to comment on. You can go the 9/11 route and see the monsters as foreign entity or terrorist destroying the American Dream/small-town America. You can see it as the monsters raping the good ‘ol American values. You can compare instances in the film to stories of the Bible; in fact, Carmody does this throughout the film. You can compare the events in the film to the Bush Administration. You can expand on how Carmody is a Christian tyrant and the people in the supermarket are the sheeple. There is so much that could be said here but I only wanted to throw in the psychology of how people act when scared. I hate to bring this movie up (because it’s not a horror movie) but in Book of Eli, Carnegie is so desperate to get his hands on a Bible. Why do you think this is? Because he knows the value of religion. He knows that with religion, in desperate dismal times, people will listen and obey you. It’s basic psychology. Those who offer the most ‘truth’ will be the leaders and we all know that truth can be very subjective.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant write up! I'm glad that you eschewed the easy review of the film, and went for something a little meatier.

That line about God not being a bloodthirsty asshole has always been one of my favorites.


Mr. Johnny Sandman said...

Thank you very much! I did a review earlier but after watching it again, I really wanted to discuss the religious themes that were presented. King has been known for his commentary on religion and I think The Mist is a great example of it. I agree with the comment about God... I actually clapped in the theater for that one.

Anonymous said...

Sir Sandman!

Me again, informing you that I enjoyed this article so much that I included a link to it in the latest "issue" of SPATTER ANALYSIS.

Check it out!


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