Stephen King Week: Make Castle Rock Great Again: The Dead Zone (1983)

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, on the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door, and his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, and the lamp light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor, and my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted... nevermore.
--The Raven

The Dead Zone is one of the best Stephen King film adaptations as it deftly combines the supernatural with real world elements culminating in a believable story. The story follows Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) a school teacher and Castle Rock native that gets into a terrible car accident one night on his drive home in a rainstorm. He ends up in a coma for five years and when he awakens (to a completely changed life) he discovers he has a strange new power: if he touches someone he can see their innermost secrets and even their future.

Walken is completely mesmerizing as Johnny and he makes the character easy to empathize with. Johnny is a man who has had a lot of responsibly thrown on him as the psychic powers are both a gift and a curse. At first he uses it for smaller problems but eventually he is called on by the local police force to solve a murder, which is the first situation to really test his limits. That is until he meets Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) a charismatic man running for US Senate. Stillson has put up a convincing fa├žade as a hard-working "everyman" but Johnny finds out the real truth when he touches his hand at a rally: he eventually will be the cause of WWIII.

Make America Sheen Again! Or don't. 

It's impossible to ignore the parallels between Stillson's and Trump's rise to power--they both are full of bravado and prone to making decisions based on ego and not logic. I found Sheen's portrayal of Stillson to be chilling as it directly echoes what is going on in modern politics. Even Stillson's motto "Let's send Greg Stillson to the United States Senate - and mediocrity to hell!" sounds very similar to the idea behind Trump's "Make America Great Again!" Johnny's knowledge of the future presents him with an interesting quandary--if you could stop an evil man from carrying out his plan would you? To what lengths would you go? Johnny proposes this question to his Jewish doctor: "If you could go back in time to Germany, before Hitler came to power, knowing what you know now, would you kill him? " and he responds with "I'll give you an answer. I'm a man of medicine. I'm expected to save lives and ease suffering. I love people. Therefore, I would have no choice but to kill the son of a bitch."

This film was David Cronenberg's only adaptation of Stephen King's work but he did a fantastic job with it. Everything feels grounded though Cronenberg takes jaunts (It's longer than you think!) into the surreal now and again whenever Johnny has a vision. Johnny has a unique look to him as well, with Walken's signature uncontrollable mop of hair and his black pea coat complete with upturned collar. He looks not unlike the personification of a raven, which is foreshadowed by his reading Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem The Raven to his classroom at the beginning of the film.

If The Dead Zone does have one issue, it's that the narrative feels slightly disjointed. It's more an anthology of vignettes than a cohesive whole. However, the third act gels everything together nicely and the ending is poignant and bittersweet. The "Dead Zone" is explained as a portion of Johnny's visions that are blank to him, meaning that he can change the future. Hopefully we as a country figure out our own dead zone so that we too can change our trajectory and avoid a fiery Armageddon.

-Michelle Kisner