When one looks at the overall work of a specific filmmaker in order to determine his status as an auteur, questions of originality, authorship and whether specific films fit into an overall schemata come into play. If a director does something completely different from his normal line of work and lacks aspects that are common in his overall body, is it a "true" film in his filmography? If a filmmaker does an adaptation of an incredibly famous author's novel, is he to serve the text and remain faithful to the book's spirit and fans, or does he have a right to change aspects of the text so that it fits into his oeuvre? Can he do both? These questions come up when looking at two horror films that are based on two revered works by an equally revered author. Stephen King is one of the most respected and popular authors of the twentieth century, and nearly every book and story he has published has been made into a film with varying degrees of success. Two of the more successful adaptations were The Shining (U.S.A. 1980) and The Dead Zone (U.S.A. 1983), the former directed by Stanley Kubrick and the latter by the "Prince of Blood", David Cronenberg. Both are auteurs who had already established their reputations of being hard edged, envelope-shredding and controversial filmmakers by the time they made the two movies. For them to do filmic adaptations of one of the most commercial American author's best works could be interpreted as exchanging their artistic integrity for a multi-million dollar pay check. In this essay, I will be comparing and contrasting both The Shining and The Dead Zone with each other, their original texts and with their filmmaker's overall work. I will argue that despite these texts being radically different from the normal books they adapt, they do have traits within them that prove that the films will have that Kubrickian and Cronenberg-esque stamp of authorship on them. I will also focus on the two separate conflicts that the films struggle with. Regarding The Shining, the question is whether or not Stanley Kubrick is faithful to the spirit of the book. Regarding The Dead Zone, the question is if Cronenberg, but doing this film, is being faithful to himself and his overall body of work.
Stephen King is, without a doubt, one of the most successful American authors of the twentieth century. His books deal with Gothic, supernatural horror that underlines the realism of common, everyday life and social experiences in America. The Shining has been considered by many to be one of the crown jewels in his literate works. A John Brown explains in his essay The Impossible Object: Reflections on The Shining.
"The Shining is King's most accomplished work because it mostly holds these two impulses in admirable balance. The simplicity of the central situation - father, mother and child snowbound in an isolated luxury hotel during winter - allows King to explore the three characters in considerable depth and to trace the complexity of their relationships in absorbing detail. Interestingly, long stretches of the book are devoid of supernatural happenings, but the Gothic elements are skilfully combined with a convincing account of the family's breakdown and having a credible American root." (107)
Ronald T. Curran has also noted in his essay Complex, Archetype, and Primal Fear: King's Use of Fairy Tales in The Shining, that:
"King uses fairy tales in The Shining to take advantage of archetypal symbols that reflect our common experience. He employs them to take the reader back into the archaic world of childhood where magical thinking precedes the ego defence, when parental power was both fantastic and absolute. There King uses fairy tales to conjure again those anxieties in childhood, the times when we felt the threat of being overwhelmed, abandoned and annihilated." (33)
Indeed, there are numerous references throughout The Shining to various fairy tales. Upon seeing the kitchen for the first time, Wendy makes the comment about leaving a trail of bread crumbs wherever she goes to find her way, referencing Hansel and Gretel. Mirrors are featured predominantly in the story, which serves as a vague reference to "Through the Looking Glass". The incident in Room 217 recalls the archetype of the forbidden room in which something sexual lies. And by the end of the book, Jack has become the Big Bad Wolf, intent on slaughtering the pigs. Along with these fairy tales, the book gives reference to various aspects of American history and the evils it has produced. In the novel, alongside the obvious Indian burial ground implications, the Overlook Hotel becomes a microcosm of post-World War II corruption, giving many references to the evils of the last thirty years of American history.
All of these elements might have worked in the novel, and would have fit into King's overall arc of work. But for Stanley Kubrick, who had gone into this wanting to make the scariest film of all time, serious work had to be done to get it right. Brown quotes Kubrick about the source novel in his essay, saying that "'The novel is by no means a serious literary work, but the plot is for the most part extremely well worked out, and for a film that is often all that really matters'" (108) For his adaptation of the book, Kubrick had jettisoned most of the overtly supernatural forces, and completely eliminated all the Americana references. Instead, he focuses on the psychology of the three characters, one already a jerk and on the threshold of madness. This fits into one of Kubrick's overall themes, of the separating lines between madness and sanity.
If Cronenberg is the "Prince of Blood', then Kubrick is the 'Master of Irony". As Brown states, "Kubrick's films often deal with a situation in which someone tries to create an ideal (the perfect robbery, the ideology of nuclear deterrence, the dream woman/child, the cure for violence) only to find that the attempt to create perfection brings about its opposite." (108) Considering this, The Shining is the kind of story that Kubrick specializes in telling, despite the fact that it's based on a novel by a pop author and not a respected literary figure. Upon reviewing the many films made by Kubrick, one can see parallels between aspects of The Shining and other films in his filmography. Randy Rassmussen gives an example of this in his book Stanley Kubrick: Seven Films Analyzed. The Overlook Hotel functions the same way as the Discovery ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey (U.S.A. 1968) did in that it "both defies and resembles Nature...But like Discovery...it will prove susceptible to appropriation and corruption by the individual." (235)
In James Howard's book Stanley Kubrick Companion, various connections to other Kubrick films are made. The Oedipal theme and the outside attack on the family unit are explored from Lolita (U.S.A. 1962) onward. The Shining is structured plot-wise almost identically with 2001. Jack shares "the bestial instinct' with the Moonwatcher from 2001, Alex from A Clockwork Orange (U.S.A. 1972), Bullingdon from Barry Lyndon (U.S.A. 1975) and the marines in Full Metal Jacket (U.S.A. 1987). And the long shots of uninterrupted movement and the close-ups of the characters eyes are not only stylistic motifs, but are also thematic motifs of the solitary individual against the seemingly infinite realm he fails to master. And like any auteur, The Shining allows him to explore his common themes and motifs in a new way.
One new key motif that keeps being repeated throughout the film is that of the mind, as represented by the maze. The long, uninterrupted Steadicam shots that follow Danny as he rides his plastic tricycle through the labyrinth-like hallways of the hotel are shot in the same fashion that the shots in the hedge maze outside are. One of the key shots in the film is the low angle shot of Jack looking at a diagram of the hedge maze that is on a table in the hotel. The next shot is a high angle reverse of what Jack is seeing. We see the hedge maze and zoom into it. As we get closer, we realize that two small figures are moving around in the maze. We realize that the shot is not of the diagram, of the maze itself. This shot to shot relation establishes two things. One, that the maze, like the hotel, is a metaphor for Jack's mind. It's claustrophobic, sprawling in a labyrinth kind of way and with the risk of getting lost in it easily, which is what happens in the end. In Marion Falsetto's essay, Stanley Kubrick: An Overview, he comments on how the shooting style of the film created a new meaning.
"One of the most striking features of [the film] is its visual style. This is achieved in part be the innovative use of Steadicam photography, which facilitates the extensive choreography of character and camera movement. The film may be an instance of an innovative technological development determining a film's style. What is also of interest in the film is the relatively objective way many subjective encounters are presented - the film is a horror tale with many ghostly encounters. The line between objective reality and the subjective, interior life of the characters become blurred. The Shining raises some of the most intriguing questions of character subjectivity in Kubrick's works. It is one of the director's most open filmic texts and offers the spectator an almost endless array of interpretive possibilities." (14-15)
With this in mind, the maze takes on a second meaning in that it represents the blurring of the objective and the subjective. The supernatural (objective) and the psychological (subjective) aspects of the film seem to blend together to create alternate ways of seeing the film. As Brown hypothesizes, one can see the ghosts in the film in either a Turning of the Screw fashion, "in which the apparitions seen by the central character...are interpreted as the projections of neuroses.", or, in a Dracula fashion in which the ghosts are interpreted "as the symbolic expression of the author's conscious or unconscious vision of the world." (109) Part of the film's horror lies in a mixing of these two interpretations. For Jack, we sense that the ghosts to him are his demented fantasies, until one of them transforms from a beautiful naked woman to a decomposing corpse and another one unlocks the door of the store cupboard. Danny senses that the ghosts are for real, and Wendy doesn't see them until the very end when they erupt in an orgy of horrific images. This constant switching of meanings and explanations is repeated and continued until the film ends in a fevered pitch of terror, of two kinds of demons converging together. Even when we see that Jack has frozen solid in the maze, the final shots of him grinning in the photo of the July 4th Party of 1921 leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Has the hotel taken another victim into its fold, or has Jack 'always been there / This chilling uncertainty makes the ending, and thus the whole film, more terrifying than the usual "vanquishing of the villain' ending that is common amongst normal horror films and even of the original novel.
The reaction to the film was, to put it mildly, mixed. People, mostly Stephen King fans, were up in arms about Kubrick getting rid of the majority of the text, and streamlining it to make what is essentially his own version of The Shining. To give an example, in Novels Into Films: The Encyclopedia of Movies Adapted from Books, JohnC. Tibbets complains how Kubrick shaping the film to match his sensibilities was a bad thing. "While the novel depicts Jack and Wendy as victims of a dysfunctional family situation, Kubrick satirically views them as part of a culture of grotesque comic-strip banality." (205) But there were also those who defended Kubrick's decisions. As Greg Jenkins puts it in his book Stanley Kubrick and the Art of Adaptation:
"In my judgement, the criticisms mounted by King and others against Kubrick's vision are both misguided and overstated. The dogged belief that an adaptation may triumph only by adhering religiously to its source has been debunked countless times...While one might argue that the film is flawed in ways that the novel is not, the reverse might also be argued with equal or greater conviction. In the end, one's opinion of the texts must remain only an opinion." (73)
Kubrick has always been a complex filmmaker, whose films usually take about a decade to be fully appreciated. Thus, any qualms about an infidelity to the text can be disregarded, considering that the film from the beginning has its own agenda. One of the more ironic misinterpretations of the movie came from Stephen King himself. In Anne Lloyd's book, The Films of Stephen King, King considers this inward focus to be a gross miscalculation, and that "Kubrick set out to make a horror film with no apparent understanding of the genre." (19) This is an amusing comment, since in Brown's essay, he criticizes that "the novel is at its weakest in the last quarter of the story, where the slow build-up of tension is replaced by slam-bang action and a noticeable descent into the purple prose which is King's main fault as a writer." (107) In comparison between the ending of the book and the ending of the movie, Kubrick's ending is much superior. In the book, Halloran arrives in time to rescue Wendy and Danny, while Jack experiences a sliver of humanity, long enough to stop himself from killing Danny and keep the ghosts at bay, while the boiler explodes and burns the hotel to the ground. In the film, Jack kills Halloran, Wendy and Danny escape with Halloran's Snow-Kat and Jack is left to freeze to death in the hedge maze, another victim for the hotel to take. By foregoing the melodramatic explosion and "happy" ending for a nihilistic sense of continuing evil, Kubrick taps into the inner fears of the viewer and leaves us chilled to the core, and showing that Kubrick has a better understanding of primal horror than King himself.
The struggle between adaptation and authorship is readily apparent in the films of Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg. Both are filmmakers who very rarely work from an original script, preferring to adapt other novels into films. It is interesting to note that the books they normally adapt into films are relatively obscure novels by established literary figures. Their respective adaptations of The Shining and The Dead Zone are the only times they have adapted what could be called bestsellers. Both filmmakers had taken a lot out of each of the books with their adaptations and had shifted the themes and ideas of the stories to match their own filmmaking sensibilities. It is amusing to note that Kubrick received a lot of criticism from critics and fans of King's work for making these changes, while Cronenberg was showered with praise for making "the first Stephen King movie that faithfully translated the novel. Amusing, [as Cronenberg says in Rodley's book] “because we threw a lot out. There was no attempt to slavishly reproduce it. But somehow the tone...There was a tone to the book that did strike me and I distilled it out." Rodley (116). The processes in which they adapted King's texts was not the only time that they did so. In Neil Sinyard's book, Filming Literature - The Art of Screen Adaptation, he examines how Kubrick shaped W.M. Thackery's book The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. by Himself to match his sensibilities as a filmmaker:
"It was planned by Thackeray as a riposte to the novels...which romanticized villainy and made dubious heroes out of the criminal classes. Thackeray's hero, Redmond Barry, who becomes Barry Lyndon by virtue of a prosperous marriage, tells his story of deceit, bragging and bullying in a tone of unwitting self-disclosure. It is intended by the narrator to be the tale of the triumphs and misfortunes of a sympathetic and resourceful eighteenth-century gentlemen. As intended by Thackeray, it comes across as the diary of a wicked and self-deceiving brute.' (130)
Sinyard goes on to tell how Thackeray and Kubrick shared many characteristics in their works: a respect and obsession with art, hints of misogyny and a "superior attitude to the spectacle they have contrived." But it is in the attitude that they separate:
"Thackeray's stance of superiority is that of the social satirist; Kubrick's that of the social scientist. Thackeray's novel is ultimately a satire of snobbery. Kubrick's Barry Lyndon is more a portrait of thwarted social mobility and a clinical study of fate. The main difference between these two works is point of view. Thackeray's novel is narrated in the first person and Barry's crass conceit...and his defensive defiance...ironically furnish the evidence with which the reader can condemn him. Kubrick's film is more objective. An unidentified narrator (Michael Horden) provides explanatory links between scenes, and adds both irony and a sense of ominousness to the film's narrative." (131-132)
This proves that one can adapt a book faithfully while adding your own spin to the proceedings. Despite this shift in narrative emphasis, Kubrick is able to carry out both Thackeray's sensibilities and his own. The same could be said for David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S. Burroughs' "unfilmable" novel Naked Lunch (Canada/U.K./Japan, 1991). Realizing that it would be filmically impossible to try to remain faithful to Burroughs' novel, Cronenberg decided to make the film a metaphorical biopic about Burroughs' and how he became an author. In order to have some semblance between this and the book of the same title, Cronenberg decided to take specific visuals and ideas from the book and to weave them into the film, as mythic signposts to point Bill Lee toward his destiny. In Deborah Cartmell's book, Adaptations- From Text to Screen, Screen to Text, she suggests that this unconventional approach to adapting Burroughs is the only possible way to adapt Burroughs: "As Cronenberg indicates, writing as demanding as Burroughs' fiction almost inevitably places the cinematic adapter in a no-win situation, in which they can at best 'dip' into their subject, 'a little bit here, a little bit there' (Cronenberg, in Silverberg 1992: 161). Given such circumstances, Balch Brookner, Van Sant and Wilson suggest, the most winning way to work with living experimental authors may well be the 'double dipping strategy' of integrating the interactive 'special effects' offered by collaborative intertextual adaptation. (111-112) But seeing as how both Cronenberg and Burroughs shared much of the same things that made them identifiable artists, this adaptation was nothing new for Cronenberg. In regards to The Dead Zone, the film and book served as a radical departure for both Cronenberg and King in many ways. For King, this was the first novel of his that didn't have any of the usual hallmarks of a typical King book. A Michael N. Stanton says in his essay, Some Ways of Reading The Dead Zone:
"Coming between the apocalyptic destruction of The Stand and the pyrotechnic madness of Firestarter, The Dead Zone seems to strike a softer note than either. It is a richly human novel, and it is the more so for its relative compactness. In what is for him a mere 370 pages, King has managed to write both a narrative for one man's personal ordeal and an inquiry into the nature of American government...The keynotes that King strikes in The Dead Zone are fear, inadequacy, and loss of faith, nerve and integrity, and they are sounded in the reactions to John Smith's strange mental power and in the reactions to Greg Stillson's political aspirations. The Dead Zone can be read on at least four levels, or in four aspects: the symbolic, the historical, the personal or psychological and the political." (61)
There is also a fire motif in the book, as well as further detail shown of Johnny and Greg's childhood, showing how "that in The Dead Zone the relationships between parents and children are a network of fear and inadequacy." (66) For Cronenberg, this was the first movie he had done that was based on pre-existing material. Since then, he has exclusively made adaptations, and (with the exception of eXistenZ) has not written an original screenplay since then. In regards to doing an adaptation, Cronenberg had commented in Chris Rodley's book Cronenberg on Cronenberg that "At that point, I needed to do something based on somebody else's work, as a relief. I was not ready to write another script. Videodrome was a turning point; I had done the most of something that I wanted to do with that film. I couldn't take it much further." (109) In the same book, Cronenberg defends his decision to make the film:
"You make a movie to find out what it is that made you want to make the movie. That's how it works for me. I very often don't know. I just know that on the journey to the end of the movie I will discover it. In retrospect, I could say The Dead Zone has got some differences; these are very small town rural characters, as opposed to urban; they're simple and archetypically nice; they're called Johnny Smith; it's New England countryside; it does involve some politics. All stuff I'm generally not interested in. Sexuality doesn't surface in The Dead Zone in the same way it does in my other films, but it's certainly there. It's a very repressed, restrained and frustrating thing. Personally the movie's just like me, but filmically I suppose not." (111).
He continues: "I didn't try to impose myself on the subject matter. I had to assume that through the accumulation of the thousands and thousands of details that go into making a film, I would be there. And obviously I chose to do the project." (113) The differences between The Dead Zone and other Cronenberg films run deep. The scientist, Dr. Weizak, is not a mad scientist with an ulterior motive in dealing with Johnny and his "gift", but is genuinely concerned for the well being of his patient. In Jonathan Crane's essay "A Body Apart: Cronenberg and Genre", he explains the difference between Dr. Weizak and other "mad scientists " that Cronenberg showcases:
"...Weizak affirms the morality of assassination upon hearing of convincing images from another plane. The possibility that life has a dimension beyond the empirical receives crucial support, and is underwritten by faith in the voice of science. The protagonist is free to accept his visions as a moral imperative to kill only after science certifies intangible spells as telling evidence of a realm separate but equal to this world. While Cronenberg's other films feature scientists playing a far more direct role in creating new life, Weizak's willingness to accept a greatly enlarged definition of what it means to be human leads to the embrace of a radical new way of being, a way of life that will entail drastic revisions in the natural or common law which defines moral behaviour." (57)
Another major change from the typical Cronenberg film is the female lead. Unlike other female characters, which in Cronenberg's films are akin to the femme fatales of film noirs, Sarah is a genuinely kind woman. She offers her sexuality twice, not out of consumption or carnal pleasures, but out of warmth and genuine compassion, once to keep Johnny from driving home in the rain, the other to give him a taste of the life he had dreamed of, but lost. She observes from the sidelines as Johnny goes down his path of destruction, but her part in this is more inadvertent than other female characters. She willingly offers the embrace of her sexuality to Johnny who, in an unusual twist for Cronenberg, turns down her offer in exchange for an idealized romanticism. William Beard goes into detail about this in his book The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg:
"...the film...is elusive about what or who is responsible for the tragic predicament it unfolds. The culprit is fate, bad luck, a physical accident...But also, Johnny is responsible. He has insisted on driving home in dangerous conditions - why? One can almost say, to escape Sarah's sexual proposition, a delicate and loving proposition from a woman with whom he is deeply in love and hopes to marry. It might be said that this is much too drastic and (fictionally) inappropriate 'punishment' for so mild a 'crime' - an act of shyness, really, at most a nervous failure of courage. But this refusal is too closely connected with Johnny's whole postponing and self-repressing personality, whose cautious strategy can be seen as self-protecting. And in a Cronenbergian context, the suggestion of sexuality, however discreet and tentative, is enough to indicate a realm of cataclysmic power. Opening the door to sexuality (for example, in Videodrome or The Fly) ushers in catastrophe; on the other hand, as The Dead Zone shows, closing the door in its face results in an equally catastrophic outcome." (170-171)
So while like in other Cronenberg films the female lead's sexuality leads to the character's metamorphosis and downfall, it is Johnny's refusal of her sex, as opposed to his embrace of it that brings forth his path to death. The main character is also a radical departure for a Cronenberg protagonist. Johnny Smith, as ironically portrayed by Christopher Walken, is a school teacher at a junior high school. He's polite, considerate of others and is self-repressive, as opposed to other Cronenberg protagonists. But this outward consideration of others is done not out of kindness and consideration, but repression and fear. As Beard puts it, "Johnny has not started out from a position of (false) self-confidence and instrumental activism. Rather, his hermetic, passive, and depressive instincts remain in control from beginning to end. The outstanding feature of this character is his niceness and decency and self-effacing humility; and the outstanding feature of the film (in Cronenberg's canon at least) is its quietness. Repression and avoidance are at the center of the film." This is set up marvellously in a scene in the later part of the first act. When Sarah asks about what he thinks of his newfound talent, he quotes Sleepy Hollow. "As he was a bachelor and in nobody's debt, nobody troubled their head about him anymore." She asks, "Is that what you feel?" Johnny replies, "It's what I want." This exchange establishes Johnny as vastly different from the other protagonists of a Cronenberg film.
While others want to excess, to expand their bodies or consciousness, Johnny wants to shut down and repress, to possibly slip back into the coma he was in for five years. Once key change to note between the novel and the film is the exclusion of a brain tumour. In the novel, it was a brain tumour that was there all along that lead to Johnny's "Dead Zone's" or blank spots in seeing the future. Normally, a tumour would have been something that Cronenberg would have showcased, as he did in Videodrome, with Professor Brian O'Blivion stating that it was "the hallucinations that caused the tumour, and not the other way around." This outright abandonment of the physical for an emphasis on the spiritual can be seen as an antithesis of everything that Cronenberg stands for. Taking into consideration these major thematic changes, it came as no surprise that the announcement of this project was met with hesitation. As Chris Rodley put it, "Inevitably, there was some cynicism and disappointment about Cronenberg accepting The Dead Zone assignment, not least for his admirers. A far cry from the conceptual ambition and ingenuity of Videodrome, it looked suspiciously like a director's move towards the mainstream, perhaps never to return." In response to these criticisms, Cronenberg stated that:
"The Dead Zone wasn't a calculated attempt to get a bigger audience on my part. People who think it's a cynical film, in so far as I didn't follow my own instinct, are completely wrong...Any human being is more complex than any body of work. If I wanted to reach a larger audience, what would be required would be to focus on other aspects of myself, other imagery and other characters that I'm also interested in." (110-111)
I would like to argue that despite some un-Cronenbergian characteristics, The Dead Zone is as much a true Cronenberg film as Videodrome and Dead Ringers. For starters, there are numerous literary references made throughout the movie, like any other Cronenberg film. The film starts with Johnny reading aloud "The Raven' by Edgar Allen Poe to his class, and later on he quotes "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving. Admittedly these references are more reflective of King's influence by Gothic Americana than Cronenberg's influence by literary mindfuckers like Kafka and Burroughs. But this literate influence on cinema is a standard hallmark of Cronenberg cinema. Johnny Smith is still very much a Cronenberg protagonist. Despite Johnny's best efforts to surpress his "gift' and the exposure it has to the world, it still has a physical effect on him as well as the people around him. In his book, Beard makes an interesting comment on Johnny's transformation:
"There is of course another facet of the enfemalement of the Cronenberg protagonist, rooted in the first model of femininity outlined above: the conversion of the rational male ego-subject into the monstrous abject 'female' body that carries within it mutation, disease and mortality. In Johnny Smith's case, bodily abjection does not occur; the body is kept out of the picture to the utmost extent possible. What does occur is another form of abjection - this time not in the Kristevan but in the dictionary sense - helplessness, victimization, prostrate suffering. Its physical manifestation is not an explosion of the body into tumescences and cancers, but rather a bodily diminishment, a wasting away. And this desiccating de-fleshing occurs, again, on account of the absence of sexuality and the body. It also occurs (in another feminizing gesture) as a result of paranormal attacks of hyper-sympathy, which punish Johnny through an enforced empathetic suffering with traumatic life-threatening emergencies he apprehends in others." (191)
There is one bit of mise-en-scene in the film that is identifiably Cronenbergian. The truck that Johnny smashes into in the opening ten minutes that puts him in the coma and gives him his psychic powers is a milk truck. This could be interpreted in two ways. In one way, the milk could be taken at face value as milk. The Dead Zone has been interpreted by some as a parable on the ineffectiveness of the family unit, specifically that of the relationship between the mother and the son. There are various examples in the movie of mother/child relationships that are either non-existent or infantilizing. The house becomes a metaphor for the womb that is, ironically, damaging to the male, as opposed to warm and nurturing. With this in mind, the milk could be seen as a metaphor for the maternal force bringing the male figure back under her influence and, to some extent, doing irreparable harm to him. Beard elaborates further in his book:
"And in the mother-conscious world of The Dead Zone, it is very tempting to interpret this fact as an emblem of maternal nurture that, however, maims the recipient...From a slightly different angle, it is also fitting that Johnny should be squashed by a milk truck - as opposed to, for example, a whiskey truck- when Johnny's cautiousness and aversion to intoxication is, as it were, milk drinking. (One notes then that the milk truck follows the roller-coaster ride where intoxication is interrupted by inner trauma, and the two combine to 'produce' the coma and the paranormal monstrosity.)" (172-173)
The milk truck could also be seen as a metaphor with a more masculine connotation. As Brundle-fly's vomit could stand for ejaculate that is self-nourishing, the milk, or white liquid in this case, could be seen as semen. By smashing into this, with his car being bathed by it, the accident could be interpreted as either conception or birth and Johnny's coma could be seen as an external pregnancy. One theme that is persistent in Cronenberg films is the fallibility of the family unit. From the almost incestuous relationship between Beverly and Elliot Mantle in Dead Ringers (Canada/U.S.A. 1988) to the "family" of social misfits in Naked Lunch and Crash (Canada/U.K. 1996) up to most recently the Stall/Cusack families in A History of Violence (U.S.A/ Germany 2005) and the Russian mob family in Eastern Promises (U.S.A./Canada/U.K. 2007), these relationships and the lies built upon them were introduced vaguely in The Brood, but are fully expanded on here in The Dead Zone. Some of the more poignant and tragic moments in the film involve family. One of the more important lines in the movie is when Herb, Johnny's father, says "I'm not much of a help to you, am I?" And one of the most important scenes in the film is when Sarah offers herself to Johnny for one day, to give him a glimpse of the life he could have had with her. Sadly, the illusion of it all comes crashing down when Herb says "It feels good to have a family eating around the table again." As Beard states, "A poignant moment, because of course it isn't a family, only the mirage of the family. Johnny is presented with this perfect king-for-a-day realization (of course a longer period might have tarnished its perfection) only to have it jerked away from him. Once more the domestic ideal has crumbled." (174) Thus this scene, which shows how the failure of the family can influence the downfall of the male lead, serves as a forerunner for further scenes of domestic disintegration in Cronenberg's films.
Of course, the major Cronenberg theme that is explored here is the double. And as opposed to one double, there are actually two doubles in the film. The most obvious one is Greg Stillson, the abrasive politician who would one day trigger a nuclear holocaust. The other double that is revealed in the movie is the character of Frank Dodd, a police officer who's revealed to be the Castle Rock Killer that Johnny is asked to help out with. Both of these characters serve as parallels to different qualities of Johnny. Dodd is what Johnny would have become if he had succumbed to his mother's over-bearing fundamentalist personality and abandoned his sexual reservations with the opposite sex. And as Beard puts it, in regards to Johnny and Stillson:
"If Johnny is a kind of Florence Nightingale and ultimately Christ-like figure, sacrificing himself for others, saving the world, then Greg Stillson is his diametrical opposite: the selfish, power-hungry man who will sacrifice the world for his own megalomaniacal pleasure. Dodd is one kind of Johnny opposite, one with disturbing resemblance; Stillson's difference is complete. It is really strange how Stillson's bluffness, positive energy and outgoing good humor become negative qualities in this movie. They are, of course, the precise opposites of Johnny's introversion, sensitivity, and inability to act.” (187)
The parallel between the two characters are chillingly realized during Johnny's vision of Stillson launching the nukes. Stillson claims that the decision came to him in the night and right before he pushes the button, he proudly claims, "My destiny." Destiny, of course, is the thing that Johnny has tried to avoid, but must finally embrace, like all the protagonists in Cronenberg's work. On a side note, the ironic castings of Christopher Walken as the good guy and Martin Sheen, now and forever President Bartlett, the villain gives the final film a deliciously ironic unease that sets it apart from other adaptations of King's novels. As both a faithful adaptation of a Stephen King novel and as a true Cronenberg film, the movie is both. Aside from some changes (exclusion of characters, a shift in chronology and a holding back on the political until the third act with the late emergence of Stillson), the film is incredibly faithful to the original text. Indeed, as Cronenberg said in Anne Lloyd's The Films of Stephen King, 'He said that there are some thing in the movie which he wished he'd done in the book - which I thought was high praise.' (30) As for Stanley Kubrick, and his adaptation of The Shining, it is clear that, despite the legendary status of the novel, he knew what he was doing when he made the drastic changes from the book to the movie. In fact, one could go so far as to say that Kubrick actually has a better understanding of the specific type of fear and horror that permeates the text of The Shining that even King himself, and that this shift towards his own narrative sensibilities rather than a strict fidelity to the source material shows that even a self-serving auteur can remain faithful to the spirit of an outside novel, if not the actual text itself. In conclusion, as Cronenberg's and Kubrick's work proves, a film based on a novel by an established author can be both faithful to the spirit of the novel as well as to the body of work and the spirit of the auteur that has created it.