Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Dead Zone (1983)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Christopher Walken plays John Smith, a man who has everything. He has a beautiful girlfriend. He also has a job as an English teacher. He’s doing all right until one night, after dropping his girlfriend off at her house, he gets in an accident. He wakes up in a hospital. When he remembers what happened and realizes that he’s without bandages, he asks what’s going on.

It turns out that he’s been in a coma for five years. His girlfriend has moved on. His job is no longer there. He finds that everything is either gone or slipping away. While in the hospital, he touches a nurse. He sees a burning house and calls out the name of the nurse’s daughter. Smith tells the nurse to run home and save the girl.

It turns out to be a long and painful road to recovery. He’s initially bound to a wheelchair, but with a lot of hard work, he’s able to walk with the help of a cane. He can’t return to his old job, but he is able to work as a tutor. Through it all is his doctor, Sam Weizak, played by Herbert Lom. Smith is able to demonstrate his abilities by figuring out where his long-lost mother is. (Dr. Weizak was separated from her during World War II.)

Smith is able to help others, like a boy who can’t seem to function. He also aids the local police department in finding a serial killer. Dr. Weizak advises against it because Smith ends up with terrible pains and reports that he feels like he’s dying each time. He can’t, though. He wants to help.

I should warn you that I’m about to divulge how the movie ends. Now is the time to stop reading if you’re not into that kind of stuff. Smith realizes that he has one last mission to accomplish. Martin Sheen plays Greg Stillson, a candidate for Senator. This guy’s a certifiable nut job and everyone knows it, but he keeps getting voted into office because he has that certain charisma that says, “I’ll do what I promise no matter what.”

Smith has a vision in which Stillson goes on to become president. This president isn’t anything like what Sheen plays on The West Wing. This president is suicidal. Instead of waiting for a diplomatic solution, he ends up launching missiles at the enemy, thus ensuring the end of humanity. Smith must kill Stillson, even though he’ll never get away alive.

The movie is very depressing. We see Smith eventually stripped of everything. This is a man that could be any one of us. (After all, he’s named John Smith.) Any one of us could be in an accident. Any one of us could see our girlfriend marry another man and have a child. Granted, not everyone has the ability to touch people and know details about them. As we watch Smith slide into a life he wants no part of, we have to empathize with him. I don’t think any of us would want that life, even if we had the ability to help people.

Walken does an excellent job as Smith. He portrays the frustration perfectly. Sheen also does very well as the sociopath candidate. It seems natural that the movie would have to end with one of them dying.  This is definitely not a movie for children. I don’t think that anyone under the age of 16 or so would be able to deal with many of the issues dealt with in this movie. I don’t think many adults would, either. 

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