Fraught with a claustrophobic tension that propels the audience into a continuous state of discomfort, Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007) is a fascinating examination of the difference between faith and moral myopia. While many critics have commented upon the zealotry of Mrs. Carmody and its seeming indictment of religious fervor, the bulk of that analysis fails to consider Mrs. Carmody’s actions in relation to the larger narrative. I propose that The Mist is largely a conservative film—one that elevates faith and purity of heart above scientific reason and self-preservation. Those who adopt the former survive, while those who choose the latter face a biblical reckoning.
When a fog shrouding man-eating creatures descends upon a sleepy Maine town, an eclectic group of survivors are forced to take shelter together. Unlike the fog and the “Nothing” in The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980) and The NeverEnding Story (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984), the formlessness of the threat in The Mist is quickly associated with biblical prophecy. Not only does Mrs. Carmody state, “The end times have come; not in flames, but in mist,” but Private Jessup ultimately admits that the mist could be the result of the government trying to “see what’s on the other side.” By suggesting from two distinct perspectives—religion (Mrs. Carmody) and reasoned authority (the military-minded Jessup)—that the events unfolding are the result of God’s will, Darabont’s narrative becomes less about religion per se and more about faith.
Two moments in the film crystallize the role faith plays in ensuring survival. The first moment occurs almost immediately after the survivors have holed up in the grocery store. A distraught woman comes forward and begs for someone to accompany her home, where she has left her two young children alone. Her pleas not only go ignored (in fact the lead character says he has his own boy to worry about), but the group admonishes her to stay as leaving will result in certain death. The mother chooses to go out into the mist, however, because her love and concern for her children outweigh any self-interest. She is rewarded in the end when the film reveals that both she and the children have survived.
Similarly, Mrs. Carmody is spared in a moment that demonstrates the power of religious conviction. When the monsters infiltrate the grocery store, one lands directly on Mrs. Carmody. Believing her death is imminent, she quietly offers up a prayer, turning over her life to God. Almost immediately the creature departs. Unlike her later use of scripture to advance her own power, this moment is about purity of faith that is both quiet and sincere.
Interestingly, Darabont constructs a narrative that examines religion on two levels. There is the constant proselytizing by Mrs. Carmody that is written in such a way as ultimately to vilify the character. But there is also the way characters meet their demise almost immediately after committing specific sins. These two readings ultimately converge to suggest that faith in its purest form, not corrupted by religion or human self-interest, is the ultimate path to salvation.
As the slightly off-kilter, biblical-verse-spewing voice of religion, Mrs. Carmody is easily one of the film’s more interesting characters. The reactions of the other survivors, who refer to her as a nut and a zealot, give license to the audience to dismiss her words. That she is often spouting scripture as those around her deride her comments is clearly intentional. But the film is careful to show that it isn’t her words that are problematic, but the way she wields them to cause chaos and to achieve personal power. Lest the audience miss this subtext, one character effectively underlines this distinction by referring to Mrs. Carmody as their very own Jim Jones and wondering when the kool-aid will be passed out.
Americans tend to associate biblical passages with religion but part of the argument in The Mist is that the two need not be entwined. We’ve seen how religion is indicted in the film, but it is also worth looking at how the film uses the construct of sin to determine whose actions are deserving of divine justice. Keep in mind that these deaths result from the mist and stand in contrast to the deaths that come as a result of human decision. Those we’ll get to in a second.
If the mist is truly a plague brought down by God, it stands to reason that biblical sin would be dealt with accordingly. And, in fact, that is exactly what transpires in the film.
There is Norm, whose hubris (Proverbs 16:5) results in his being consumed by the monster at excruciating length.
Brent, who insists the mist must be the result of an explosion or chemical cloud, denies (Matthew 10:33) outright any possibility that the phenomenon is anything other than scientifically explainable. Faith has no currency with Brent and the mist almost immediately consumes him.
Sally, whose tryst with Jessup is the film’s only moment when any sexual desire (Galatians 5:19) is showcased, meets her death quickly after giving in to her carnal desires.
There is also the example of the biker, who, shortly before departing into the mist, tells Mrs. Carmody: “I believe in God too. I just don’t think he’s the blood-thirsty asshole you take him to be.” And yet, he demonstrates an obvious lack of faith (Romans 14:23) by tethering himself via rope to the survivors still protected in the store. His fate of being torn in half stands in stark contrast to the fate of the woman who opted to leave, and was motivated to overcome her fear through an unselfish love for her children, at the beginning of the film.
When Ollie murders (Matthew 5:21) Mrs. Carmody, he expresses immediate regret and insists he would not have pulled he trigger if there had been any other way to stop her. Yet, his death in the immediate aftermath of the killing, suggests that the act trumps his remorse and further solidifies an Old Testament reading of the morality being depicted in the film.
But if death in the film is explicitly tied to Old Testament definitions of sin as a means of exalting faith, what should we make of the deaths that occur outside of these parameters? It is telling that Mrs. Carmody meets her demise at the hands of a man and that the final image we have of her is lying dead on the floor in a pose that is eerily reminiscent of a crucifixion. Her extreme behavior, including motivating her flock to sacrifice another survivor, perverts the faith she espouses. But technically her hands remain clean and she is granted a death that does nothing to dispel the message she has been preaching to her flock.
Similarly, David’s execution of Billy, Dan, Amanda, and Irene is presumably done out of compassion, as he believes that the monster is coming and he only has four bullets left. Consequently it doesn’t fit the parameters of child sacrifice defined by the bible as an abomination. Because David’s choice to kill his son stems only from love, he is left alive at the film’s conclusion.
The Mist is a divisive horror film for many reasons. Critics point to the high level of exposition and the obvious special effects. Side note: Darabont originally intended to shoot The Mist in black and white and this print of the film decreases the obviousness of the CGI effects and creates a more other worldly environment that serves well to underscore Mrs. Carmody’s cult-like rise. But fans of the film laud its unapologetically bleak ending and exploration of morality.
What is your take? Does The Mist belong in the ‘Great Horror Film’ category?