“The Dark Tower”

                You figure that a movie based on Stephen King material is going to mess with your mind a little bit.  I understand the long-time devotees to this series are disappointed in the liberties which the movie takes compared to the books.  But for the purpose of evaluating the movie, it has to stand on its own.  And it does, thanks to the quality of the acting.  Even if the story line seems a little strange, and not entirely cohesive.

                Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a kid with a problem.  He keeps having these terrifying dreams, which are so vivid that he makes drawings afterwards of what he sees.  There’s a Dark Tower, and a Man In Black, and a Gunslinger, zombie-like figures with human masks, a desert wasteland, and a portal with numbers.  Jake’s Mom, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), loves her sensitive son, but thinks that maybe he’s gone a little wacko, so she sends him to a shrink, who thinks it’s all associated with the death of his father.

                Jake admits that was tough, and to make matters worse, his Stepdad is not at all sympathetic, and finally convinces Laurie that Jake needs to go away, to a special school for emotionally disturbed children.  But the people who come to take Jake away are like those zombies he sees in his dreams; henchmen of The Man In Black.  So Jake runs away, and eventually stumbles on the portal, which whisks him to another dimension.  Here, he meets The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), who doesn’t seem very pleased to see him.  Nevertheless, it’s clear now that all those dreams the boy was having were in fact representations of this other dimension.  And Jake has a special gift, a “Shine,” which allows him to see things that others don’t.

                Of course there’s the presence of evil to thwart the good guys.  The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) is actually a kind of demon-figure, who is able to project his menacing presence, who brings death and destruction wherever he goes, and is doing everything he can to reduce the world to chaos.

                It turns out that what’s keeping the world from descending into the Abyss is not God, but instead a Dark Tower at the center of the universe (a reconfiguring of the Tower of Babel?).  Its power keeps the deadly forces at bay, but its strength is being weakened by The Man In Black’s campaign to rid the world of the “pure” ones by robbing innocent children of their gentle mind-spirits. (Yeah, it was probably explained better in the book series.)

                It’s not exactly a happily-ever-after story, because important people perish in the struggle.  When the Gunslinger and The Man In Black finally meet for their mano-y-mano, they seem to suddenly possess anti-matter capabilities, much like The Force in Star Wars.  (But who borrowed from whom?)

                Of course Stephen King has utilized the time portal idea in other contexts, as well, most notably in his novel 11/22/63 (published in 2011).  There, as here, the time portal is in an ordinary place which nobody can see except those with the special capabilities (not unlike Platform 9 ¾ in J.K. Rowling’s wildly successful Harry Potter series, also featuring a boy with special powers).

                Well, sometimes the narrative doesn’t seem to hold together very well, and many things are unexplained, but we get the gist.  And the boy and The Gunslinger make for an unusual pairing, especially to save the world.  When the world didn’t even know it needed saving.

Questions For Discussion:

1)                  Do you think that some people have “psychic” perception?

2)                  Do you think that there’s a dimension parallel to our own? 

3)                  Can you name a story about a good Stepdad?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association