Johnny Smith is a young schoolteacher with his whole life ahead of him. Unfortunately, after leaving his fiancee's home one night, he is involved in a wreck with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer and is in a coma for 5 years. When he wakes up, he discovers that he has the ability to see into other people's lives, past, present and future. But the visions he has are often frightening, and even apocalyptic...
Directed by: David Cronenberg
. Starring: Christopher Walken
, Brooke Adams
, Tom Skerritt
, Herbert Lom
, Anthony Zerbe
, Colleen Dewhurst
, Martin Sheen
, Nicholas Campbell
, Sean Sullivan
, Jackie Burroughs
, Géza Kovács
, Roberta Weiss
, Simon Craig
. Music by: Michael Kamen
"The Dead Zone", adapted from a Stephen King's novel, is a riveting thriller based on a simple premise: a teacher wakes up after five years of a long Coma, and finds himself gifted with a mysterious psychic ability to see the future, the past, and an unseen present. The man is Johnny Smith played by Christopher Walken in one of his most memorable lead performances.
Indeed, the movie strikes by its simplicity, from a basic but intriguing plot device, it opens the door to a series of episodes where the only noticeable evolution is Johnny's state of health, worsening as his power gets more important. The question is less in the 'how' than the 'what', how he got the power is pointless; the key is to know what to do with it. In a certain way, the movie deals with an existentialist issue of a man who lost his girlfriend, his mother, his job, and questions his own utility to the world, the world that can be reasonably reduced to the little town of Castlerock from his modest perspective.
The answer is satisfying as it doesn't insult our intelligence by trying to depict the gift in a negative way. Johnny saves a little girl from a house fire, he reveals to his doctor that his mother survived the Holocaust and in a later emotional scene, the doctor realizes its true but can't find the strength to speak to his mother. This moment helps to understand the limits of Johnny's power in its ability to provide happiness, is the relief to know that someone we learned to mourn is actually alive worth the awareness of a wasted time? The story intelligently deviates to highlight the practical usefulness of Johnny's gift as it helps to put an end to a series of atrocious crimes during an investigation lead by the Sheriff Tom Skerrit's. The resolution leads to a particularly gruesome scene reminding us of the horrific aspect of the film.
The killer's suicide scene indeed invites to consider the significance of horror in "The Dead Zone". The movie doesn't feature many bloody scenes, it surely is more a fantasy thriller than a horror film, but gore and violence are not the only basis of horror. Strangely, the doom of Johnny is to foresee not the present, past or future, but the horrific events wounding one's heart or about to destroy a life. Johnny's mind is like a Pandora box carrying the whole torment and catastrophes that can destroy a person as a metonymy for human lives. He relives human tragedies, World War II, murders, natural disasters; Johnny witnesses with his eyes the darkest side of humanity.
And the worsening of Johnny's state indicates that the weight of these sufferings and this pain is getting heavier and more unbearable on his shoulders. Somewhat, he's condemned to death, but something is still missing. He helps people because it's his true altruistic nature but his reputation as the local freak is getting more and more on his nerves and somewhere the question is still asked: what can he do with his power? This is where the antagonistic presence of Greg Stillson, plays its role. Martin Sheen, in a scene stealing performance plays the role of a demagogic politician hose devouring ambition inspires both people's respect and fear. He's the kind of born-to-win leader and extremely talented tactician who'll never allow anything or anyone to block his road for destiny, for the White House.
Johnny will foresee the devastating effects of Stillson's ascension to the power and how it would lead to a nuclear holocaust. Asking a strange question to his doctor, Johnny wonders if he would have assassinated Hitler if he had the opportunity. This question reveals two important points: the meaning of Johnny's power, and of his unique condition. He's got the power to change the future for the best, and he was meant to stop the ascension of Greg Stillson, to spare the world from his cruel actions. Johnny Smith is a Christ-like figure, and will sacrifice himself by saving lives of millions of people.
Stephen King has a strange fascination for these persons whose actions benefit to humanity, exceeding the limits of their modest condition, John Coffey is one of them. The kind of ordinary setting of Castlerock that we'll find again in "Stand By Me" reinforces the ordinary aspect of these heroes, everyday men in quest for a meaning to their lives. And of course, there is a supernatural power handled with a tactful intelligence, no special effects, no over-dramatization, the gift is not the end but the mean of its hero to save people's lives, and speaking of hero, Johnny Smith is an extremely likable character, inspiring our most profound sympathy, a man whose physical torment is due to his power to save people, Stephen King's mind provided not just memorable villains, but extraordinary and universally appealing heroes.
And the movie invites us to think about these men who accessed to the power by cheating, lying, and providing a positive image to people, with an indecent capability to cover their hideous, heinous or cowardly natures. Life is a hazardous lottery where the most deserving don't necessarily win, innocents die and evil people succeed, and as a reminder of the infamous butterfly effect, "The Dead Zone" proves that many tragedies can still be avoided if we had the ability to see through the heart, what a cruel fantasy, highlighting our vulnerability.
David Cronenberg's direction, and the cinematography of the film is cold and austere but contributes to create an efficient intimate feeling, to the limit of claustrophobia, as to make Johnny Smith, an even more isolated character. We don't exactly what this dead zone the film is referring to is, but probably to an inspiring, yet extremely chilling state of mind.
Review by ElMaruecan82 from the Internet Movie Database.