Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Woman in the Room

A lot of people would not consider "The Woman in the Room" a horror story. There is certainly no supernatural element to be found here, no creatures that go bump in the night. But for any of us who have had a loved one that we lost to cancer or illness, we know that sometimes real life horrors are far worse than the ones our imaginations dream up.

The story is told from the perspective of Johnny, a man dealing with his mother's slow and miserable decline related to cancer. A procedure the doctor's attempted to alleviate her pain only made things worse by paralyzing her. He finds some pills in the medicine cabinet of her home and debates on bringing them to the hospital so she can take them and be free of the cancer and the pain once and for all..

This story is amazingly vivid, sad, and real, and it should be.

While I don't think Stephen King gave his mother too many pills, all the other details here are from his life. The grandparents who Johnny's mother cared for and who died in their home. The adopted older brother. The mother's age at the time of her death. The fact that Johnny is an alcoholic. So I think it's fair to say that the descriptions of what Johnny's mother goes through and what she looks like, are probably also stunningly accurate, and I imagine he wrote this as part of a way to deal with the tragedy of what happened.

At the age of 20, a young man named Frank Darabont wrote Stephen King a letter asking if he could adapt the story. No one seems to have official word of whether or not this was the very first dollar baby, but it was definitely one of the earliest ones created. It's also the most critically acclaimed and the only one that launched someone's career as a feature film director. It was part of the Night Shift Collection VHS and can also be found online.

Johnny does not seem to be an alcoholic in this adaptation, but I don't think the story is lacking anything by removing that. While on one hand you might see it as a sign of weakness on his part that would make this decision easier for him to make, the fact that this is a mercy killing and something his mother seems to wish for lets him remain a sympathetic character regardless.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the weakest part of the short is the part that is completely made up. I understand they were trying to find a way to compensate for the fact that Johhny isn't narrating to us, but I'm not sure he picked the best method. The discussion with his jailed client isn't bad, though it does go on a little too long. It's mostly the dream sequence that loses me. It has an undeniable student film look to it and it doesn't reach the emotional impact that he's clearly going for. But the interaction between the two actors in the room is good, and that part remains emotional and strong. There is enough here to show he had a future in film making.

Stephen King felt the same way and therefore gave Darabont permission to adapt Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which I will talk about next week.

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