Does the Mothman Even Appear in Daylight?
I have been interested in the paranormal as far back as I can recall. This of course manifested itself in a lot of reading as a youngster about UFO’s, the Bermuda Triangle, and ghosts, but more than any of those the creature known as the Mothman captured my attention. There was a book in my elementary school library, a tome devoted to all sorts of unexplained stories, and the Mothman was the subject of one of the chapters. This chapter scared me so badly that I specifically remember running from the bus to my house at least once, thinking that the Mothman was going to swoop down and take me to wherever evil giant bird creatures live (a birds nest in hell?), and this was in broad daylight. Needless to say the story stayed with me.
The story of the Mothman for the uninitiated is that for several months in 1967, in a small West Virginia town called Point Pleasant, there were a series of sightings of a rather large bird-like creature with red eyes that followed several people. These sightings, along with other strange phenomena, seemed to culminate with the very real collapse of the Silver Bridge. The suspension bridge collapsed on December 15th in the middle of rush hour, and killed 46 people.
In the years following it was posited by researchers of the paranormal, that the Mothman may have been trying to warn the people of Point Pleasant of the impending collapse of the bridge. This theory, along with many others, is covered in John A. Keel’s excellent book The Mothman Prophecies, originally published in 1975. Although certain things about the book are dated, it remains the most known and authoritative book on the subject, and in 2002 a movie based on the book was released.
The Mothman Prophecies is a movie I didn’t really expect much out of. It had been quite a while since I had thought about the Mothman, but I certainly didn’t have much faith in Hollywood to do the story justice. I also wondered how they would craft it into a narrative because there are so many disjointed and seemingly unconnected parts. One of my friends, who had a childhood fascination with Mothman as well, saw the movie first and really liked it. He convinced me to go watch it with him and I was glad that he did, and over a decade later it still stands as a very good and creepy film.
Now let me be clear from the start; if you go into this movie expecting it to be straight retelling of the various stories in John keel’s book, you will (probably) be let down. The movie is a fictionalized version of the story set in the present, and the main character is a fictionalized version of John Keel. I was fine with this but some people might not be, so you have been warned.
The film begins as newspaper reporter John Klein (Richard Gere) and his wife Mary (Debra Messing), who have been out house hunting, are ran off the road by a strange red-eyed creature. John doesn’t see the being but it is obvious due to the dents on the car that something was hit. Mary is taken to the hospital due to a head injury, and an MRI reveals a brain tumor. Mary dies not long after and John finds drawings of the creature that she had done while in the hospital.
The movie then jumps two years ahead as Klein, while driving to Richmond Virginia, becomes lost. He winds up in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, which is hundreds of miles off course. After his car breaks down, he goes to a local residence and is met by a man named Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton) who proceeds to give him a warm welcome by holding him at gunpoint until officer Connie Mills (Laura Linney) shows up to intervene. Smallwood, to a confused Klein, tells him that he is tired of Klein knocking on his door late at night. Mills assures Smallwood that it will be taken care of and she takes Klein from the house. Klein, after convincing Mills that he isn’t crazy, gets his car towed to a local mechanic’s shop and gets a room at a motel.
Mills informs Klein that a lot of strange things have been happening in Point Pleasant in the previous few weeks. There have been a lot of sightings of a winged creature with red eyes. She also tells him of a weird dream she has been having. These things, coupled with the strange behavior of Smallwood, prompt Klein to start investigating the reports of the Mothman. He eventually begins to find parallels between the creature his wife saw, and the one being seen in Point Pleasant. As his life becomes increasingly strange, the town seems to be racing towards a calamity of its own, with all of it culminating on Christmas Eve on the Silver Bridge.
The Mothman Prophecies is directed by Mark Pellington. Primarily known for music videos, Pellington has a great eye for framing and a great sense of mood. Although the pacing suffers at times, the film is buoyed by a large amount of creepiness and performances that are played straight, without the knowing winks of so many paranormal movies. The subject matter is presented in a serious way, and whether a person believes the real story of the Mothman or not, it shouldn’t affect their enjoyment of the movie.
Although my years of running quickly from the bus to my house might be over, I still have an immense fascination with the story of the Mothman. I have told the story to my nine-year old and he is incredibly interested, as most nine year olds are. His mom and I even let him watch The Mothman Prophecies with us a few days ago. He liked it a lot and was scared in all the right places, but he seemed to be okay afterwards. He didn’t like it as much when I had a red headlamp shining through his window before he went to bed that night though. It’s good to pass traditions down through the generations, even if those traditions involve running from mothmen in the middle of the afternoon.
Until next time…