Pardon me while I breathe some fire for a minute. You see, I was looking for a good movie to go see over the weekend and instead ran across this obnoxious one: 1408. The plot:
“Renowned horror novelist Mike Enslin believes only in what he can see with his own two eyes. But after a string of best-sellers discrediting paranormal events in the most infamous haunted houses and graveyards around the world, he has no real proof of life–afterlife. But Enslin’s phantom-free run of long and lonely nights is about to change forever when he checks into suite 1408 of the notorious Dolphin Hotel for his latest project, “Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms.” Defying the warnings of the hotel manager, the author is the first person in years to stay in the reputedly haunted room. Another best-seller may be imminent, but first he must go from skeptic to true believer–and ultimately survive the night.”
Hmm…doesn’t that sound familiar.
Indeed, nearly five years ago I wrote a column entitled “Conversion Fantasies” in which I made the following point: In movies and TV series about the paranormal, the sterotypical “skeptic” figure always seems to convert into a believer by the end. And why does this occur? Well, because in fiction, the author can control the laws of nature, and in these fictional narratives (which show an abundant lack of creativity), the supernatural always turns out to be real.
In reality, by contrast, skeptics prevail constantly on the merits and are hardly undergoing such flip-flops on a regular basis–which makes the “conversion narrative,” featured in X-Files, Taken, Signs, Dark Skies, and so many other places, a cheap thrill indeed. As Slate reviewer David Edelstein wrote many years back of Signs:
It isn’t hard to make a movie that proves the controlling existence of God, because the writer/director of a movie is its god. He or she has determined the outcome, fashioned the people, and arranged the mise en scène. He or she has said, “Let there be light.” Details can be planted early that will pay off later; a deus ex machina can be lowered on cue…If there is a God, He doesn’t work in such facile, B-movie ways.
As I further wrote in my own column, the skeptic conversion narrative is deeply offensive and even perhaps bigoted towards a group of people who deserve far better treatment:
Perhaps the most egregious example of a skeptic conversion via fiction…came in an episode several years ago of the flopped NBC television series Dark Skies. The show introduced a fictional version of Carl Sagan, and then made this archetypal doubter of UFO cover-up claims privy to high-level government UFO secrets. The fictional Sagan then goes on to use the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program (SETI) as a way to find out which planets the aliens are coming from, all the while remaining complicit in a government conspiracy to suppress the truth. The episode came out just half a year after Sagan’s death, which is some indication of just how thoughtless and insulting the trend of converting skeptics through fiction can get.
And now, 1408 is gonna do it again. John Cusack, who has been in much better stuff (including the 2003 thriller Identity), should be ashamed. If you want to be ticked off, watch the 1408 trailer below, but please don’t give this movie any of your money: