Having Proof or Being Alive: The Mothman Prophecies and Letting Go of the Past
’90’s heartthrob Richard Gere seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as movie roles go with 2002’s The Mothman Prophecies; or else he was trying to break into the horror genre. In his defense, he does an okay job. Now, the Mothman is my favorite cryptid, hands-down; but the problem I have with making a movie about it is it’s goofy. It’s a goofy myth with a goofy name and to make a serious movie with the Mothman at the center feels like a stretch. Until, of course, we see Mary Klein’s drawings.
Backing up: The Mothman Prophecies follows Washington Post journalist John Klein and his wife Mary Klein as they buy a house. There’s a moth in the closet. It’s all very interesting. But then as they drive home, Mary sees a terrifying vision coming at her—void-like with red eyes—and fishtails the car, smacking her head on the window. While in the hospital, we find out that she has a rare type of brain tumor, which eventually kills her. While alive, she asks John, “You didn’t see it, did you?” and at this point we can infer that the vision could be a result of her brain tumor.
After Mary’s death, a nurse tells John “she was drawing angels”. John looks through Mary’s notebook and here’s where things get a little scary. What starts out as simple line drawings of a round shape with wings quickly devolves into horrifying, shadowed visages with red eyes, wings spread, seemingly leaping from the pages. She fills a ripped page with the word “ruin”. The creature takes on a human face, then morphs into the vague black shape again.
Notebooks in movies are often used to follow a character’s psychosis. At this point, the horror is being written off as a hallucination caused by a brain tumor. But then things get even weirder.
Welcome to Point Pleasant
John, driving to Richmond from Washington, DC, ends up in Point Pleasant. There’s a great scene where John asks where he is on a map; the man at the motel front desk says “Right on the border”. John goes to the Virginia/North Carolina border, but then the man says “With Ohio”, and the camera zooms in and there’s Point Pleasant, West Virginia in black and white.
John becomes stuck in West Virginia, drawn there by the people he meets, people who have seen the same thing his wife saw. There have been visions, red eyes in the dark, strange phone calls of electronic howling. John takes on a home-spun investigation with Connie the police officer, a charming, down-home character who has a recurring dream that she’s drowning surrounded by Christmas presents and a voice says “Wake up number 37.”
Later, we’re introduced to Indrid Cold, an entity whom we never see but to whom John talks on the phone. The voice is chilling, for lack of a better word: electronically garbled, high and low in intervals, calm and placid, yet hiding a deeper malice. When John has the voice analyzed, it turns out to be unlike anything human vocal cords could produce.
The Mothman Prophecies is, first and foremost, a movie about letting go of past traumas and moving on with life. This is a difficult feat, which is why John is still broken up about his wife’s death two years later. By getting so wrapped up in symbols and superstition, John realizes that his grief has so trapped him that he’s looking for images of his wife in everything.
For all I want to say this movie has pitfalls, there are actually very few. You see a movie titled The Mothman Prophecies and you think “this has to be dumb”. But it’s actually done very well, if a little dated. There’s a moment when John is talking to the character Alexander Leek about his experiences with the voices and images, and essentially Leek tells John that the Mothman told him about 9/11 before it happened. Take from that what you will.
What’s interesting about the ending of this movie is it took a real-life event from 1960s Point Pleasant and brought it to the present day: The Silver Bridge collapse. Indrid Cold warns John of “a great tragedy up the River Ohio,” which turns out to be the bridge collapsing. In reality, Silver Bridge collapsed on December 15, 1967, under the weight of rush hour traffic, killing 46 people. In the movie, the bridge collapsed on Christmas Eve in 2004 and killed 36 people, tying into Connie’s dream of being “number 37”.
The bridge collapse is probably the only thing that stood out as something that didn’t quite work; as a viewer, knowing that the real bridge collapsed in the ’60s, I couldn’t fathom it happening again in 2004. The movie states that the Mothman doesn’t cause disasters, it’s merely the messenger. So why did the new bridge collapse again? If we’re going by real-life construction, the current Silver Memorial Bridge has been standing for around fifty years. The scene was dramatic, and it did tie into Point Pleasant history; it just didn’t seem feasible.
All in all, the question remains: if the Mothman was hanging around Point Pleasant as the harbinger of disaster, why did Mary Klein see it in Washington, DC? Was it the harbinger of her own, personal disaster? I’d like to think so, but I can’t really be sure. All I know is, this was a great watch if you want something light, but just on this side of creepy to be a decent spooky season movie.