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Film / The Doors (1991)

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The Doors is a 1991 American biographical film about The '60s'70s rock band The Doors, and in particular the life of its lead singer, Jim Morrison. It was directed by Oliver Stone, and stars Val Kilmer as Morrison and Meg Ryan as Morrison's companion Pamela Courson. The film features Kyle MacLachlan as Ray Manzarek, Frank Whaley as Robby Krieger, Kevin Dillon as John Densmore, and Kathleen Quinlan as Patricia Kennealy.

The film portrays Morrison as the larger-than-life icon of 1960s rock and roll, counterculture, and the drug-using free love hippie lifestyle. But the depiction goes beyond the iconic and into his alcoholism, interest in hallucinogenic drugs, and, particularly, his growing obsession with death.

The film was a box office bomb, received mixed reviews upon release, and was criticized by Morrison's family, friends, and former bandmates for the film's bevy of historical inaccuracies, particularly in regards to Morrison's portrayal. Ray Manzarek claimed in his own written biography of the band that the film was damaging to Morrison's reputation, Patricia Kennealy disavowed the film for its portrayal of herself and objected to the film version of Morrison not taking their Wiccan wedding ceremony seriously, and Stone himself admitted to heavily embellishing historical events for the sake of the film's narrative. Regardless of (or perhaps because of) the controversy, the film generated renewed interest in the Doors, thirteen years after they had split up, an interest which still continues in a mild form to this day.

This film features examples of:

  • The '60s: The film is set right in the middle 1960s rock and roll counterculture and the drug-using free love hippie lifestyle.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens with the traumatic episode from Jim Morrison's childhood of having once seen dead Indians on the side of the road (mentioned in the Doors song "Peace Frog").
  • Adaptational Jerkass: The biggest complaint about the film is that the real-life people portrayed, especially Jim, were portrayed as much more abrasive than they were in real life. Of particular note is Jim seeing himself as the only important band member. In reality, he famously hated being seen in such terms and often railed against it, to the point of once refusing to go on stage when the band was introduced as "Jim Morrison and The Doors". He's also shown as deliberately not changing the lyrics to "Light My Fire" when they are on Ed Sullivan when he reportedly claimed to simply forget due to his nervousness at being on TV for the first time.
  • The Alcoholic: There's hardly a scene of Jim without a bottle in hand.
  • Artistic Licence History: Ohhh yeah. Without getting into Jim and Pam's oft-critized portrayals, there are these:
    • The photographer who shot Jim's "Young Lion" shirtless pictures is a woman in the film (played by Mimi Rogers, in fact), when in real life it was a man. The only relation with real life is that the film's female photographer appears to be based on 16 magazine editor Gloria Stavers; the dialogue in the scene is based on a conversation Stavers had with Morrison during a photo session in her Manhattan apartment.
    • While there are admittedly different accounts regarding the incident where Morrison was asked to change the lyrics of "Light My Fire" for the band's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show,note  he is depicted as blatantly ignoring their request, defiantly shouting the words "Higher! Yeah!" into the television camera. However, during the actual broadcast, Morrison had simply sung the vocal with the same emphasis as on the record. Furthermore, for The Ed Sullivan Show performance, the film shows Morrison wearing a black shirt, despite having worn a white shirt and black leather jacket for his actual performance on the show in September 1967.
    • The December 1967 New Haven concert scene also has several things different from what happened in real life. Patricia Kennealy is portrayed as being the girl Morrison was with in the shower stall backstage before the concert, when in fact he was having a conversation with a local teenage co-ed from Southern Connecticut State University. Additionally, the New Haven venue is presented in the film as a gorgeous amphitheater with a large balcony and a packed audience, when in reality it was a rather decrepit, half-empty hockey rink with audience members sitting on foldable wooden chairs.
    • A reporter in New York asks about the "disastrous reviews of (Jim's) new poetry book" in 1968. Jim wouldn't publish any poems until the next year.
    • A journalist at the start of the Miami concert similarly pans the album The Soft Parade. Again, hadn't been released yet.
    • After Miami, John says that the incident has led to the band not getting asked to play Woodstock. They were; Jim said no due to his dislike of outdoor venues.
  • Book Ends:
    • The first song played is "Riders on the Storm", the last Jim-era song, over A Minor Kidroduction. Toward the end, the band plays it fresh from its production, right before his flight to Paris.
    • Jim runs into either his younger self from the intro or a kid very much resembling him in the same scene.
  • The Cameo:
    • John Densmore as the recorder for the sessions that would become An American Prayer.
    • Paul Rothchild, The Doors' record producer, appears as the man in the club who tells the band they're gonna make a million dollars.
    • Bill Graham as the promoter in New Haven.
    • Patricia Kennealy-Morrison appears as the priestess who marries Jim and Patricia.
  • Composite Character: Even Oliver Stone later admitted that Patricia, while sharing the name of Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, was actually more of a mix of Jim's old flames and should have been given another name.
  • Creator Cameo: Oliver Stone appears as a UCLA film professor. His son Sean appears as young Jim.
  • Dinner and a Show: We get a good one, complete with infidelity, LSD, celebrities, and a curb-stomped duck.
  • Downer Ending: All roads lead to "Paris, 1971". A bit less known, Pam didn't have much longer.
  • Elvis Lives: Averted. Uncharacteristically for Stone (known for his interest in conspiracy theories), he avoids the conspiracy theory that Morrison faked his death.
  • Fake Food: According to Oliver Stone, Val Kilmer drinks colored sugar water throughout the film.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Discussed. During Jim's breakdown toward the end, at least two women claim to be pregnant. In one scene, he talks over the matter with Patricia. She wants to keep the baby and raise it ("It would be a genius."), Jim is against raising it ("It would be a monster."). She says she doesn't like "the other fucking thing, either." Although Jim offers to pay for the abortion and support her through it the idea upsets Patricia, although she's so far been shown as a feminist and a practicing white witch (the very women who might have been persecuted for providing abortifacients in the past). The outcome isn't shown, and Jim flies to Paris shortly after.
  • Humanoid Abomination: A Navajo Indian medicine man that is clearly... not quite human stalks Jim Morrison throughout much of his life. It's implied that he's Death.
  • Magical Native American: The Navajo Indian medicine man that stalks Jim Morrison throughout much of his life seems to be a more literal example than usual, as it's implied that he's actually a personification of Death.
  • Potty Failure: Jim has one at a bar just before Thanksgiving.
  • Round Hippie Shades: Pamela Courson wears some stereotypical blue round hippie glasses that really stick out.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: It's a Jim Morrison biopic, so all three of them appear in great detail.
  • Vision Quest: Jim Morrison is depicted as having a literal vision quest.