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Film / The Mothman Prophecies

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Inspired by… real events occurring between November 1966 and December 1967 in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Produced by Lake Shore Entertainment released by Screen Gems and directed by Mark Pellington.

The film starts with a reporter, John Klein (Richard Gere), and his wife Mary (Debra Messing) looking for a new house. They get into a car accident, during which Mary first witnesses the Mothman. She is later diagnosed with a brain tumor and dies soon after. Before she dies, she draws some really creepy pictures of a Winged Humanoid.

A couple years later, John gets lost on a road trip and ends up in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a normally sleepy backwoods town; however the townsfolk have become wary of strangers because of the recent supernatural events. The townsfolk have had a series of encounters with the Mothman, and soon a mysterious being named Indrid Cold calls John in the middle of the night. With the help of a local police officer, Sergeant Connie Mills (Laura Linney), John tries to solve the meaning of the Mothman's presence.

The movie is based on a book written by journalist, parapsychologist, and ufologist John A. Keel which was first published in 1975, studying the events that occurred in the town in 1969. Despite the title, the original cover art, and later, the art of the movie poster, the book focused mostly on the UFO sightings in Point Pleasant at the time along with some mention of shifty men in black snooping around, with only a few chapters dedicated to the sightings of the Mothman entity. The documentary Eyes of the Mothman recounted the story in connection with various legends such as the Curse of Cornstalk.

This film provides examples of:

  • Agent Mulder (Alexander Leek) and Agent Scully (Connie)
  • Alternate History: The movie takes place in a world where the sudden rash of Mothman sightings in Point Pleasant and the collapse of the Silver Bridge, two real-world events that occurred in 1966-67, instead happen in the early 2000s. The film also changes the date of the bridge collapse (December 15 to December 24) and the death toll (46 to 36). Additionally, in the movie there are hundreds if not thousands of other Mothman sightings from all over the world, both before and after the Point Pleasant incident; in reality, reported Mothman sightings are pretty much exclusive to West Virginia, there have only been a handful since 1966-67, and none prior to that.
  • Ambiguously Evil: The Mothman itself certainly looks and behaves in a very sinister manner, but it never does anything overtly malicious, as is Indrid Cold (who may or may not be the Mothman himself in the film.)
  • Arc Words:
    • "Wake up, number 37."
    • "Ruin."
    • "I'll see you in time."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "In the end it all came down to just one simple question. Which was more important - having proof, or being alive?"
  • Author Avatar: Alexander Leek (Keel spelled backward)
  • Being Watched: One of the running themes. John at times can sense someone or something watching him, such as when he's sitting alone on a bench in a wintry Washington, DC, and very often, the camera will appear to be the POV of something watching him, and occasionally swooping or flying away.
    Leek: You noticed them, and they noticed that you noticed them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Silver Bridge collapses, 36 people die and none of the mysterious occurrences are ever explained. However, John reconciles the death of his wife, saves Connie—the person who helps him reconcile and likely saved his life—and possibly saves many other lives just by being there to warn people off the bridge sooner.
  • Blessed with Suck: The Mothman, Indrid Cold, the predictions, all of the mysterious occurrences are something that are undeniably attractive, but Leek knows that it's a trap, Gordon falls into the trap, and John has to fight to pass up the temptations, including a chance to reunite with his dead wife.
    Leek: Whatever brought you there [Point Pleasant], brought you there to die.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Discussed and clearly in effect (Leek: "Their motivations aren't human"). The motives of the Mothman are unknown and unlikely to make sense to humans.
    John: I think we can assume that these entities are more advanced than us. Why don't they just come right out and tell us what's on their minds?
    Leek: You're more advanced than a cockroach. Have you ever tried explaining yourself to one of them?
  • Captain Ersatz: Gordon Smallwood is very loosely based on Woodrow Derenberger. His encounter with Indrid Cold is one of the things faithful to the Mothman mythos.
  • Cassandra Did It: Possibly the Mothman.
  • Central Theme: Letting go of the past, and These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.
    Leek: Which [is] more important — having proof, or being alive?
  • Color Motif: The color red is used very sparingly, and always appears when the Mothman is present, physically or no (which is in keeping with the legend of its unnaturally red eyes.) His wife also has a red motif (striking red hair and lipstick), which ties her into the second half of the film.
  • Composite Character: In the book (and, presumably, the original stories Keel was reporting), Indrid Cold and the Mothman were separate entities, but the movie lumps them together. This is probably for the best, since the book's Cold was a perpetually grinning man who rode around on a flying chimney.
  • Cool Car: Mary's 1988 BMW 528e, John's 2000 Audi A8L, Connie's 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ take-home patrol vehicle, Gordon's 1985 Chevrolet C-10 and CJ's 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS.
    • The BMW strikes something that leaves a burn mark on its front bumper and grill. Mary ends up hitting her head against the driver side window, cracking it but not shattering it. The car otherwise remains intact.
    • Somehow, the A8L covers 400 miles in less than 90 minutes despite John claiming he only did 80note  the whole way. It also instantly transitions from an Interstate highway to a rural highway and breaks down within walking distance of Gordon's house in Point Pleasant. A local mechanic finds nothing wrong with it and it otherwise runs flawlessly for the rest of the film.
    • During the Silver Bridge collapse, the Impala is struck by a support cable, killing CJ instantly.
    • The Jeep ends up in the river with an unconscious Connie inside it, but an air pocket saves her from drowning and the vehicle's light bar marks its location underwater allowing John to rescue her.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Mark Pellington provides the voice of Indrid Cold. He also shows up as a bartender.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Mothman seems to take a relatively benign interest in humanity, but then, it's hard to tell.
  • Dark Reprise: Mary apologizes for "ruining" everything, and tells John she's "sorry". Those words are repeated later in John's head, with a different subtext.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Connie.
    Connie: I grew up right over that hill.
    John: On a farm?
    Connie: (exaggerated hillbilly accent) Shucks, no! A real live house. Indoor plumbing and everything!
    John: (grinning) Sorry.
    Connie: (exaggerated hillbilly accent) We even had shoes for church and schoolin' and stuff!
    • Also the Mothman himself: "Still more proof, John Klein?"
  • Decomposite Character:
    • John Keel - the paranormal writer who authored the book that the film is based on - is divided into protagonist John Klein (who is changed into a Washington Post journalist who ends up in the town accidentally and under bizarre circumstances, instead of having deliberately gone there to investigate like Keel) and Alexander Leek, a paranormal investigator who Klein consults with during his investigation, and who conveys some of the real Keel's interpretations of the subject matter.
    • The characters of Connie Mills (a Point Pleasant police officer who assists John in his investigation) and John Klein's late wife Mary are a decomposite of journalist Mary Hyre, a colleague of Keel's who assisted him in his investigation, and who sadly died of illness not long after the events in question. Keel dedicated the book to her.
  • Despair Event Horizon: A subtle one, but when Connie finds out Gordon somehow called John seven hours after his death, she mutters, "I can't stand this."
  • Dies Wide Open: Gordon Smallwood
  • Dreaming of Things to Come:
    • Gordon has predictions from daymares, starting with predicting the death of 99 people in a plane crash.
    • Connie has a recurring dream, describing how she was trying to swim to saftey while drowning in a freezing river, inexplicably surrounded by presents followed by a voice saying "Wake up, number thirty seven". These refer to the Silver Bridge collapsing on Christmas Eve, in which Connie also falls into the river and nearly drowns. After John saves her, they find that thirty six people died.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Just as the Silver Bridge was going to collapse, John's has a realization that this was what the "Great Tragedy on the Ohio River" refers too.
  • Evil Phone. Not quite evil, but thoroughly creepy, since his voice patterns were "outside of human vocal range". And then there's the phone that rings even after Klein yanks the cord out of the wall.
  • Eye Scream: Looking at The Mothman causes the eyes to inflate and bleed. This actually happened to one of the Mothman witnesses — the diagnosis was actinic conjunctivitis from being exposed to extreme ultraviolet radiation.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: John and Connie. John and the Smallwoods, too.
  • The Film of the Book: Very loosely.
  • Foreshadowing: There are many, but the most pointed is John's last conversation with Gordon in person is them standing on the Silver Bridge.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom / Red Eyes, Take Warning: How the residents describe the Mothman.
  • A God I Am Not: Certainly not said by the Mothman/Indrid Cold entity itself, but discussed by the human characters. Alexander Leek insists with Klein that the entity(entities?)'s omniscience doesn't necessarily implies godhood, being just a matter of perspective from inhabiting a higher dimensional plane.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: During the Silver Bridge collapse, Connie stays on the bridge to warn people off and goes back to her cruiser to radio for help. She gets knocked out and falls into the river inside her cruiser. She survives.
  • Horror Struck
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Mothman, if you don't consider it to be an Animalistic Abomination.
  • Intrepid Reporter: John is a writer for the Washington Post, which gives him the means to carry out his Mothman investigations.
  • Just One Second Out of Sync: Watch carefully: in one scene, John Klein's reflection is out of sync with Klein himself.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Leek comes off as this, having become cynical and jaded over his experiences with the Mothman and how it affected his life and relationships.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: John has to learn to do this over the course of the movie. Some things are just not worth it.
  • The Lost Lenore: Mary's presence hangs over the film like a shroud.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: Deconstructed. Leek talks about the theme of the moth as a Legacy Character throughout history.
  • Madness Mantra: The pages in Mary's notebook depict not only images of the Mothman, but written texts reading ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin ruin
  • Make-Out Point: One of the places the Mothman shows up.
  • Manly Tears:
    John Klein: (bursting into tears) I miss her so much!
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Was it the Mothman Mary saw, or a hallucination caused by a tumor Or was the tumor caused by the Mothman?
  • The Men in Black: Book only, and reported to have happened by townspeople and the newspaper editor.
  • Mirror Scare: Described by Gordon, that he looked into a mirror at one point and saw something he couldn't describe, but was certainly not himself. Later, after a scene in which John stares into a medicine cabinet mirror, and smashes his head into it — which turns out to be a vision. Later, he slams a mirrored cabinet door while walking away... and for a brief moment, a strange visage is shown reflected in it.
  • The Mothman: The movie's titular creature. Throughout the film, the main characters are vexed by dreams, omens and mysterious phone calls stating cryptic hints that about upcoming disaster, alongside visits by the Mothman itself. The omens hint at a disaster approaching the Ohio river, which eventually reveals itself as the historic Silver Bridge collapse that birthed the Mothman's legend.
  • Motif: Repeatedly, the film emphasizes pairs of red lights so that they resemble eyes, indicating the ubiquitous hypothetical presence of the Mothman. As well, the wings of the Mothman (appearing like the letter 'y', usually lower-case) shows up several times; one of the first shots of the film are Mary's name with a pronounced 'y', which is a bit of Foreshadowing. One of the last shots of the film, the lights of cars submerged in the Ohio River form the 'y'.
  • Mr. Exposition: Leek gives the Back Story of Mothman, but subverted in that he only knows the background, and has no idea what's going on himself.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Mary's little drawings are full of Mothman pictures. The orderly mistakes them for pictures of angels.
  • The Not-Love Interest: John and Connie have a special bond and share a lot of chemistry, but it seems to be of friendship, not romance. Even if Connie were the perfect future partner, John is still too raw from Mary's death, even two years later.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Indrid Cold is never seen. The happenings in Point Pleasant are never explained. The camera is often positioned in a manner that implies the characters are being watched — but we never see what's watching them. And it is creepy.
  • Oh, Crap!: John, realizing the "tragedy on the River Ohio" won't be the chemical plant, but the Silver Bridge.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: The Mothman is a (presumably) real cryptid alleged to be connected with a genuine historical bridge collapse.
  • Phone Call from the Dead:
    • John receives a phone call from what appears to be his wife at one point. He is told that he will receive a call from her at a specific date and time, but at Connie's urging, John learns to let go of her, just as the phone rings out at the time Mary was supposed to call. This in turn, leads to John saving Connie from drowning in the river.
    • Possibly Gordon as well. Connie estimates that he died eight hours before John found his body. But John apparently received a call from Gordon only one hour before he found the body.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Maybe? The camera behaves like it, swooping, flying, sneaking up from behind, eavesdropping from above, but there's no evidence it's the Mothman.
  • Prophetic Fallacy. John initially believes that the "tragedy on the Ohio River" will involve the local chemical plant, but it actually occurs much later when the Silver Bridge collapses.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sergeant Connie Mills is a friendly, honest, and approachable police officer. A lot of the information that John learns about the Point Pleasant Mothman encounters is due to her help and people's willingness to approach and talk to her.
  • Red Herring: The disaster will be at the chemical plant. It won't be.
  • Sanity Slippage: It seems to be a natural consequence of prolonged exposure to the Mothman, and in turn leads to death. It's implied that it might have had something to do with Mary's death; Gordon suffers through this, and dies from exposure as a result. Leek was previously institutionalized because These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, losing his family in the process, and warns John he's skipping merrily down the same destructive path by trying to understand the Mothman.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Leek is based on author Keel.
  • Ship Tease: John and Connie have chemistry, they deeply care for one another in a short period of time, but it's obvious if Connie did have romantic feelings for John, John's too raw from the loss of his wife to be receptive.
  • Shout-Out: Perhaps unintentional or intentional; Leek's story of knowing a building was going to blow up and no one listened.
  • Shown Their Work: The pencil and ink "angels" drawn in Mary's book are actual sketches of the Mothman from witnesses.note 
  • Speak of the Devil: Of sorts, playing into the Blue-and-Orange Morality of the Mothman. According to Leek, we noticed it first, and it noticed that we noticed it.
  • Stable Time Loop: Inverted: Gordon claims John visited them at the same time three nights in a row, which John knows is impossible.
  • Surreal Horror: It's the sort of movie where a shot of the protagonist holding Chap-Stick in a motel room is one of the most unnerving in the whole film.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Leek tells John that his search for answers regarding the Mothman and trying to understand what he cannot understand will only lead to ruin, with Leek explaining how his own experiences with the Mothman effectively ruined his life. John is warned that his search for answers is putting him on the same path. It's implied that this kind of exposure is in some way responsible for Mary's death, and later Gordan's.
    John: Didn't you need to know?
    Leek: (Beat) We're not allowed to know.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Indrid Cold's voice is sometimes just barely audible underneath the voices of other characters John speaks to over the phone. According to director Mark Pellington, the intent was to suggest that all of the strange happenings might be in John's head.
  • Too Happy to Live: Mixed with Cosmic Plaything. John speculates aloud he thinks Mary's death was the direct result of their happy marriage and the life that was ahead of them.
    John: Two weeks ago, we were house hunting. One day you're just driving along in your car, and the universe just points at you and says, "Ah, there you are: a happy couple. I've been looking for you. I've been looking for you."
  • Touched by Vorlons: What happens to everyone who encounters the Mothman and/or Indrid Cold.
    Leek: You noticed them, and they noticed that you noticed them.
  • Twisted Christmas: The bridge collapse happens on Christmas Eve.
  • Urban Legend: Based on a real-life urban legend.
  • The Unreveal:
    • You never get to see Indrid Cold.
    • John never answers the phone in Georgetown.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: Onscreen text at the end of the film states that the cause of the Silver Bridge collapse was never determined. note  More broadly, neither the characters nor the audience ever learn who or what the Mothman/Indrid Cold really is.
  • The Un Twist: You know the Mothman? That entity which the main characters know is real and they're trying to prove it? Turns out in the end, he's real! And he saved their lives! Suggesting that in fact, he's on our side! Or... he could just be fascinated with our actions much like how a kid will watch ants react to a small fire.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: For one, the Silver Bridge disaster happened in the late '60s. Second, the Silver Bridge was a chain-link bridge, an unusual construction with no redundancy, that is, if one link fails, they all fail. So, unlike the movie's explanation that the cause of the collapse was never determined, in actuality it was discovered to be a micro-fracture that developed over time, exacerbated by heavy traffic that it was never intended to handle (like 18-wheeler trucks), that caused a sequential bridge failure. For this reason, most monster hunters think that the Mothman was there to warn the public of the impending disaster.
  • Voice of the Legion: Indrid Cold.
  • Weirdness Magnet: The Mothman/Indrid Cold seems to get attached to individuals, and pester them with cryptic — and not-so-cryptic — phrases and predictions. At best, all you get are harassing phone calls like the fire department chief.
  • You Are Not Alone: Connie tells John to get out of Georgetown, because at Point Pleasant, he won't be alone.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Connie then tells John that bad things happen to good people: planes crash, earthquakes happen, and loved ones die. Bridges collapse, too. They can't be stopped or reversed, and the point is to be with people who are alive and enjoy being with you.
  • You Are Number 6: Connie is Number 37.