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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 the sheriff, Connie (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)
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Discussed and clearly in effect. 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.
  • 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.
    • Also the Mothman himself: "Convinced yet?"
  • 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 sheriff 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.
  • 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 Bride collapsing on Christmas Eve, in which Mary 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 bleed profusely.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: John and Connie. John and the Smallwoods, too.
  • The Film of the Book: Very loosely.
  • Gainax Ending: The Silver Bridge collapses, 36 people die, John reconciles the death of his wife, and none of the mysterious occurences are ever explained.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom / Red Eyes, Take Warning: How the residents describe the Mothman.
  • 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 experiances with the Mothman and how it affected his life and relationships.
  • 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.
  • 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, he turns away while closing it... 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Leed tells John that his search for answers regarding the Mothman and trying to understand what he cannot understand will only lead to ruin, with Leed explaining how his own expeirances 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.
  • 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."
  • Urban Legend: Based on a real life urban legend.
  • The Unreveal: You never get to see Indrid Cold.
  • The Unsolved Mystery
  • 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 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
  • You Are Number 37


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