What is The Dead Zone?

dead3I’ve seen The Dead Zone (1983) three times now and I’m still impressed and confused by Christopher Walken, who plays the main character.  The story is based on a Stephen King novel and I’m not sure why I didn’t put this movie on my top ten list, but I can probably tell you it’s better than some of those on the list.  It might be better than Carrie the female, teen revenge thriller, but most people probably won’t admit that.  What makes The Dead Zone work is Christopher Walken.  He is spectacular.  However, I never believed for a second he was really a teacher like his character is supposed to be.  He doesn’t seem anything like a teacher.  A manic weirdo maybe, but not a teacher.

dead1The movie is about Johnny Smith, who gets into a car accident and is put into a coma for five years.  When he wakes up, he discovers that his girlfriend married somebody else and that he has this weird psychic power to predict death.  The movie is well-paced and that summary I just explained takes only a short time, then we’re off dealing with Walken being depressed and anxious about his condition, which is a state he probably does best.

dead4Most of the supporting cast is good, though Martin Sheen goes way, way over-the-top as Greg Stilton.  David Cronenberg directs The Dead Zone, but this isn’t a horror movie, though he certainly knows tension and character drama.  Walken’s character is well-developed, and Brooke Adams has a lot to do too, as the lost love who really screwed the pooch by marrying some psycho jerk.  

John Smith, the man with the most anonymous name ever, has the most unusual gifts.  He can predict death and helps some cops prevent solve some crimes, but then things get serious.  John has a psychic vision that Greg Stilton will go on to be a President who commits many horrible atrocities, and he decides to ask the question: If you could kill Hilter before he came to power, would you?  John grabs his gun, so I guess he answered his own question.

The best things about this movie are the characters, especially Walken.  I would say it is a little slow and the middle section needs a little help, but the plot is good.  Walken’s character doesn’t seem like a typical teacher, but they didn’t go very far with the manic stuff that I know Walken can produce.  At most, he has an angry conversation with his dad.  There’s never even a confrontation between him and his stupid girlfriend, who is not patient enough to wait for anything, much less a guy in a coma.

dead2In all, this is a pretty good movie.  I’ve never seen the television series inspired by the same novel, but it has the same premise and the same characters.  The story is obviously separate from the movie.  The themes and questions raised by the story are the best part, and it offers commentary on a lot “What if” scenarios, though the script leans toward a more interesting question: Why should Johnny help people or do anything about the things he sees?

What is the Dead Zone?

Okay, so what is it?  Dead zones are low-oxygen areas in the ocean with large numbers of plants sucking the nutrients from the water.  Most marine life can’t life there.  In urban slang, a “dead zone” is any area lacking cell phone service for a long period of time.  A “dead zone” is also used generically throughout popular culture to represent dangerous areas or the supernatural.  

Oh and in the movie?  The dead zone in the movie is related to Johnny’s psychic gifts.  It is a blank spot in his visions of death. For example, he gets a vision of a boy falling through ice and into the freezing water, though the vision never reveals if the boy really dies.  The point is, that blank spot is Johnny’s opportunity to change the future.  In a more literal sense, it is where he lives, suffering as he tries to live his life.  The dead zone is the uncertain future that haunts Johnny.  Every time he touches someone, he gets a glimpse into that future, which is really dark and really depressing.