The Attraction Of Oblivion: Mike Flanagan’s Sympathetic Portrayals Of Addiction, Fire On The Set Of THE SHINING, And More!
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The Bite #127
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The Attraction Of Oblivion: Mike Flanagan’s Sympathetic Portrayals Of Addiction, Fire On The Set Of THE SHINING, And More!

September 22, 2020

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The Attraction Of Oblivion: Mike Flanagan’s Sympathetic Portrayals Of Addiction

By Jamie Alvey

Sympathetic portrayals of addiction are often a balancing act, one that’s exceptionally well-suited to horror. The genre is built for asking the hard questions and isn’t interested in easy answers. Mike Flanagan is one such storyteller who shines light on such intense and difficult topics. He approaches addiction with the care and respect the subject deserves and has built upon the themes of addiction and recovery throughout his career.

In his first feature film, Absentia, Flanagan introduced viewers to Callie. A born again Christian and former addict, she reconnects with her pregnant sister, Tricia, whose husband has been declared dead in absentia after going missing seven years prior. In 2018, audiences met well-meaning and sufficiently traumatized addict Luke Crain in Flanagan’s critically acclaimed The Haunting of Hill House. More recently, Flanagan took on the potentially onerous task of adapting Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. The film adaptation gives fans a peek at what Danny Torrance became after The Shining and the familial shadow of addiction that constantly looms over him. Addiction and its inherent nature is a difficult thematic thread to tackle, but Flanagan does so bravely and sensitively with Callie, Luke, and Danny.

There’s nothing typical about how these three are portrayed. Instead of falsely equating addiction to a person’s “badness” or “weakness,” Flanagan chooses to depict the characters with grace and love. In Absentia, Callie is a candid and free-spirited woman who deeply loves and cares for her sister. When Tricia is in need of support, Callie comes to her aid. She’s coarse at times but is realistically vulnerable. In Hill House, Luke, the second youngest of five children, is lost amid his large family and their individual traumas. The audience sees Luke as a child and an adult, affording them a unique insight into his compassionate character. In Doctor Sleep, Dan works at a hospice and uses his gift to help the patients pass with peace and dignity. Through his bond with Abra, a young girl with a similar ability to Shine, and his work, Dan exhibits a rare sort of selflessness. Each portrayal is nuanced and avoids becoming another hackneyed interpretation of people who fight addiction.

As Luke is an extension of Callie, Dan is an extension of Luke. Numbing the pain of their respective pasts has become a priority in order to cope, and both men are contending with PTSD. Dan has fallen into a pattern of alcohol and drug abuse and is largely unmoored from anything meaningful in life. Like Luke, he has an intricate past rooted in deep childhood trauma that threatens to swallow him whole, even in adulthood.

A theme Flanagan utilizes, and one that can be seen in Dan, is a lack of support. When introduced, he’s alone, callous, and broken. It takes the support of his AA sponsor, Billy Freeman, and his gainful employment at the hospice, to find meaning.

Support is something Callie never gets a chance to experience. Luke’s comes only after nearly dying in the Red Room. When they’re given the support they need, both Dan and Luke’s lives are set back on track, with them each celebrating eight and two years of sobriety, respectively. Flanagan shows the audience recovery is possible and that often active support is the key.

Flanagan ensures that Callie, Luke, and Dan are never reduced to a stereotype in their respective narratives, their humanity fully explored. Troubled as they may be, they succeed in being good people, challenging the idea that addicts are inherently bad or weak. They’re delineated in shades of gray instead of clichéd strokes of black and white. Flanagan explores these traits and topics in a broad and uninhibited way and is able to bring about a greater understanding of life itself in those who battle addiction daily. With each new project, he builds on these themes with utmost acuity and empathy.

Jamie Alvey is a Kentucky-based writer, actress, and English instructor. You can find more of her work at Morbidly Beautiful.


Image Of The Week #127 - The Shining Burnt Down Set BTS Image Kubrick - The Bite

Fire On The Set

There are dozens of amazing behind-the-scenes photos from the set of The Shining care of photographer Murray Close. Not least of which is this shot of Kubrick himself laughing incredulously amid the wreckage of his set after a fire on January 30th, 1979.



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Antebellum actress Kiersey Clemons spoke with the Vibe Check podcast about how Black horror films are mirroring racism in America.

Candyman director Nia DaCosta went on the Get WIRED podcast to talk about horror, social justice, genre’s engagement with Black trauma, and the future of film.

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Things We Love #127 - Stories About the Actors and Artists Who Make Movies Scary Great Big Story video - The Bite

The Faces Behind The Scares

This video from Great Big Story highlights some of the horror creators who give us the scares we so cherish, including the iconic Phil Tippett and Javier Botet.


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