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Storm of the Century
a book and film by Stephen King
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Art is a form of fiction that portrays reality. A writer draws images from his unconscious mind, and when his audience is drawn to those images, it is usually because they resonate with feelings in their minds as well. As a social psychiatrist, I often use films to explain phenomena that words alone cannot convey.
Stephen King is the best-selling novelist of all time, and it is no coincidence that fear is extremely prevalent, and a very destructive emotion in our society. I would invite you to examine with me the symbolism in this story.
Storm of the Century is a terrifying tale of a town besieged by a man possessed with evil demonic powers. The several hundred inhabitants of a picturesque, small island off the coast of Maine find themselves completely cut off from the rest of the world when they are hit by the worst storm of the century.
As snow steadily buries everything familiar, terror arrives in the form of an evil stranger. As the streets disappear and an eerie darkness envelops the town, a series of bizarre murders creates a nightmare of fear. With no help coming from the outside world and no end to the storm in sight, the townspeople are forced to take drastic action before it's too late.
The evil stranger arrives in town, kills an old woman with his cane and allows himself to be taken into custody -- and knows everyone by name -- and knows their secrets, which he lets spill in front of everyone else.
He keeps magically repeating one phrase in writing: "Give me what I want and I'll go away." As the storm builds to a crescendo, so do his supernatural manipulations -- and when the battered people of Little Tall are at their weakest, he tells them what it will take to make him leave them alone. When he presents his demands to the whole town, he gives them a half-hour to discuss and decide -- and you see that next half-hour unfold in real time.
I don't want to give away too much, in the event that you haven't read the book or seen the movie. The terrifying experience happens to a society in miniature, not to a single person. The result is extraordinarily dehumanizing for everyone involved, and no one can see a way out.
This is very much how many children, boys in particular, perceive their school experience. The system repeats over and over, day in and day out, year after year: "Give me what I want and I'll go away." They are forced to comply.
Society sees that there is a problem so severe that they put it at the top of their agenda. In the past 10 years, the amount of money the American government spends on public education has risen 50 percent to nearly $650 billion a year – an astounding sum. Yet most people remain as perplexed by the problem as the people in the film.