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Stephen King’s The Mist: The Story Behind Director Frank Darabont’s Jaw-Dropping Ending, And How It Actually Came From The Author Himself

The questionable endings for some of Stephen King’s biggest works number among horror literature’s most debate-worthy elements. And the discussions don’t just end at the page, either, with some of the worst live-action adaptations of his books and stories coming down to botched conclusions. Frank Darabont’s The Mist holds the distinction for having one of the most polarizing resolutions of any Hollywood effort, which is made all the more noteworthy for going in a completely different direction from the source material. But as it turns out, King actually was indirectly responsible for inspiring the 2007 film’s dour denouement. 

For those unaware, Stephen King’s novella The Mist caps off with something of an open ending, with the surviving protagonists heading in the direction of Hartford with the hopes that there’s salvation to be found. The film, on the other hand, features a far more concrete ending, in which the army arrives to save the day and kill all the deadly creatures, though not before Thomas Jane’s David has mercy-killed his son and others. It’s extremely dark and depressing, but certainly fits the mood of the film.

Kathy Bates in Misery

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

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Stephen King himself has praised the ending, putting all of the impetus for it in Darabont’s metaphorical hands. But in an interview with Hans-Åke Lilja, as collected in The Stephen King Companion, Frank Darabont shared the real story behind where the ending came from, citing the novella’s own text as the biggest influence. In his words:

It’s funny…most people assume I came up with that ending entirely on my own. Even Stephen King thought so. And I haven’t gone on record to dispute that notion, but I will do so now. Here’s the truth: the idea for that ending is right out of Stephen King’s book, and I told him so when we were in New York together doing the press junket for the movie. He asked me where I’d gotten the idea. I said, ‘Steve, I got it from you! Look at this line in your story, here in the last chapter…we’re hearing David’s thoughts near the end, and it says: ‘There are three bullets in the gun, there are four of us in there care. If worse comes to worse, I’ll figure a way out for myself.’” I’m paraphrasing that line right now, but that’s essentially what it says. Steve got this great look on his face when I told him this, because I think he’d forgotten that he ever wrote it.

Granted, Stephen King writes more words in a year than many people write in their lifetimes, so it’s no surprise to hear that he can’t keep every single phrasing in mind decades after the fact. But I can only assume that Frank Darabont has felt more than a bit of pride over the years, knowing that he more or less fooled King into enjoying his own idea without realizing it. 

Darabont made it clear that he had no intention of adding any of his own preconceived ideas about how the story should end, and relied on his instinct of using the source text to guide him. He continued:

So all I did was take King’s darkest thought and follow it to its most logical and horrible conclusion. The idea for the movie’s ending is right there in the original text. I didn’t just come up with an idea out of the blue and tack it onto Steve’s story. I did what I always do when adapting King or any other author — look for clues in the story that give me insight into the author’s thinking and that I can make dramatic use of. I did the same thing quite a bit when adapting Shawshank and The Green Mile.

It’s not quite irony or poetic justice, but there’s something special about Frank Darabont having beautifully adapted two of King’s most beloved non-horror works in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, only to come back around years later and deliver the most devastating gut-punch of them all. 

We can only hope that all of the upcoming Stephen King adaptations, from Mike Flanagan’s The Life of Chuck film to Max’s Welcome to Derry series, all figure out the best way to wrap things up without any murder-suicide pacts coming into play. While waiting for more upcoming horror movies, The Mist can be streamed now with a Philo subscription

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