I love Stephen King short stories. Every time I crack open a new collection, I just know there is going to be a hidden gem in there. As much as I love these books, they get weaker as time goes on. My favorite is Night Shift (King's first collection released in 1978), and my least favorite is Just After Sunset (2008).
Everything's Eventual was released in 2002, and it was the first collection that really disappointed me. I started to dig for that hidden gem, and I just couldn't find it. There were some that I liked, but nothing that I LOVED. I kept digging, and I finally found what I was looking for near the end of the book, a little sparkle that gave me hope. It was 1408.
Not long after I read and fell in love 1408 I learned that it was going to be made into a movie, and I was excited. Of course, Stephen King movies are pretty hit or miss. More miss than hit, I'm afraid. But I kept my fingers crossed that this little gem would sparkle on the big screen. And I was not disappointed.
Overall, it was a fairly solid movie. I enjoyed it in the theater, and I bought it when it came out on DVD. I've watched it 4 or 5 times since then, and have enjoyed it every time. Good movie, but nothing that will really knock your socks off. Until I watched it again last month. I stumbled across something that completely changed the entire viewing and meaning of 1408.
Spoilers ahead. Also, the rest of this won't make sense if you haven't seen the movie, specifically with the theatrical ending.
Near the beginning, our hero Mike Enslin has a rough wipeout while surfing. It has always seemed a little random to me. He gets hit by a wave, passes out, we see him wake up, the story moves on. I thought maybe it was just there for character development, simply to give us a glimpse into his daily life and personality.
And then it hit me. What if he died on the beach?
I chose to commit to this theory, and what I found was very interesting. There are a million little things that caught my attention, but I'll only be hitting the major points.
The Dolphin Hotel is Purgatory
After the beach incident, Mike gets a postcard from the Dolphin Hotel warning him to stay away from room 1408. (Who sent it?) When he gets to the hotel, things seem a little off. Not in an obvious way, just skewed somehow. It's a little hint at what's coming - a transition between the outside world and the danger of room 1408. In this space, Mike can still turn back and escape the horror to come.
Mr. Olin is God
Mr Olin, the hotel manager, is the great source of wisdom and reason in this story. He has seen it all happen, and warns Mike of the true danger that lies in 1408 (forbidden fruit). He persistently offers Mike ways out, but ultimately lets Mike make his own decision. To be clear, Mike isn't sure if Mr. Olin is being sincere, or just trying to scare him. And so neither are we. In the end Mike rejects them all, determined to have his own way.
Mike Enslin: Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room, Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties...don't exist. And even if they did, there's no God to protect us from them, now is there?
Mr. Olin: So I can't talk you out of this?
Mike Enslin: I think we've reached an understanding.
This exchange is the point of no return for Mike. He's been warned, he's been presented with opportunities to turn back, and he has chosen to march headlong into 1408. On the elevator, Olin pleas with Mike one more time - Don't do this - and we see genuine concern, and a little bit of sadness in his face. Mike simply turns his back, and steps out of the elevator. His choice is made.
The Room is Hell
Once Mike enters the room, of course spooky things begin to happen. Pretty much what you expect from a haunted hotel movie. What you don't expect is all the personal things the room presents. These details have always been a bit of a distraction for me when viewing the movie in the past. They feel too cumbersome and detract from the main plot. But if 1408 is Mike's version of hell, it all makes perfect sense. He is being forced to relive his worst failures, pain and suffering (particularly with the death of his daughter). The further we go, the worse it gets, and Mike realizes this isn't just a haunted room - it's personal.
Mike's actions have in part led him to this place. He's traveled through life with a certain attitude that has led him to be a cynical skeptic. Mix that with the death of his daughter and separation from his wife, and you've got a recipe for a man that has ceased to believe in anything, trapped in a hell of his own making.
We see Mr. Olin (God) one more time in room 1408. At this point, Mike is in full panic mode, and he knows it's all real. He pops up in a pretty silly place, but what Mr. Olin says to Mike is very telling.
Olin: I was just checking to see if the accommodations are exceeding your expectations.
Mike: YOU KNOW GODDAMN WELL THEY ARE! What do you want from me?
Olin: No, no, no. What do you want, Mr. Enslin? You sought this room. Oh, that's right, you don't believe in anything. You like shattering people's hopes. Why do you think people believe in ghosts? For fun? No, it's the prospect of something after death. How many spirits have you broken?
Mike Will Never Escape
At the end of 1408 Mike is either dead (director's cut) or reunited with his wife (theatrical cut). So it would seem like one way or another, he did make it out. I guess that all depends upon interpretation. However, I believe that he's still in the room either way.
Earlier in the movie, they tease this when he wakes up on the beach and goes about his life, only to have it literally ripped apart and reset. It's revealed that he's been in the room all along, and his "normal" life was an elaborate illusion.
Even if you leave this room you can never leave this room.
At the end of the theatrical cut, Mike pulls out his scorched, but trusty tape recorder and plays it back. We hear a few mundane things recorded while in the room, and then the voice of his dead daughter. Of course, his wife is shocked and disturbed to hear this. In the last shot, we see Mike holding the tape recorder and looking at his wife with what is best described as a weird little smirk on his face. It's just a hint, but it's there.
It's there because he is still in the cursed room on the 13th floor, reliving his own personal horror over and over again. He's still trapped in 1408.
And he always will be.
Banner image | Christ's Descent into Hell, Follower of Hieronymus Bosch