The ten most important doors in cinema
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
I hear you knocking...
This list may contain some spoilers…
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
The concept of 'Room 101' was tormenting readers and viewers - both viscerally and morally - many years before the phrase 'torture porn' was coined. Of all that culture has taken from George Orwell's dystopic novel, nothing has exerted so powerful a grip on the common imagination as the terrifying-yet-banal entrance to this interrogation-cell within a future fascist state - a room that holds whatever your worst nightmare may be.
But crossing the threshold of Room 101 is additionally the doorway through which oppressed office-worker Winston Smith (John Hurt) will finally believe the horrible truth that O'Brien (Richard Burton) has been espousing to him: that man is a mere animal that will choose its own self-preservation over any emotional attachment. This is no mere entrance to the gallows - it's the doorway to spiritual and emotional obliteration.
King Kong (1933)
When ingénue Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) is captured by Skull Island's natives and offered to their gorilla-god, her subsequent bond with the powerful creature had enough inter-racial subtext to get King Kong banned in Nazi Germany. There's more than a nod to the sexually-charged Primitivism that gripped American culture in 1920s and 1930s in Merian C. Cooper's classic monster movie: when the giant door dividing the native village from the habitat of their fearsome ruler is breached by Kong, disaster ensues both during the event and later, when Kong is shipped to a New York that loves to patronise the 'exotic' and 'untamed'.
From this point of view you can read the movie as anti- or pro-racist. But those giant wooden doors were arguably dividing the Western fantasy of Primitivism from its rather harder reality, and the film imagining the consequences of a breach.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Fred M. Wilcox's classic template for the Star Trek franchise not only features one of the best and most elaborate 'heavy-duty' doors in sci-fi (it's semi-hexagonal and opens in three one-foot-thick layers in different directions), but also one rich in symbolism...
A visit to a distant space colony by Leslie Nielsen and co. reveals that only scientist Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) has survived a mysterious and catastrophic attack on the settlement, along with his daughter Altair (Ann Francis). Morbius has in fact discovered the ancient technology of a long-dead race called the Krell, who learned to harness the power of their subconscious minds, only to have that terrible force genocidally unleashed upon them. Dr. Morbius's experiments with Krell technology have led him to gain similar power, but also an inability to prevent his unconscious mind attacking the new visitors, just as it attacked the colonists when they decided to leave the planet against his wishes.
This door, which separates the colony building from the ancient Krell labs, is the barrier between self-control and the ungoverned 'Id', between civilisation and barbarism. No wonder it's three feet thick.
The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin's ground-breaking tale of possession places the terrifying 'doorway to hell' at the end of the landing in the deceptively tranquil Georgetown house, like an unavoidable ambush in an alley. This is one of cinema's most active doors, frequently closing itself, melting or splitting open during the harrowing scenes of Reagan's exorcism. For Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), it will prove the entrance to the next world, whereas for his doubt-bestrewn apprentice Father Karras (Jason Miller) it will lead him back from his crumbling faith to an act of self-sacrifice that justifies and fulfils its most important tenets.
As Regan is in her room for the majority of the film, her door is constantly opened and closed by relatives, and those hoping to help her. As for the character of Regan (Linda Blair), her possession itself is depicted as a 'door' that she chose to walk through - in her naiveté - via a Ouija board; though the film absolves her of sin in the Catholic understanding of liability, the book itself deals more with the moral choice of entering a 'dark realm' through idle curiosity.
This door is a barrier between the world of the living and the power of Satan; just as the 'demon' is said (in The Exorcist) to mix truth with lies to gain credibility, this is a doorway that can lead to redemption as well as damnation.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The second film in the 'Hannibal Lecter' franchise sees the main contact between Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) take place through a closed prison cell door, which Starling reaches after walking through a labyrinth of various doors and hallways, symbolising not only her Dantean journey, but also the dangerous and trap-laden doors and mazes within Lecter’s mind.
Lecter is the one who is imprisoned, but as the story unfolds, he seems to be the character most in control, and least bound by the confines of doors, walls and prisons. The fact that his cell door is transparent not only solves a cinematographic problem for director Jonathan Demme, but indicates Lecter's terrifying ability to transcend bounds.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Ofelia, the main character in Guillermo del Toro’s celebrated fable of oppression in Spain under Franco, actually draws her own door with a piece of chalk to escape the nightmarish 'feast scene' presided over by the bizarre creature with eyes in its hands.
Like many other scenes in the film, it represents an emergency-exit from the harsh reality Ofelia faces to a fantasy-land in which she has a purpose - and then back again to escape some of the monsters she finds there.
Ofelia drawing her own door suggests an exploration of her own mind, locking and unlocking memories and experiences to use when she pleases. The doors, the fantasy and the challenges set by Pan are all a form of escapism (albeit dangerous in their own way) from her unpleasant life and the horror of the Spanish Civil War.
The Shining (1980)
Kubrick’s suffocating horror classic is packed full of rich door symbolism, from the blood-spewing elevator doors representing an entrance to hell, to the unnerving and ill-reputed 'room 237' (originally 'room 217' in Stephen King's 1977 source novel, but management at the Timberline Lodge, which represents the exterior of the 'Overlook' hotel in The Shining in certain shots, requested that the number be changed; the Timberline Lodge actually has a 'room 217' and feared that no-one would want to stay in it after the film's release).
The door that makes the most enduringly iconic impression on the audience is the one which leads to the bathroom where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and Danny (Danny Lloyd) seek refuge from the insane Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). We see plenty of evidence of Jack’s deteriorating mental state beforehand, but this moment sees his crumbling psyche brutally invade the banal domestic space with force and a large helping of hysteria.
On one level this violent breaking down of the door can be seen as the final fracture between Jack's familial loyalty and his obeisance to his new spectral 'masters' at the Overlook, and on another as the rape of both Wendy and Danny, and family life as a whole. Like similar films of extreme domestic violence, such as The Amityville Horror (1979), The Shining can be seen as a manifestation of colonial guilt and the history of violent American heritage...
The film begins with a tale of cannibalism and there are several references to Native American culture as well as persecution of African Americans throughout. This is particularly apparent when Halloran alludes to Kipling’s poem White Man’s Burden, which deals with the history of colonialism.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The final scene of this epic film sees Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) leaving Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) through the front door of Tara, symbolic of Rhett finally drawing an end to the poisonous relationship he’s found himself in. When Scarlett closes the door behind him and decides to wait until tomorrow to think about what has happened, she is in effect signifying the end of their cycle of affection and rejection.
The way they both walk away from the doorway, and their relationship with one another, shows a certain degree of independence, and this kind of self-reliance brings success to most characters in the film: Scarlett builds a business on her own, Melanie refuses the opinions of others, and similarly Rhett has built a fortune through his own confidence and skills. But there’s also a sense that with this strong self-reliance and personal success comes a great deal of loss, and the way that Scarlett closes the door and sits on her own is a sad and enduring image.
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Throughout both Paranormal Activity (2007) and its sequel, doors play an important part in the plot - it’s the moving doors captured on camera that alert Katie and Micah that there are strange goings-on in their home.
However, Paranormal Activity 2 really plays with the idea of the 'forbidden' doorway in a very explicit way. All of the rooms in the house can be viewed by the surveillance system, except for the basement. The audience has no access to this room, even though the door constantly opens and closes, indicating that this is where the evil resonates. It is only later in the film that the audience can venture through this doorway, when one of the characters enters there with a handheld camera. The fact the room beyond this doorway has been prohibited up until this point renders the scene even more tense.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
At the end of the tornado scene, Dorothy opens the door of her small home into the world of Oz. She is transported from the realm of the real into that of the fantastical. Various writers have compared The Wizard of Oz to a journey of religious experience tied to a Buddhist way of thinking. Looked at in this way, the doorway is a division between life and death, the starting-step of the final journey to enlightenment.
But here also, Dorothy steps through the doorway from a world of sepia into one of Technicolor. Not only is this an entrance into another land, but it also represents a new frontier of cinema, with many aspects being changed from the original book to show the vibrancy of the colours - for instance, Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers are in actual fact silver in the Frank L. Baum source novel.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Donnie Darko (2001)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Let the Right One In (2008) sees doorways as a threshold that Eli must cross if she wants to enter the homes of mortals. However, I felt this was a little obvious, since it's a hoary mainstay of the many adaptations of Dracula, and I’m a bit sick of vampires. Sorry.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005) tells the story of a group of children who walk through the back of a wardrobe and are transported to the magical world of Narnia. However, I felt that the cupboard in this case is magical, so the door isn’t doing all of the work.
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