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Oliver Stone's homage to 1960s rock group The Doors also doubles as a biography of the group's late singer, the "Electric Poet" Jim Morrison. The movie follows Morrison from his days as a film student in Los Angeles to his death in Paris, France at age 27 in 1971. The movie features a tour-de-force performance by Val Kilmer, who not only looks like Jim Morrison's long-lost twin brother, but also sounds so much like him that he did much of his own singing. It has been written that even the surviving Doors had trouble distinguishing Kilmer's vocals from Morrison's originals. Written by
Denise P. Meyer <email@example.com>
The Doors is unapologetically a film about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. For 140 minutes we follow Doors singer Jim Morrison from his days as an aspiring film student at UCLA to his death in Paris in 1970 at the age of 27. Writer-director Oliver Stone based the story of the film on some 150 transcripts detailing the life and character of Morrison. The result is far from flattering. The Doors paints a picture of a man enamored with death, his own inevitable demise more a relief than an agony.
Death stalks Morrison wherever he goes from a young age. As a child driving through the New Mexico desert with his family, Morrison happens across the site of a car accident littered with dead and dying Navahos. We watch the young Morrison endure what seems to be a sort of possession rite by spirits of the dead natives. Years later he'll profess to be a shaman and from what we see on screen, he might well have believed it to be true. Native American spirits dance alongside Morrison as he sings on stage. Whether these were real or simply an acid fueled hallucination is left deliberately unclear by Stone. Likewise, a death-like character (Richard Rutowski) shadows Morrison throughout his life as a rock singer. Whether this indicates Morrison saw death as a friend, was actually accompanied by Rutowski (who was a real life friend of Morrison), or was simply hallucinating remains ambiguous. What is clear is the following: in his great desire to self destruct, Morrison drank whiskey like water and spent an inordinate amount of time on precarious ledges outside Hotel windows thirty stories up.
Kilmer's performance as Morrison is easily the finest of his career. Raw, nervy, deliberately off putting and confrontational, moments of sobriety are few are far between for this insecure egomaniac. At times I didn't feel as though I was watching a portrayal of a character long deceased so much as a documentary. From threatening suicide repeatedly to quarreling constantly with police at concerts, scenes of bad behavior are many but moments of insight are few and far between. This doesn't seem a shortcoming on behalf of director Stone so much as an accurate depiction of the highly acidic Morrison as he truly was; this was a man who didn't want to be understood. This was an artist on the constant edge of oblivion; an iconoclast who refused to be loved and was close to intolerable whenever possible. Of course it's less than a pleasant experience following the venomous creature that Morrison became for the film's final hour as he goes from alcohol induced nervous breakdown to drug fueled indecent exposure, but I for one appreciate Stone's refusal to Hollywoodize the life and death of Morrison. Kilmer abandons completely all instinct for self preservation on screen, submerging himself in a performance that can only be described as his magnum opus.
Meg Ryan leads the supporting cast as Pamela "Morrison" Courson, Morrison's longtime lover and common-law wife. Ryan seems lost in the role but thankfully spends a minimal amount of time on screen as Morrison was a firm supporter of the "free love" social movement. Indeed, he spends more time with journalist and witchcraft enthusiast Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan), an amalgam of several Morrison lovers who suffered through his frequent alcohol and drug induced impotence. A very fine Michael Madsen is wasted as actor Tom Baker, a friend of Morrison's whose relationship is grossly underdeveloped. The only performance among the supporting cast worthy of praise is that of quirky character actor Crispin Glover in a cameo as Andy Warhol, a scene that is absolutely spellbinding.
Some may criticize The Doors for glamorizing a life of excess; this film gives younger viewers the idea that drugs and promiscuous sex are fun, critics may charge. Those who would are missing the point entirely. As are those who would interpret this film as the cautionary tale of a life wasted. Little about the character we view on screen is glamorous. It seems no accident that Morrison died as he did. This was a man obsessed with death; his demise seems more a moment of wish fulfillment than tragedy. My only significant criticism of the film is that the title is certainly a misnomer; this could have easily been titled "The Jim Morrison Story" as there is not a single scene on screen without the eccentric singer while the remaining members of the band are relegated to obscurity. Call it art imitating life once more.
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