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The Doors (1991) - Plot Summary Poster

(1991)

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Summaries

  • 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.

  • Meeting each other in UCLA Film School in 1965, Ray Manzarek suggests to Jim Morrison that they form a rock band. With Robby Krieger and John Densmore, that band would become The Doors. Although the foundation of the group was based on consensus, Robby and John in particular increasingly see frontman Jim's on-stage performances self-indulgent - albeit undeniably charismatic - to his controversial lyrics. His on-stage antics are fueled in large part by excessive alcohol and drug use. Outsiders begin seeing Jim as The Doors, while he begins seeing himself as "The Lizard King". It is that charisma that gets them a deal with Elektra Records, and resulting fame. Despite his popularity with the record buying public, Jim continually has run-ins with those in authority for his anti-establishment behavior. With him and the band through it all is Jim's longtime girlfriend, Pamela Courson. Theirs is a rocky relationship, primarily over Jim's open infidelity - including with reporter Patricia Kennealy - and drug-induced erratic behavior.

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  • The story of the famous and influential 1960s rock band The Doors and its lead singer and composer, Jim Morrison, from his days as a UCLA film student in Los Angeles, to his untimely death in Paris, France at age 27 in 1971.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • California, 1968. In a dark recording studio, Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer), lead singer for the rock band, The Doors, drinks whiskey while recording spoken-word versions of his poetry. The engineer (a cameo appearance by Doors drummer, John Densmore) plays a pre-recorded music track and Jim begins to recite his work "An American Prayer".

    In a flashback to the 1950s, a young Jim and his family are seen driving across the Southwestern United States in New Mexico. They pass the scene of a car accident involving two families; one family are American Indians. An old Indian man (Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman) lies dying on the side of the road; he seems to stare directly at Jim while his mother tells him the scene is just a bad dream. Jim watches until his family has driven out of sight.

    The film then jumps to 1965. Jim is seen hitchhiking to California and is picked up by a motorist. In Los Angeles Jim attends UCLA's film school. His student film, a black and white, artistic and surreal collection of haunting images, is heavily criticized by both his classmates and his professor (a cameo by director Oliver Stone). His classmate and future band mate, Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan), tells Jim that his movie is commendable, despite the criticism. When the professor asks Jim to defend the film, Jim says simply "I quit."

    Jim takes up residence in Venice Beach and meets Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan), his future wife. Jim shares his love of philosophy and poetry with her and the two spend a romantic evening on a rooftop having sex. Jim later meets Manzarek on the beach, interrupting him while he meditates. Jim sings Ray some poetry he has written that he believes can be recorded as a song ("Moonlight Drive"). Ray is astounded and the two set out to form a band, the name being inspired by Aldous Huxley's memoirs, The Doors of Perception. They recruit John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) as their drummer and Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley) on guitar. Their first rehearsals are held in Ray's apartment, where they perform "Break on Through". Robby plays a song he'd been working on which becomes "Light My Fire". The band soon finds themselves on LA's famous Sunset Strip, performing as an opening act in one of the Strip's many clubs. The band is approached by a talent agent who wants to sign them. The same man later tries to talk to Jim alone, thinking he could be signed without his band mates. Jim is indifferent.

    One year later in 1966, the band bonds further while on a trip to Death Valley to try peyote. Everyone experiences different hallucinatory visions while the film's soundtrack plays the strains of "The End." The scene changes to another performance by the band where Jim is singing the Oedipal interlude of the song, which offends the club owner who throws them out. Outside, they are approached again by a talent agent. With him is the band's future producer, Paul Rothschild (Michael Wincott). They are given a chance to record an album in six days. The band agrees. Rothschild is impressed with the band's professionalism and energy, believing the album will be a hit.

    Having achieved some measure of success, the band is asked to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show where they'll perform "Light My Fire." Before the performance, Sullivan's producer (Sam Whipple), asks the band to alter the song slightly, changing "Girl we couldn't get much higher", a potential reference to doing drugs. Jim is reluctant but agrees. During the performance, however, Jim does not comply (clearly defiant to sing the song as it is), drawing the anger of the producer, who angrily says the band will never perform on the show again.

    In 1967 in New York City, at a party thrown by Andy Warhol at The Factory, Jim meets Nico (Kristina Fulton), a sometimes singer with the Velvet Underground, and Warhol himself (Crispin Glover). Warhol gives Jim a telephone that he claims can be used to speak with God. Later, at their hotel, Jim cavorts in the elevator with Nico, while Pamela staggers around in a drug-induced funk.

    The band is interviewed by the press - one of the reporters is Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan). Jim speaks cryptically about his parents (saying they died in an automobile accident years before) and about life in excess and using drugs. Jim later has sex with Kennealy in his loft but is mostly unable to perform. She entices him with cocaine and consumption of his own blood which drives him into an animalistic frenzy. Jim later is unable to perform sexually with Courson. Jim asks Pamela if she'll die for him and dangles himself out the window. Pamela becomes nearly hysterical and manages to get Jim back in the room where he is able to finish having sex with her.

    December 9, 1967. Backstage at a concert in New Haven, Connecticut, Jim has a feverish encounter with Kennealy, who reveals that she knows Jim's parents are still alive and that she talked to his father on the phone, a Navy admiral who currently lives in Florida. Jim tries to convince her that they are at least figuratively dead, but she still tells him never to lie to her again. A policeman(Titus Welliver) appears, asking who they are. Kennealy tries to explain who Jim is, however the cop becomes hostile when Jim resists arrest and sprays the singer in the eyes with mace. The rest of the band comes to his aid, Manzarek tells Kennealy to leave Jim alone, believing she got him in trouble. During their performance that night, Jim suddenly stops singing and recounts the incident to the crowd while mocking the police. A police captain walks on stage and arrests Jim, stating that his language as broken state obscenity laws. Jim is arrested on-stage by the cops whom provided security for him, and are now roughing him up as the crowd goes wild with rage. A near-riot is averted when other policemen arrive on the scene to disburse the crowd. Jim is seen posing for a mug shot.

    Jim and Pamela throw a Thanksgiving 1968 dinner party for their friends back in California. Pamela is upset with Jim for not staying sober for the gathering like he'd promised; Jim had earlier dropped a tab of LSD. Jim convinces Pamela to take a tab herself and she spends the rest of the day in a largely depressed state. One of the guests is Patricia Kennealy, a name that Pamela recognizes immediately. She confronts both Jim and Patricia about their sexual relationship and becomes furious with Jim, throwing food at him in front of their guests. Jim stomps on the burnt duck Pamela had been roasting and demands she kill him with a kitchen knife.

    A montage follows where Jim and Pamela have a furious fight and Jim locks Pamela in a closet and sets the door on fire. In a Celtic hand-fasting ceremony (the high priestess is played by the real Kennealy) Jim marries Patricia after a short trip to Las Vegas. Jim is also seen partying heavily and getting into a car accident when he runs into a police car.

    Jim is later in the studio trying to record "Touch Me" for the Soft Parade album. Their producer, Paul Rothschild, tells Jim that his life of excess is affecting his performance and that Janis Joplin suffered the same fate and died of alcoholism. On a small television in the studio, Jim sees a commercial for a car that features a pop version of "Light My Fire." The band tells him that they decided to sell the song to the auto company during a time when Jim was in minimal contact with them. Jim becomes infuriated and hurls the TV across the room, nearly hitting Ray, and then cheerfully apologizing. Later, while Pamela performs oral sex on Jim as he sings the title track for the album, everyone in the control booth leaves quietly, unimpressed with Jim's continuing lackluster performance.

    March 1, 1969. Backstage in Miami where the band is due to perform, the band awaits the arrival of their front man. Densmore looks out on the crowd and hears a reporter recording a story about what he believes is the end of the band itself, criticizing the Soft Parade album. The band is told that Rothschild is bringing Jim to the venue. When he arrives his band mates are angry with him. Jim gives Robby a tab of LSD and they go onstage. Not long into the show, Jim sees a vision of a bonfire and a young American Indian girl and the old man he'd seen dying in the road years before. Jim stops singing and tells the crowd that they're slaves. The band stops playing, clearly annoyed and angry with Jim's attitude. The audience, already agitated at Jim's tardiness, begins to yell back at him. Jim yells mostly nonsensical gibberish and tells them he'll expose himself. When he unzips his pants, the police present at the venue, try to arrest him but he evades them and runs into the crowd, singing "Dead Cat, Dead Rats" and launching into "Break on Through." The crowd wildly follows him.

    The incident is a low point for the band, resulting in the Doors cancellation of their future concerts, resentment from the other band members and Jim's trial the following year for indecent exposure. At his August 1970 trial, Jim is found not guilty for lurid behavior, but convicted of indecent exposure and using profanity and is sentenced to eight months in prison. Yet, Jim is allowed to remain free on bail while the verdict is being appealed. At an intervention of sorts, Jim is confronted by his bandmates and friends who share various bits of news with him: several women are claiming Jim got them pregnant, their record company is thinking of dropping the band, the Woodstock Festival is being planned and the promoters want The Doors on the bill. Jim takes it all in with TV news reports of the Vietnam War and the antiwar protests at home and tells everyone he thinks he's having a nervous breakdown.

    When the last of his appeals for his 1970 indecent exposure conviction is denied, Jim and Pamela decide to flee to Paris, France where Jim can relax and focus his creative writing energy. After the Doors make a comeback with their early 1971 album, 'L.A. Woman', Jim decides to quit the band and focus on his poetry. At a birthday party for Ray's young daughter, Jim talks with the rest of the band who play "Riders on the Storm" for him. Jim comments that it "sounds pretty good for four guys who were barely talking to each other" the day they recorded it. Jim gives everyone a small printed version of "An American Prayer" and the band, despite having hardly spoken, say their goodbyes. Densmore even tells Jim him he'll actually miss him.

    On July 3, 1971, Pamela finds Jim Morrison dead in a bathtub in their apartment in Paris. The final scenes of the film are of graves of other poets, composers, writers & performers all buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. A rock version of Remo Giazotto's "Adagio in G minor" plays in the background with a voice over by Morrison. The camera finally moves toward Morrison's own grave, showing the graffiti that covers other gravestones nearby, finally settling on his marker. Just before the credits, the screen whites out and text appears saying "Jim Morrison is said to have died of heart failure. He was 27. Pam joined him three years later from a heroin overdose in August 1974, and she was also age 27 when she died."

    During the credits, the band is shown recording the song "L.A. Woman" in the studio, surrounded by their friends.

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