An amazing movie.
Stars Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Jamey Sheridan, and Laura San Giacomo.

Warning - spoilers below.

A summary of the movie:
Episode 1 - The Plague
In the California desert, a top-secret government testing lab suddenly has a major containment breach. A deadly, flu-like virus has been unleashed and the one man who could stop the spread of the disease has fled the compound with his family. He gets only as far as a small town in Texas where the military sets out to stop the epidemic by rounding up as many townspeople as they can and flying them to a disease-control lab in Vermont. But it is a losing cause. Thousands of people are dying. There are sudden warnings of a "darkman" who will take over the world. A few people, however, seem strangely immune: Stu Redman (Gary Sinise), one of the Texas residents; Fran Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald), a young pregnant woman in Maine, and her friend, Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec); Larry Underwood (Adam Storke), a rock singer in New York; and Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a deaf-mute hitchhiking through Arkansas. Nick is having strange dreams about an elderly black woman, Mother Abigail (Ruby Dee), who is beckoning him to join her in Nebraska. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a failed robbery attempt leads to the first apparition of the "darkman," Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan). In Vermont, Stu Redman is also having dreams about Mother Abigail. When he realizes that everyone else in the compound is dead, Stu sets out to find this mysterious woman who is beckoning him. The journey has begun.

Episode 2 - The Dreams
The deadly virus has now spread coast-to-coast. In Maine, Fran Goldsmith is burying her father. She and her friend Harold both find they are dreaming of Mother Abigail. Larry Underwood is wandering the deserted streets of New York when he encounters Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo) who, like him, has had visions of Mother Abigail. In Indiana, a pyromaniac, "Trashcan Man" (Matt Frewer), is setting afire everything he can find. He is having dreams about his new savior, the "darkman," Randall Flagg. Meanwhile, in Nebraska, Mother Abigail is awaiting the arrival of those who will join her in creating a new world. Around the country, survivors are beginning to find each other. Stu Redman finds Glen Bateman (Ray Walston) and they later join up with Fran and Harold. In Oklahoma, Nick Andros encounters Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke), a mildly retarded man who quickly finds a soul mate in Nick. Together they have a run-in with a young woman, Julie (Shawnee Smith), whom they find so frightening that they leave her behind. Larry and Nadine are still traveling together, but Nadine is suddenly having strong dreams about Randall Flagg. His pull is too compelling: She heads for Las Vegas where Flagg is setting up his community. But slowly, those called by Mother Abigail are reaching Nebraska. She and her new flock are ready to make a stand.

Episode 3 - The Betrayal
Las Vegas has now become the headquarters for Randall Flagg's evil clan. Meanwhile, Mother Abigail has taken her growing band of followers to Boulder, Colorado. Stu Redman and Fran Goldsmith have become lovers, which outrages Harold and makes him easy prey for Flagg. Mother Abigail begins to organize a council of leaders, and slowly some semblance of normal life starts to return. A new arrival in Boulder is Nadine Cross. No one knows that Randall Flagg has been priming Nadine to exert his influence on Mother Abigail's followers. The council decides to send out spies to see what Flagg is up to, choosing people unlikely to raise much suspicion. In Nevada, one of the spies, Tom Cullen, slips into Flagg's camp. Because Tom is retarded, he is easily accepted. Back in Boulder, Nadine, at Flagg's urging, has taken up with Harold, who is still fuming about the romance between Stu and Fran. Nadine causes Harold to commit a horrible crime, which results in the deaths of many people. Mother Abigail knows it is time for the final stand against Flagg, and selects four men headed by Stu Redman to lead the charge against the purveyor of evil.

Episode 4 - The Stand
Two sets of travelers are heading west: Nadine and Harold, and the group selected by Mother Abigail to face down Randall Flagg. Nadine has been told by Flagg to ditch Harold. Doomed to obey his commands, she quickly does. In Nevada, Flagg can identify all the spies but one: Tom Cullen remains a mystery to him. But Tom's identity is revealed to Flagg by Julie, the girl Tom and Nick had earlier deserted. Flagg is pleased, but a bigger problem erupts. Nadine, who had become his personal woman, suddenly turns against him. Soon, others begin to rebel against Flagg. Back in Boulder, Fran, who is about to give birth, is having dreams that show Stu to be in great danger. Actually, Stu and the others sent to confront Flagg are still alive, but Stu has been badly hurt and is left behind as they get closer to Flagg's camp. When the rest of the team arrives in Las Vegas, Flagg captures them and gathers his followers to watch their demise. But the death and destruction Flagg has inflicted has taken its toll: A rebellion against him is about to break out. The stand against evil predicted by Mother Abigail is about to be realized and, with the birth of Fran's child in Boulder, the renewal of mankind begins.

In addition to a book by Stephen King and a movie inspired by said fiction, The Stand is also (for lack of a better term) a hippie fast food restaurant at 238 Thalia Street, Laguna Beach, Orange County, California. I say The Stand is "fast food" only because that's the genre of traditional dining establishment it most closely resembles: there's no table service, all seating is outdoors, and you order, pay for, and pick up your meal at the same counter. I say "hippie" because The Stand offers a truly impressive array of all-natural foods made with minimal salt, no animal ingredients, refined sugar, or artificial additives.

The most expensive item on the menu is a special tamale and guacamole plate for $7.25, but it's easy to run up a bill of $10 or more per person because no meal at The Stand would be complete without one of their tasty beverages, which range from fresh-squeezed apple juice (there's also fresh orange, watermelon, grapefruit, lemonade and your choice of several vegetable juices) to herbal teas (hot or iced), smoothies, and shakes (no milk here, except of the cashew or sunflower nut persuasion). Alternatively, you could try their fresh fruit soft serve, which is exactly what it sounds like: blended frozen fresh fruit. No milk, eggs, sugar, or anything. It's amazing.

But back to the food: The Stand has incredible sandwiches and pita pockets, as well as a wide range of burritos and tamales. Main dishes include various tostadas, special burritos, and combination plates featuring Oriental-style vegetables, tamales, and burritos. There's usually a selection of soups, and their salads are downright amazing. If you order a large, you'll be grazing on it for quite a while, and if you're like me (and I know I am), you'll be loving every minute of it. The Stand's lemon herb salad dressing is incredible, and you can order extra to take home, if you like. Have I mentioned the guacamole yet? There's at least one guacamole option for all of the dishes I mentioned above, except the soups. But you can order some guacamole and chips on the side with your soup, so as not to miss out on the sheer joy of The Stand's guacamole goodness.

The Stand offers daily specials that usually involve some combination of tacos, burritos, sandwiches and salad or chips. These are almost always a great deal (some under $1), so check them out. If you want a breakfasty meal, you're in luck: try either the blueberry waffles with fruit salad and honey (so good!) or the granola. Yum.

The Stand is open from 7 AM to 8 PM every day during the summer, and 7 AM to 7 PM in the winter. I applied for a job there, was told I was rampantly overqualified, and I love them anyway. Once again, The Stand is at 238 Thalia Street (visible from Pacific Coast Highway; it's right next to the Laguna Beach Cyclery, in a building shaped like a barn), Laguna Beach.

d e a t h ,   e n t r o p y   a n d   a n   a m e r i c a n   e p i c

I'M NOT SURE "EPIC" even covers it. At over 450,000 words¹, it's half the length of the King James Bible. It kills off something like five billion people in its opening swipe. It reads like the intersection between Revelation and The Lord of the Rings. And it is horribly, unforgivably engaging.

The Stand begins with an unlocked animal cage, or a weak seal, or a broken vial. The origin is not exactly clear. What is clear is that a disease, a made-to-order disease, has traveled, in the lungs of an AWOL soldier, from a military base in Nevada to a small town in east Texas. It infects 99.44% of the people it comes into contact with, and it kills everyone it infects. And containment is no longer an option.

Over the course of roughly a month, America descends into a state of martial law, reporters broadcast sunny predictions of recovery (at gunpoint), and vast traffic jams form as residents flee cities (or flee to cities) only to be blockaded by military forces. And in these huge masses, and in their homes, and in overcrowded hospitals, the people die—of a "shifting-antigen" flu that zigs, zags, and eventually exhausts even the most robust immune system.

The rest of the world, we are left to assume, fares little better.

The destruction so gleefully sown (and King clearly enjoys this deconstruction), it is now time for this to become a Stephen King novel—by which I don't mean the supernatural, the horror, the downright creepiness that often propels his prose. I'm talking about the character-driven drama, King saying "let's drop Larry into Central Park after the whole city of New York has died, and see what he does." It is King's fascination with this question, and with so many like it—much more than any of the supposed Stephen King trademarks—that drives and underpins his better stories, and that draws to him more readers (and more "Constant Readers," as he calls them) than perhaps any other living author². But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We follow the main characters—Larry Underwood, a rock musician in New York, Stu Redman, a strong-and-silent east Texan, Fran Goldsmith, a pregnant college student from Ogunquit, Maine, and Nick Andros, a deaf-mute twenty-one-year-old drifter—and a handful of others, as they seek out survivors. They form small groups, and then begin to dream similar dreams—of two different people, two different places. Of something that smells a little like Good versus Evil. And they begin to feel they now have, at the very least, a destination.

This is the set-up, this is the first third of the novel, and in good conscience I feel it's as far as I can take you.

s t o r y t e l l i n g

I'VE BEEN MEANING TO write about Stephen King for quite a while—because I think he deserves a great deal more critical reading than he's gotten, and because King was the first writer who really hooked me, back when I was thirteen years old, and made up most of my reading material for the next three or four years.

King is like that. His readers consume his books compulsively. His style is straightforward and simple; his stories interweave, with characters from one novel often referencing those from another; his regional dialect is authentic and serves very well to ground his narrative—all, in combination, forming a certain comfortable familiarity for the "Constant Reader." Maybe this explains the audience, the return crowd that's read not only The Shining, Pet Sematary, and 'Salem's Lot, but also the relatively marginal Rose Madder, Insomnia, and Firestarter. I don't know. I don't really care: It's not what draws me back (and I've read nearly all his books).

I pick up a Stephen King novel when I have a few days to burn, and I want to be taken wholly into a story. He has the ability, especially when (as in The Stand) he crosses the border between horror and dark fantasy, to create powerful and immersive worlds. It's a matter of imagination and talent and so on, of course—but I think the really captivating element is his own fascination. He seems to proclaim the he believes.

King's greatest talent, though, has little to do with words like "imagination," "horror," "fantasy," and so on: He has a startling capacity for creating rational, real, whole characters, and scattering them in major and often minor roles. Even the hapless Bill Hapscome, who exists for perhaps a dozen pages in The Stand (who, "from the depths of his ninth-grade education," suggests that the US Treasury should just say "'screw this inflation shit. Screw this national debt shit ... We're gonna run off fifty million thousand-dollar bills and hump them right the Christ into circulation'") remained in my memory the five years between readings. And many of his major characters—Carrie, Jack Torrence from The Shining, Andy Dufresne from "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (Tim Robbins's character in the film), Annie Wilkes from Misery—hold a sort of mythic status among his readers, and, due to the films, many non-readers as well.

t h e   s t a n d

THE POWER OF THE Stand is special, though. It is King's most popular novel, and his best (at least until he finishes publishing his seven-volume story, The Dark Tower). Its scope far exceeds that in his earlier novels, and it seems to exist more in our world than the Stephen King not-quite-our-world of most of his stories. Yet it still contains that drive, that brashness, that seems to fade as most writers age. It's extraordinary, of all King's works, because of its portrayal of the meltdown of authority structures. It's extraordinary because it borrows heavily the weight of Genesis and Revelation. And it is extraordinary, perhaps more than any other reason, because it provides a particular opening for the imagination:

This idea first occurred to me, under similar circumstances, reading Lord of the Flies. I was maybe a quarter of the way into that novel and it came to me that probably no amount of bumbling on the part of William Golding, its author, could ruin what he'd created in my mind. That he'd come upon a near-perfect set-up, a clean slate that the imagination couldn't help but fill on its own: A group of children stranded, alone, left to do what all people must, which is form power structures. No matter where the story lead, whether his story remained a true one, I was certain there was, stemming from that point, a story that would come easily and naturally and truly. And if I squinted, I could almost see it.

And in The Stand, when the lights flicker and die over the head of Nick Andros, we realize in something more like instinct than feeling that not only are the people gone, the authority is gone ... and that pretty much makes those who are left the authority. Now I'm not talking about profundities, realizing you can be whatever you want to be, so on—I'll tell you right now, this is not a book that will change your life. What I'm talking about is simply that this is one of those very few stories that, at least for a while, hands the reader something so fundamentally dead-on that he feels almost as if he's writing the story himself.


The Stand : The Complete and Uncut Edition by Stephen King
1161 pages, copyright © 1978 by Stephen King
New Material copyright © by Stephen King
Illustrations copyright © by Bernie Wilson
Gramercy Press
ISBN: 0-517-21901-8


  1. The edition reviewed in this writeup is the 1990 revision of The Stand, which was originally published a decade earlier in a significantly shorter form. Four hundred manuscript pages were cut from King's final draft, due to production costs. This edition restores much of the deleted material, including a previously-unpublished prologue and epilogue.
  2. "The world's bestselling novelist," claims King's paperback publisher, Penguin: http://www.penguinputnam.com/Author/AuthorFrame/0,1020,,00.html?id=1000007680

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