'The Dark Tower' FAQ: You Will Have Questions; We Have Answers

After a long, winding road, The Dark Tower hits the big screen this weekend. It's taken a lot of time and effort to bring Stephen King's fantasy epic to life, and the transition from page to screen has not been a smooth one. The Dark Tower contains some complex, sprawling mythology, and a lot of that mythology doesn't transfer very well into the film. That may give you pause, but never fear – if you've forgotten the face of your fathers, I'm here to show you the way and answer some important questions in the process, especially if you're a non-reader who was totally baffled by the movie.

Beware of spoilers.

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Who’s Who in The Dark Tower?

Idris Elba is Roland Deschain, the last of the gunslingers – peacekeeping knights descended from Arthur Eld, the inspiration for our legend of King Arthur (you know, like in that popular Guy Ritchie movie).

Matthew McConaughey is The Man in Black, the stylish villain who wants to use the minds of children strapped into the chair from Total Recall to destroy the Dark Tower and unleash darkness upon the world.

Tom Taylor is Jake Chambers, a young boy from New York who has nightmares about Roland, the Man in Black and Mid-World, the other dimension that they inhabit.

There are other characters, but none of them matter much as far as the film is concerned. The film is drastically different from the books in almost every conceivable way. Roland in the movie is on a quest for revenge, whereas the Roland in the books wants to reach the Dark Tower to see who or what inhabits it – god or demon. The Man in Black in the movie is the big bad, whereas in the books he's the chief agent of the real big bad, The Crimson King. The movie has no time for any of this stuff, though.

The Dark Tower Trailer

Okay, So What Is The Dark Tower?

The Dark Tower is the the very center of everything. All space and time converge at the Tower, and all life in all the various universes seems to have originated from the Tower. The movie doesn't bother to tell you any of this, though, so don't worry too much about it.

Oh. Neat. Wait, You Said The Man In Black Wants to Destroy the Dark Tower. What Happens If the Dark Tower Falls?

If the Dark Tower falls, "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world", to quote W.B. Yates. Up is down and black is white – we're talking total chaos here. Life as we, and all other creatures in all other dimensions, know it will cease to exist.

Really? That Sounds Terrible! Why Does The Man in Black Want to Destroy the Dark Tower?

This is a tricky question to answer. In the books, it's actually the Crimson King who wants to destroy the Tower, but the film gives this task to the Main in Black instead. In The Dark Tower film, The Man in Black, aka Walter Padick, wants to destroy the Dark Tower by using the minds of kidnapped children. While this is not the Man in Black's mission in the books, the film apparently needed to give the character some sort of evil motivation. According to the film's flimsy mythology, destroying the Tower will unleash evil demonic forces upon the world. Why does the Man in Black want to do this? Because he's evil. That's literally the only motivation he has as far as the movie is concerned.

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Wow. This Movie Seems Very Poorly Constructed. Anyway, Who is the Crimson King?

Jake finds his way to Mid-World by entering through a portal located at a rundown house known as the Dutch Hill Mansion. Upon entering the mansion, he spots some graffiti on the wall that proclaims "All Hail the Crimson King." The Dark Tower film doesn't elaborate on this, but the Crimson King is the big bad of the books, a Satanic figure who thrives on chaos and destruction. In the books, it's the Crimson King, not the Man in Black, who really wants to destroy the Tower to bring about "Discordia," a state of chaos that would come as a result of the Tower falling. The Crimson King, who is imprisoned within the Tower, believes that while most life would perish upon the Tower's fall, he would survive, and then be able to remake the entire universe in his own image. It's worth pointing out that the Crimson King is also crazy, so it's never clear if this plan would actually work or not. The film seems to have combined some of the Crimson King's motives with the Man in Black's to simplify things.

Speaking of Jake, Is The Book Told From His Perspective?

Nope. The books are from the perspective of Roland, and when the books start out, Roland's quest is rather vague. He's not entirely familiar with just what the Dark Tower is, or what it does. The movie, however, has him well-versed in all this knowledge. In the books, Jake isn't on a quest to find Roland, but ends up in Mid-World after he's pushed in front of a car and killed. After waking up in Mid-World, Jake's memories of his previous life begin to fade. Jake eventually meets Roland, and the two develop a bond on their quest to find the Man in Black. Yet this doesn't stop Roland from letting Jake fall to his death (again). The filmmakers perhaps erroneously thought audiences would connect to the narrative if it was seen through the eyes of a normal human character suddenly thrust into this strange world.

Some of the Bad Guys Wear Skin Masks – Who Are They?

There are several villains who work for the Man in Black, the most prominent of which are a group of rat-faced humanoid creatures who wear human masks to disguise themselves in our world. These are the Can-toi – a hybrid race descended from the mating of humans with the Taheen, another race of Mid-World humanoid creatures with animal heads. The film has them hanging out at the Dixie Pig, a restaurant in New York City that also houses a portal into Mid-World. In the books, the Dixie Pig is also a frequent hang-out spot for vampires, although those particular creatures of the night don't pop up in the film.

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Why Does Mid-World Have Stuff Like Abandoned Amusement Parks? What is This, A Scooby-Doo Episode?”

Roland and the Man in Black inhabit a place called Mid-World, which is actually one of three regions that make up All-World – In-World, Mid-World, and End-World. Time has "moved on" in All-World, and things are slowly falling apart. But at one point, All-World was once home to an advanced civilization where life more or less mirrored that of the modern United States. Only remnants of this great civilization still survive, but they reflect things very familiar to us mortals, including cars, computers, and, yes, amusement parks. The amusement park in The Dark Tower movie also gives the filmmakers an opportunity to reference another King work via a sign that reads "Pennywise", the malevolent clown from It.

Oh, Right! References – There Are A Bunch. Why Is The Hotel From The Shining Referenced? How Does That Fit Into The Story?

Almost all of Stephen King's books are connected in some way, and The Dark Tower universe joins them all together. King himself even appears as a character in the Dark Tower series, where it's revealed that everything he writes – whether it be a Dark Tower book or not – is still connected to that universe. King even tied his real-life near-fatal 1999 accident, where he was struck by a van while on a walk, into the narrative, revealing it as a plot from The Crimson King to kill him off. King doesn't appear as a character in the film, of course, but to drive home the "everything is connected" theme, the film features several not-so-subtle references to King's work: Jake's therapist has a framed photograph of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining; Jake has a toy car that looks like the killer vehicle from Christine; a poster of Rita Hayworth hanging in a gun shop is the same poster from The Shawshank Redemption; there's a store near the Dixie Pig called "Barlow and Straker" – the head vampire and his human familiar from 'Salem's Lot.

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What About The Portals? Why Doesn’t Roland Just Use a Portal To Go Right To The Dark Tower?

That's sort of like asking "Why didn't Frodo just ride one of those eagles all the way to Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings?" The simple answer is: if Roland did that, there wouldn't really be much of a movie (although maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing). In the books, there are two types of portals, or doors – magic doors, which are rare, and man-made ones, which are more common. But there isn't one of these doors leading to the Tower, which is why Roland can't use it. That said, the Tower itself does have portals at the end of six beams that shoot out from it. But each beam portal is protected guarded by an animal. The Crimson King wants to destroy all these beams to topple the tower. But again, the movie doesn't bother to explain any of this, so don't be too concerned about it.

Hmm. So, What Is Up With Matthew McConaughey In This Movie?

Uh...what do you mean?

Like, What Is He Doing? Why Are All His Acting Choices Here...Wrong?

He's collecting a paycheck, I guess. McConaughey is clearly having fun playing a seductive bad guy, and I don't think he's that bad in the role. The problem is the script – the Man in Black here is your standard sci-fi bad guy, the type prone to long exposition about why he's so darn evil. The Man in Black in the books is far more complex than that. He actually has a rich, troubling backstory that involves abuse as a child that may or may not have influenced his actions later in life. The character also appears in one form or another in other Stephen King works. In The Eyes of the Dragon, he's the evil sorcerer Flagg. In The Stand, he's Randall Flagg, a force of evil trying to construct a new civilization following a massive plague.

King describes him in The Stand like this:

"He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall dead off telephone lines. When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your urine burns. The grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He's always outside. He came out of time. He doesn't know himself. He has the name of a thousand demons. Jesus knocked him into a herd of pigs once. His name is Legion...He knows magic. He can call the wolves and live in the crows. He's the king of nowhere.

It's a creepy, effective description, but that doesn't match the character we see in The Dark Tower at all. We can't blame McConaughey for this as much as we can blame multiple screenwriters Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel.

Think They’ll Make Any More Of These Movies?

Currently, there's a TV series in the works, with The Walking Dead's Glen Mazzara serving as the showrunner. Poor Dark Tower box office might kill this idea, but if not, TV might be the best place for The Dark Tower to end up. A TV show will give the complex mythology room to breathe and expand. Of course, they might just screw it up again.