Adaptational Analysis: Episode 2 – The Man in Black Behind the Curtain

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All stories need conflict, and the trickster archetype is one of the most common antagonists to stir things up, present throughout myth and modern media alike.

Yet what happens when you inflate the power of a trickster, until they lose what makes them a compelling character? 2017’s The Dark Tower film stretches Stephen King’s classic villain, the Man in Black, to his most powerful, but in doing so, it misses what made him such a standout antagonist. In an effort to make him more menacing and sinister, the movie turns him far more generic, losing what makes the trickster archetype so popular and successful.

In the first book in the Dark Tower series, 1982’s The Gunslinger, the Man in Black can beguile people, but his methods are left ambiguous, and his confrontations with the gunslinging protagonist Roland focus on his captivating personality. The film, however, grants the Man in Black an overpowering ability to control minds with his voice. When he disposes of his failed henchmen by calmly stating “Kill each other,” they do just that, falling victim to his magic.

As a result, he does not have to be clever or strategic with his manipulations; he can simply command. His plots subsequently become far less interesting since he no longer relies on his charisma. Whereas in the book, the Man in Black manipulates Roland’s foes into hunting him down, the film version shows no such cunning, comfortable in his godlike power and less entertaining while he is at it.

This omnipotent power also makes the Man in Black ridiculously exaggerated as a threat, meaning that the hero Roland’s only defense against him is an unexplained immunity to his mind control. The Dark Tower books always thrived on mystery, with the Man in Black even admitting to Roland that “it’s not your bullets I fear, Roland. It’s your idea of answers that scares me” (The Gunslinger, 196).

However, these mysteries usually served to foreshadow later reveals, with the Tarot Card scene heralding several characters that Roland later encountered. The film never explains why Roland alone can resist the Man in Black’s mind control, which distracts from the film’s tension and leaves the audience wondering why he has this ability.

Finally, the Man in Black’s power and lack of believable tension could be forgivable if the character’s personality was kept intact. But unlike most tricksters, 2017’s The Dark Tower depicts an antagonist who spends more time on lengthy villain exposition and threats rather than the snarky, biting sarcasm of the book character. Despite being played by the talented Matthew McConaughey, the Man in Black lacks charm; he rarely jokes and only tends to smile when making his rather generic threats.

In the book, his taunts are humorous and casual, his response when Roland threatens him a particularly strong example, “Now-now. Oh, now-now-now. We make great magic together, you and I. You kill me no more than you kill yourself” (The Gunslinger, 268). In the film, he delivers bland threats such as “Death always wins,” a line you could give to almost any villainous character.

Overall, the film version of the Man in Black shows the necessity of weakness in a trickster character, forcing them to rely on wit and charisma rather than overwhelming power.


Arcel, N. 2017. The Dark Tower. Sony Pictures.

King, S. The Gunslinger.

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