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Low Men in Yellow Coats : In 1960, young Bobby Garfield befriends an older man named Ted Brautigan living in his boarding house. Bobby soon discovers that Ted possesses psychic abilities and is being pursued by the sinister 'Low Men in Yellow Coats'.
Hearts in Atlantis: In 1966, a group of college kids attend college to avoid being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. When they become addicted to playing 'Hearts', their grades begin to suffer and the threat of being drafted looms.
Blind Willie: In 1983, a Vietnam vet disguises himself as a blind beggar as a form of penance for an act he committed during his childhood.
Why We're in Vietnam: In 1999, a Vietnam vet and childhood friend of Bobby attends the funeral of another veteran and is haunted by the horrors that he witnessed during the Vietnam War.
Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling: Bobby returns to his former home as an adult and confronts his past.
The novel and film provide examples of:
- Abusive Parents - Bobby's mother is at least emotionally distant and neglectful of her son.
- Animate Inanimate Object - The Low Men's cars are implied to be sentient.
- Artifact Title - As the title story was not adapted in the film, the title itself has little bearing on the actual film besides an offhand comment about childhood from Ted.
- The Atoner - Much of Willie Sherman's life is spent trying to repent for his involvement in Carol's injury when he was a kid.
- Badass Grandpa - Ted.
- Canon Welding - The first story ties significantly into The Dark Tower; Ted Brautigan is a Breaker and the Low Men are agents of the Crimson King. Ted even reappears in the final novel of the Tower series.
- It's also heavily implied that Carol Gerber got herself involved with Randall Flagg himself.
- Cool Old Guy - Ted, again.
- Draft Dodging - The characters in the title story try to do this.
- Death by Adaptation - Carol dies in the film.
- Dirty Old Man - Bobby's mother accuses Ted of being this and molesting Bobby. Deep down, however, she just feels guilty for neglecting her son.
- Eldritch Abomination - The Low Men are implied to be these in the book.
- Embarrassing Nickname - Carol Gerber is referred to by the bullies as 'the Gerber Baby'.
- Genius Book Club - Ted is an expert on books.
- Government Conspiracy - In the movie.
- Intergenerational Friendship - Bobby and Ted.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene - In "Why We're in Vietnam", Sully is haunted by a massacre committed by his battalion, in particular the death of an old "mama-san" who appears to him at the moment of his death.
- Pragmatic Adaptation - Understandably, all of the Dark Tower references were removed from the film. As such, the Low Men are government agents who want to use Ted's ability for their own purposes.
- Psychic Dreams for Everyone - After gaining a bit of Ted's psychic abilities, Bobby dreams about his mother being raped by her employers.
- Shout-Out - Ted gives Bobby a copy of Lord of the Flies. The book itself is important to the story both as an object (it's passed around to different characters throughout) and thematically.
- War Is Hell - Shown with Sully's recollection of the war.
- You Remind Me of X - Bobby gets told by a waitress how much he reminds her of his long-dead and barely remembered father. Sure enough, at one point when she's totally petrified she calls Bobby by his father's name.