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Misery (Post-Halloween)

Updated: May 1, 2021

Well, at one point or another, we’ve all had experiences with something unforgivably bad in fiction, haven’t we? Where we felt so let down by it that we felt, as if by instinct, that whoever created it should be a shamed of themselves for making it the way it turned out? Or how about with volatile fanbases? The ones where one sin in popular franchises left almost every fan flipping their lids over it to no end? Think Star Wars after The Last Jedi, or Game of Thrones after Season 8.

Well, as my final hurrah over this year’s Halloween festivities, it would only seem appropriate to discuss about the one movie that would either prompt fears over engaging with the creative medium, or talk viewers out of easily engaging in such explosive outrages.

That would be Misery with Kathy Bates.

For those of you who remember, I already critiqued the story when I read the book last year. I remember stating that the situations at hand were wild and out-of-control, and that the story was one roller coaster ride of insanity. Well, the movie excelled at keeping the insane levels of the story intact as well as on spicing it all up with a dark, brooding, haunting atmosphere.

To briefly remind you about the story, a writer named Paul Sheldon became immobilized after getting into a car accident in Colorado. From there, he was tended to by a seemingly modest woman named Annie Wilkes, who had read all of his Misery books and was his self-proclaimed #1 fan. However, when she discovered that Misery, the character, was killed off in the latest Misery volume, she started to physically unravel all over Paul, revealing herself as a murderous, psychotic lunatic who would stop at nothing until she gets what she wants.

There’s easily a lot to like about this movie, and it’s made even better if you’ve read the book before then, like I have.

To start things off, the atmosphere is very nicely expressed. For instance, Annie’s house is portrayed as a nice, modest, comforting home that you’d want to rest in, looking that way both on the outside and on the inside. However, once Annie started to show her true colors, the mood of the house changed with it, still holding onto its modesty while feeling more like an uncompromising, tightening prison as Paul gradually battened down the hatches in the wake of Annie's incoming outbursts.

Second, the acting was just spectacular. There was no bad performance I can recall as I watched this.

James Caan nicely conveyed Paul Sheldon with his hard-boiled demeanor while still allowing his character to slowly wake up (pun somewhat intended) and figure out how to escape from the clutches of his obsessive caregiver. The key factors, as I saw it, lied in the tiny mannerisms Caan gave Paul before and during his predicament. Before his misadventures, Paul still established himself with the cocky levelheadedness that I remembered from the book, and under Annie’s care, he developed into a resilient and quick-thinking yet still vulnerable victim as he reestablished himself as the object of every viewers’ (and readers’) mounting encouragement.

Richard Farnsworth gave a very respectable performance at the local deputy, Buster. The first time you meet him, he’d start off as a bumbling, jolly old guy. But when more and more clues cropped up his way with regards to Paul and his whereabouts, you see him start to prove his worth as he dove into this case further and further. Not only was he an easy guy to like, but this also was a nice tie-in to the atmospheric conditions. The nearest town where he lived, and where Annie would’ve gone, was like your everyday small town, especially those throughout Colorado, where it has a pleasant exterior as well as a hidden and unsure suspicion about the crazy situations occurring with Paul nearby.

The movie even treats viewers with a very intriguing cameo by legendary actress Lauren Bacall as Paul’s literary agent. She conveyed the respectability of someone who was committed to getting someone's literary work off the ground, as well as the sternness of someone who has a no-nonsense way of helping someone like Paul with both his personal navigations and his literary navigations. She made the most out of the little time she spent in the movie.

And finally, you have Kathy Bates. It probably goes without saying, but she was an absolute tour de force as Annie Wilkes. She captured the tender bubbly nature of Annie’s #1 fan tendencies, especially during her introduction, and along the way, she was having a ball with the explosive, uncontrollable aspects of Annie as the mentally unstable rageaholic that she was. Even when she resumed her bubbly nature inbetween her outbursts, they came out more and more with sinister and unpredictable impressions, leaving Paul and the viewer unsure of what’s going on in her mind, or even if anything is going through her mind at all. It kept the viewers wrapped up in suspicion and at the edge of their seat as they attempted to adjust more to Annie’s mood swings and see where things could possibly go for the two of them. There was even a scene I liked where Paul thinks for one minute that Annie wasn’t there in the house, but then the next minute, Annie was sitting right beside him as she gave him an injection. That sudden appearance, when it came on, was legitimately terrifying and established the right effect.

Simply put, Kathy Bates earned her Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal in this movie.

As to be expected with me critiquing the movie version of a book I also critiqued before, I’m going to list down what I noticed were changed around for the movie.

  • In the famous scene where Annie immobilized Paul further with a handheld weapon, she did so by breaking both of Paul's legs with a sledgehammer. Although, this was tame compared to the book, where she used an axe to cut off one of his feet.

  • In the book, Annie established even more inhuman, ungodly acts towards Paul. One, she showed him a rat that she caught in a mousetrap, and as she called it a “poor thing”, she squished it to death and smeared its blood all over herself. And two, she chopped off Paul‘s thumb and even used it as a lit candle when she gave him a slice of cake. While they may not have added much to the movie, they were really creepy scenes that hit home just how mentally unstable – or should I say, mentally messy – Annie can be.

  • *SPOILER ALERT* As Buster reached his first suspect on the case he investigated, he drove over to Annie’s house to question her before he was shot by her. This was a far cry from the book, where the policeman who came over was not only middle-aged, but he barely spoke to Annie before he was stabbed by her with a cross-shaped stake, and then literally mowed down by her lawnmower. This was horrifically outlandish compared to the movie's murder scene, where it was more modest, suspenseful, sinister, and ultimately tragic.

  • *SPOILER ALERT* As weird as it’s about to sound, the climax is very modest in the movie, too. Yes, Paul burned the only manuscript of Misery’s Return in front of Annie, and she did die after getting hit on the head with the typewriter. But in the book, as Paul left the manuscript on fire, the whole bedroom was also engulfed in flames, meaning that as Paul and Annie struggled against each other, they did so while on fire, Annie more so than Paul. And, she was also physically resilient; after getting most of her clothes and skin burned off, she continued to lunge after Paul outside of the bedroom, she escaped through the bedroom window, and she was a few steps away from her barn before succumbing to her wounds and dying. In the movie, the manuscript was the only thing on fire (outside of Annie's arm for a minute), and Annie died on top of Paul outside of the bedroom.

  • *SPOILER ALERT* The movie made it look like all that work Paul put into Misery’s Return was for nothing, as the only copy he wrote was seemingly put up in flames. But according to the book, he burned only the title page and a stack of blank paper while he kept the real Misery’s Return hidden underneath his bed’s mattress, assuring that after Annie died, he still was able to publish the story with no problem.

  • *SPOILER ALERT* In the book, he remained wheelchair-bound for life, whereas in the movie, he managed to regain his strength to walk again, albeit with a cane.

I don’t know what more to say about it. Stephen King crafted a freaky yet exceptional classic, and both writer William Goldman and director Rob Reiner translated it into the visual medium to great results, with style, flair, and a healthy dose of pure psychotic craziness. It pays respect to the source material while approaching it and expanding upon it in ways that arguably enriches it like never before. All it took was the right actors, the right atmosphere, and the right focus to make it stand out, and it did so in a unique fashion all its own.

This is just the right amount of insanity to add to your sanity.

Additional Thought

I think I'm catching on to a pattern here. Whenever I review a book here on The Screened Word, I usually critique the story and the characters and wrap it up with my intake on them. Every time I review the movie version of said book, more often than not, I do the same thing, but with the acting and the changes applied to the movie from the book instead. Or which movie version I prefer, if there was more than one made. I'm starting to wonder if those are subtle two-part reviews I'm putting together; part one being the book and part two being the movie? I probably need to do something about this and spice it up somehow.

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