As my seemingly endless period of novel-based cinema comes to a close this week, I’d like to share one of my personal favorites of the King collection, in what I consider to be a fitting end to the saga here at Strange Bacon. Misery, a 1990 film, was released very shortly after the book was published, in what was likely an effort to make its production as currently relevant as possible. This was during one of the heights of King’s popularity, and naturally the film, which was a relatively frugal venture at an estimated 20 million, pulled in more than triple its expenditures for an instant smash hit.
As anyone who has read the novel will know; the story centers around a crippled writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who has had both his legs decimated by a snowy car accident, and his unlikely savior Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates.) Unfortunately for Sheldon, the woman who saved his life in his car accident and kept him alive from the brink of death also happens to be his “#1 fan,” pulling the plot into a dichotomy between appreciation for his rescue, and his uneasiness at the outright creepy and borderline psychotic nature of Annie Wilkes.
There is a lot of dark humor, as it is really any writer’s (or other celebrity of any kind) worst nightmare to be stuck in a confined space with an obsessive fan for an extended period of time. It does not help that Wilkes is a fan only of the series that Paul is least fond of, a series of crime novels starring a clichéd strong heroine character known as Misery. Here the book strikes an almost misogynistic tone that is not fully captured by the film, as Paul Sheldon describes his own most famous book series as a disappointment, citing that he hated the character Misery, and that the vast majority of his passionate fanbase were uneducated women who were easily satisfied by the prospect of a strong, simple female lead and little else. Sheldon, for his part, wants to free himself from the series and move on to writing other works that he is more interested in.
The film begins to take an interesting turn when Annie Wilkes begins exploiting her position as caretaker of Sheldon in order to influence his writing. She refuses to take him to a hospital, displays some severe mental health issues, and before long Sheldon realizes that his very existence and not simply the principle of his writing is at stake. All manner of hilarity and dark humor ensues.
The film is driven by a very convincing Kathy Bates performance. It was a tough role to play, and she captured it perfectly, which is one of the reasons the film is so fondly looked at as an immediate success of a King translation. I’d recommend a watch, and the book itself is available in audio on Youtube for those of you with audio privileges at work.
Before I sign off for this week, I’d like to thank Stephen King himself for providing such a positive influence on American culture. The man who lived just down the street from my Maine family has represented his state well, providing book after book of tireless work, and lecture after lecture to young aspiring writers at universities all over the country. It has been a pleasure reviewing his film adaptations and in some cases, reading his literature, and I hope to come back to this at some later time and review another ten of his works. Films of his I have seen but not reviewed include: The Shawshank Redemption, Rose Red, Dreamcatcher, The Langoliers,Children of the Corn, The Shining, and Pet Sematary.