All the ideas behind Stephen King’s Misery terrify me. Driving in a blizzard, flipping the car, breaking bones and possibly losing a manuscript is bad enough. But being saved and dependant on an emotionally unstable woman with unlimited medications is scary. Her holding Paul captive, destroying his best work and forcing him to write for her is pure torture.
Paul (James Caan) is a novelist, famous for his series of romantic novels about a young woman named Misery. He hates those novels and is putting them in the past, ready to write for himself now. However, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his savior from the blizzard, nurse to his shattered legs and complete caregiver, is Paul’s number one fan and loves his Misery novels. She even named her big hairy pig Misery. When she discovers Paul’s new manuscript, she becomes furious that it’s nothing like the Misery stories. With the sympathy of a disappointed mother and the control of a madwoman, she forces Paul to destroy it and write a new Misery novel. Paul has no choice since he is helpless, unable to walk, dependant on Annie’s care and has no way to escape.
Kathy Bates’ Annie is one of the scariest women I’ve ever seen in film, and it earned her an Oscar. Watching her is like watching a volcano, never knowing when it will erupt. One minute, she seems friendly, helpful even loving to Paul. Then, in an instant, her mood explodes into rage. These moment shook me more than I was prepared for. In these moments, Annie goes from plain and creepy and seems to lose herself in her crazed rage. The camera keeps low and zooms in on her face slowly, her eyes seem glazed and unfocused as all the muscles in her face rant. I love how even in her more docile moments, she can look like a lazy-eyed shark: ugly, even stupid, but still menacing. Even in her laced collar dress, she is still so menacing.
That might be one of my favorite scenes in the movie, when Paul and Annie have dinner together. It’s a part of Paul’s plan to drug Annie and escape. He has been meticulously saving his medication and finally found the occasion. Of course, Annie is bowled over and giddy about the idea of sharing a special meal with Paul. I’m sure she feels like a lady in that frumpy dress, just as I’m sure Paul despises every moment he has to spend sucking up to her. When the moment Paul sees his chance to drug Annie, we hold our breath thinking it’s too good to be true. I nearly cried when Paul’s plan was ruined by Annie just being a clumsy oaf.
What makes Paul work so well is that we are completely on his side. No one wants Annie to win. Our spirits are crushed when any of Paul’s plans goes amiss. Throughout the film, I kept wondering what else can Paul do? From what I could come up with, he’s been very brave and done all he could against his captor. And for a middle aged guy confined to a bed, he’s charming, with a sharp mind. His sense of wit and humor help defend him from Annie and keep him alive.
When I think about Stephen King coming out and telling the world that Misery was inspired by his substance addictions, the ideas in film become much clearer and more terrifying. Annie is a personification of his addictions, nursing him, bringing him relief from the pain, but keeping him captive and isolated from the world. To break free is next to impossible, frightening and could kill him. Annie as a character is intriguing enough, but as a personal taboo issue King was battling within while writing the novel brings both the novel and film to a whole new level.
Misery is a great movie about something as simple as being captive and powerless. At first glance, this seems like an odd film for Rob Reiner to direct, especially right after When Harry Met Sally, but he does a fantastic job of keeping the tension tight. Best of all, he focuses on the relationship between Paul and Annie, which is all you really need to keep the story moving forward. The small side plot where the local sheriff trying to find Paul just smooths out the rest of the world. From start to finish, there are plenty of tense moments in fear of Annie that keep us at the edge of our seats. And the unforgettable sledgehammer scene is one of the most painful moments in film for audiences to watch.
“I am your number one fan. There is nothing to worry about. You are going to be just fine. I am your number one fan.”