I’ve been reading Stephen King novels for many years, and even though I’ve read a good amount of them, some of them, like Misery, I haven’t got around to reading, yet. Which is a pity because, if the movie is any indication, we might be before one of his best books yet.
The movie is a heavily dialogue- driven movie and a fantastic character piece that delves into the psyche of one of the most horrific literary villains ever put on paper. I’m talking, of course, about Annie Wilkes, the psychotic former nurse with a murky past who takes care of writer Paul Sheldon, the famous romantic book writer after he suffers a car accident in a mountain road when he was on his way back from his secluded mountain lodge where he was finishing his latest Misery novel, which is the name of the protagonist of all his novels.
Annie happens to be, according to her, her number one fan and this is quite unfortunate, as Sheldon has decided, after many years on the top of the number one best-sellers list, to kill the titular character of his novels in his last book, and he has the misfortune of having Annie read his latest manuscript which he was carrying with him at the moment of the accident.
What ensues is a highly psychologically charged tale set basically in a solitary snow-bound cabin in the middle of the woods between the bedridden Paul, who has broken both legs in the accident, and Annie who is none too happy about Paul killing her favourite character. Of course, it isn’t too long before we find out that Annie is a highly unstable person, who at one moment in the past, was the Head Nurse in the Maternal Ward of a Hospital, where several babies died in mysterious circumstances whilst in her care. That compounded with her sickly obsession with the Misery books makes for a very taut and suspenseful movie that keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat.
The movie, occasionally, abandons this suffocating setting to venture out for the occasional parallel investigation conducted by the local sheriff at the request of Sheldon’s publisher and it also adds the much appreciated comic relief in the form of the constant bickering between the sheriff and his deputy, who also happens to be his wife.
So, all in all, we have all the usual trappings of a King novel with the Mid-Western town setting, the successful, but unhappy writer and an extraordinary circumstance, in this case a car accident (as was also the case in The Dead Zone), that will precipitate the appearance of a rather unstable character who will bring all kinds of physical and psychological discomfort to the protagonist.
Whilst watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder what someone like Alfred Hitchcock could have done with this material. I think it would have been right up his alley and, in many respects, the movie homages the work of the Master of Suspense in several scenes of the movie, like all the tense exchanges between a helpless, bedridden Paul and Annie, where she loses her temper and manifests her anger in the way of violent physical outbursts that have Paul as the unfortunate recipient. The scene where he leaves the confines of his room by picking the door lock while Annie is out in Town shopping, falls out of his wheelchair by accident and has to get back on it, get back to his room and lock the door up again, before she gets back in the house, is brilliant. The pacing and suspense in that scene, with the intercutting actions, the editing and the tense musical cue by Marc Shaiman make it a masterpiece in its own right. That’s only one of several examples of brilliantly executed set pieces that are peppered throughout the movie. Of course, none of this mastery would be possible without the absolutely brilliant performances by both James Caan and especially, Kathy Bates. Her portrait of a bipolar former nurse with Homicidal tendencies is mesmerising. She practically carries the movie on her shoulders most of the time and for that alone, for her outstanding performance, is worth watching the movie. A very well written script by William Goldman, brilliant score by Marc Shaiman, a fittingly cold looking Cinematography by Barry Sonenfeld, and very solid direction by Rob Reiner, make this one of the best movies from the 90s and I’d venture to say, even though I’ve never read the book, one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel. I’ll just have to get around to reading this one now, won’t I?.
Thanks for reading.