Adapted from a novel written by Stephen King with the same title, Misery is set in the routine locales of Silver Creek in Colorado. Hidden under the gigantic blanket of snows, the story reveals a devastating truth about one fan and her admiration for the immensely popular author Paul Sheldon, as assumed by the prolific James Caan (Godfather, El Dorado). The fan, ladies and gentlemen, Annie Wilkes—the role that won Kathy Bates (Fried Green Tomatoes, Titanic) the Academy Award for Best Actress including the Golden Globe—immortalized Bates as one of the most powerful actors of this generation. Misery is a simple story carried by dominant performances, realistic storyline, and a gripping execution by director Rob Reiner of Stand by Me and When Harry Met Sally fame.
Paul Sheldon is the hip author who, after completing the highly successful Misery franchise, works his way to deliver another unrelated novel, untitled as we speak. Driving off from his signature location at Silver Creek towards Los Angeles with his prized manuscript ready for publishing, Sheldon feels a sense of vindication. Living a parallel life elsewhere is this Nurse named Annie Wilkes who resides in an isolated house at Silver Creek. During Sheldon’s drive to LA, a terrible blizzard hits the area, driving Sheldon’s vehicle off the road into oblivion. This is the moment Annie Wilkes rescues her idol, her object of worship and takes him home to aid his rehabilitation.
Comparing Misery, the movie to Misery, the novel—people would find the movie a humanized form of the novel, which is far more horrific and sadist than the portrayals here. As always with movies based on novels, the justice meter becomes of profound importance. In this case, screenwriter—the great—William Goldman does an impeccable job of honoring the novel, while Rob Reiner does his visionary best to translate a highly disturbing novel into a perfect illustration of psychological derangement and the consequences of such hysteria.
The character of Annie Wilkes—all credit to the fingers of Stephen King—is one of the most psychopathic characters drawn on screen, at least for this generation. It’s not the wildness, gore, hoariness, or the visual effect that makes Annie who she is, but it is her actions, her behavior, mentality, and the consequent swing of temperament—epitomized by Kathy Bates, matchless and spotless—that makes Annie the sadistic model of psychopathic trance. The development of her character hardly needed fortifying as her initial outburst after having read Sheldon’s untitled novel erupted on the screen. The way James Caan sold her outburst and schizophrenic mania through his emotive displays and body language was another spine-chilling demonstration of silent acting through emotions and expressions only.
Throughout the movie, viewers do not fail to empathize with Sheldon—especially writers—and the scare of obsessive fandom that erases all lines of sense and sensibility. The realization through which Sheldon passes through couldn’t have been more reasonable and gripping, with Caan doing his absolute best in entering the body of this paralyzed and helpless man. This vulnerable man was at the complete mercy of this ominous monster of a human being, that could do anything she wished and not a single soul would be aware of what was going on in reality and, in her twisted, disturbed, and sick brain. With the movie resting in the hands of the two central characters, both Caan and Bates deliver, what could be argued as their swansong in terms of performances and portrayals of two extremities complimenting one another, and making this movie a delightful fright for viewers all around.
The handling aspect, the director’s forte is spot on. Reiner’s vision of transplanting a perverse story into visual glory meets the admiration of audiences, as Reiner walks that thread between a novel and a movie and successfully manages to actualize his vision and King’s mission—to formulate one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel. It is for this purpose Rob Reiner and his team deserves applause. A special mention to veteran screenwriter, William Goldman, in taking up the mighty task of adapting a long novel into a screenplay, and coming out with a manuscript—a working tool that could serve the director in all easiness and convenience.
The age-old saying in cinema sparks ahead here, “Create simple stories, but complex characters.” In this Stephan King classic, King creates two complex, difficult characters, while in the movie version; Kathy Bates and James Caan define the complexities of characterizations and personification, in a movie with a simple story of fandom—only twisted by the motivation of ownership, the will to survive, and the umbrella of terror. Obsession in audition!
Image Credit – Soda Head, Cinemas Quid, Cinemas Mix