Classic Reel: Misery

Cast: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth and Lauren Bacall

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Year of Release: 1990

Plot: A bestselling novelist is injured in a car crash and rescued by a woman who takes him to her isolated farm house. Unfortunately, his rescuer is a crazed fan and a psychopath, who subjects him to agonising torture and abuse.

Adapted from Stephen King’s 1987 novel of the same name, Misery starred James Caan (Sonny Corleone in The Godfather),  Kathy Bates and Humphrey Bogart’s widow, the late Lauren
Bacall in a special appearance as Paul’s (Caan) agent. The well played role of Annie Wilkes won Kathy Bates a much deserved Oscar for Best Actress; so far the only Stephen King adaptation to actually win one.

Misery is among the list of well adapted Stephen King books; the others include  CarrieThe Shining, Pet Semetary, The Shawshank Redemption, Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile and the most recent It. It is more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie, as there are zero supernatural elements. And because most of the action took place in Annie’s home in the novel, a few scenes not in the book was naturally added, with a few more characters,
notably Richard Farnsworth who played the Sheriff investigating Paul’s disappearance after he’s reported missing.  And while there were a few differences from the novel, it didn’t damage the movie itself.

The film’s dark themes...unhealthy obsession and mental illness. Annie Wilkes (Bates) clearly the human manifestation of both, her obsession for Paul’s main character in his series of period novels- Misery Chastain- and for Paul himself. Everyone has a favourite movie, T.V and literary character of course, but Annie’s

deep regard for Misery was more than disturbing, even naming her pig after her. Ditto her obsession for Paul Sheldon, whom she kept prisoner and at the same time insisted she loved him and was his ‘number one fan’. She praised him over and over for creating such a lovely character like Misery. She's overly cheery around Paul at first but soon reveals her raging temper when arguing about his new manuscript. And on finding out Paul killed off her beloved lady in his final 'Misery' book, Misery’s Child; she turned on him as though he actually put a bullet in Misery’s head, her madness unleashed.

‘I don’t want her spirit! I want her! And you MURDERED her! 

 Kathy Bates was Annie Wilkes to the teeth- the retired nurse with a very dark side, outward prim demeanour and creepy vulnerability. Both movie and novel, you won’t find yourself sympathising with her; her intense cruelty towards Paul for most of the film and her evil past makes you keep rooting for Paul’s escape. Misery’s ‘murder’ was the basis for what she demanded from Paul- a new book resurrecting Misery...or else.

James Caan was excellent as Paul Sheldon, considering he was either in bed or in a wheel chair in most of the movie. His expressions and reactions of acute pain from his injuries and fear and terror at the hands of his tormentor were carried out well, including the part he had to hold back his anger when Annie forces him to burn his first post Misery manuscript. And there was the intense scene where the crazy bitch broke his ankles with a hammer, his scream of sheer agony was scarily realistic.

If you think that’s too graphic, read the novel itself.

The movie’s climax is nail biting but leaves the viewers wondering how Paul was able to leave her house, since the final scene showed him hobbling into a restaurant to have lunch with his agent. Yet, you will find yourself applauding and eager to watch this all over again.

Misery isn’t an adaptation that’s better than the novel; it’s as good as the novel.

- When accepting her Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Annie Wilkes, Kathy Bates jokingly said, ‘I’d like to publicly apologise to James Caan for the ankles.’

- Kathy Bates appeared in two more Stephen King adaptations. She appeared in the miniseries adaptation of The Stand in 1994 and played the main character in  Dolores Claiborne in 1995.

- Stephen King regards Misery as one of his top 10 favourite adaptations of his works.



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