Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990) A return to Stephen King territory for Reiner after adapting King's novella "The Body" into Stand By Me.  That one was an unexpected hit for Reiner, who'd only achieved a certain cult following with This is Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing.  Stand By Me changed all that, and Reiner had his pick of projects. 

The story is every creator's worst nightmare: meeting critics and fans.  As adapted by William Goldman, Writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) goes to his mountain writing-retreat to put the finishing touches on his latest novel—a departure from the successful historical potboilers he has been churning out.  Trouble starts when a traffic accident leaves him injured and in the care of nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, who won a Best Actress Oscar for this), who declares herself his "number one fan."  The care she gives him is fine—of course, he's helpless, bed-ridden, incapacitated with two broken legs, and there is the usual paranoia that comes from being in the care of a stranger.  But his condition goes from "stable" to "critical" when Annie reads his manuscript, and doesn't like it as it's not the same thing he's been writing.  But, he's down-graded from "critical" when she gets ahold of his latest "Misery" book and discovers her favorite character is killed in it.  At this point, Annie down-grades from "stable" to "street-rat crazy." 

She restrains Sheldon to his recovery bed, burns his manuscrpt, then breaks his ankles—"hobbling" him—to keep him captive to write the next "Misery" novel bringing the character back to miraculous life.

Meanwhile, Sheldon's publisher (played by Lauren Bacall) reports him missing—he's missed his manuscript delivery date—and a search begins for Sheldon in the local area, spear-headed by Sheriff Buster (the late great Richard Farnsworth, aided by his dispatch, Frances Sternhagen), circling around the area around the vicinity of Annie, who may have been responsible for some mysterious hospital deaths in the past.

King was writing in his basic fear wheelhouse with this one.  A cult-figure for his contemporary horror novels, his fan-base must have been a little weird, inspiring nightmares of what they might do to him if they ever got ahold of him.  Metaphorically, he was also writing about his own feelings of helplessness dealing with drug addiction—Annie keeps Paul addicted to painkillers throughout his stay, witholding them from him when he becomes "bad," in her estimation.

This might fall into the thriller category, but I find it a horror film, just as much as Psycho is a horror film.   

And the most interesting aspect, for me, is the aspect of the creator's view of the "fans"—not all of them, just the most dedicated, the ones who see every work as a love-letter to themselves.  And an idea stuck in my head wondering if George Lucas ever had nightmares about fans dressed as stormtroopers, each one carrying a sledge-hammer, and their own ideas of what a "Star Wars" movie should look like. I wonder if he's ever seen this movie.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Such a strange little funny horrofic movie and such a game performance by the cast.

Aside: did you get my email by chance?

Yojimbo_5 said...

Ulp! No. I better check.