So, this review marks a break from reviewing Hollywood and modern classics, as I’m reviewing a more, arguably, obscure film. Misery is a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel ‘Misery,’ which I’ve read and I’ve heard that the film is supposed to be great, so I thought I would give it a watch and compare the two. This means of course that I shall be discussing both the book and the film in the review.
Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best-selling novelist. He’s written a string of novels whom feature Misery Chastain as their protagonist and they’ve made him rich and famous. However, in his latest Misery novel, he kills off Misery, so that he can leave the series behind him and move onto other works. Upon driving to his literary agent to give her his manuscript for his new novel, he crashes his car. However, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) pulls Paul Sheldon from the wreckage and cares for him in her farm. Annie Wilkes is an ex-nurse and takes care of Paul, but she is also Paul’s biggest fan, essentially a fangirl from hell, and when she finds out that he has murdered Misery Chastain, whom she adores, she is not happy about it. She then keeps Paul prisoner until he writes a new novel, where he brings Misery Chastain back from the dead.
Kathy Bates and James Caan were great as Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon respectively. Kathy Bates really captured Annie Wilkes’ sociopathic tendencies as they appeared within the novel. She really earned her Oscar. One minute Annie Wilkes is a sweet, young, over-excitable, perhaps a little overzealous fangirl and the next she is a psychotic serial killer. Kathy Bates captured this essence perfectly, balancing perfectly the line between naïve and sweet and hateful and rage-filled. James Cann was just as good as Paul Sheldon. Considering that the only other thing I’ve seen him in is the Godfather as Santino Corleone, it was really interesting seeing him as an older, more mature and more even-tempered of a character. He played the part of Paul Sheldon well, being absolutely terrified of Annie but also having the courage to fight against her.
I felt that what the film was really missing was some type of internal monologue from Paul Sheldon. From what I remember of the book, it is told from Paul’s perspective as a first-person narrator. It isn’t stream of consciousness as such, but it definitely has snippets of his thoughts and feelings. I felt that the film could have really benefited from Paul narrating it and also having more POV shots to truly capture his sense of pain and isolation. I also didn’t like how the film toned down the violence that is present in the book. Of course, you can argue that a lot of violence doesn’t necessarily make a film good, but I felt that the film could have benefited from being more faithful to the text in this regard.
Within the novel, there are three notable examples of violence. Firstly, Annie cuts off Paul’s foot after he escapes from his room and tries to escape from the house, whereas in the film she just breaks it. In the novel, Annie also cuts off one of Paul’s thumbs after he complains about the missing keys on the typewriter, which is completely omitted from the film. Lastly, when a statetrooper comes looking for Paul whom then tries to get his attention, Annie kills the trooper by running him over with a lawnmower, whereas in the film she simply just shoots him.
Whilst, I argue that the lawnmower death scene was gratuitous within the book and I’m glad it was replaced, I felt that the film should have kept the other two violent scenes. When I read these scenes in the book, they really helped to emphasise just how unstable Annie’s state of mind was, which I didn’t think that the film conveyed as well. Lastly, I also didn’t like the scenes focusing on the police searching for Paul. Within both the film and the book, these scenes are present and are kept to a minimum, which means that they don’t distract that much. However, they did still take away from the highly insulated experience of watching Paul and Annie interact with each other.
All in all this was a good film with some standout performances, but it needed an interior monologue and a little more violence. That, notwithstanding, I would argue that Annie Wilkes makes a better villain than a coven of vampires or Pennywise the Clown, purely for the fact that I’m sure that somewhere out there, psychotic fangirls do exist.