Meathead March – Misery (1990) – Past Present Future TV and Film

meathead march blogathonFor the next review today of Misery (1990), here’s Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film with his thoughts on it.

Thanks Steven!


Book adaptations are hard enough as it is, but when there’s a certain emotional level that needs to be achieved, it may be even more difficult. Bringing to life certain elements may seem easy to do, but if not handled the correct way, the desired effect will not be achieved.

The Columbia Pictures film “Misery”, somehow still manages to bring out a fully engrossing and crazy experience.

This psychological thriller stars James Caan (upcoming “Wuthering High”, “The Outsider”), Kathy Bates (“American Horror Story”, “Mike & Molly”), Richard Farnsworth (“The Straight Story”, “Comes a Horseman”), Frances Sternhagen (“And So It Goes”, “The Closer”), and Lauren Bacall (“The Forger”, “Ernest & Celestine”).

The film was directed by Rob Reiner (“The Story of Us”, “Ghosts of Mississippi”) and written by William Goldman (“Wild Card”, “Dreamcatcher”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.

The film originally opened on Nov. 30, 1990. It would go on to win and Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Bates, as Best Actress.

“Misery” is an incredibly well known film, that if you ask most people if they’ve seen it, chances are, they have. I myself, like so many films (of course) have seen this film more times than I can count, let alone remember. The problem is, much like with my current reading choice, “Carrie”, I know everything about the film, that it makes it a slight disappointing experience. Although, reading “Carrie” right now is proving more boring and uninteresting, than disappointing, but that’s something for another time. It then, as happens a lot, makes me wonder why it is I return to something I know so well?

Maybe it’s just a fun movie, even if you have it mostly on for background. There is still plenty that could lure you in for moments at a time. There’s also the fact that once again, there’s a writer staying somewhere, so as to have a quieter environment to write and some pretty bad luck befalls him. Who doesn’t love misfortune befalling a character?!

There’s really only two characters you end up caring anything for, although Farnsworth and Sternhagen do bring a certain level of humor to the film. First is Caan’s Paul Sheldon. All he thought, and hoped, was that he was being cared for after the wreck, and that he’d be able to go home. The things you like about him stem from his realizing that Bates isn’t the kind of person he thought she was. She loses her temper, once over the language featured in his new book, another when she finishes reading the last book about Misery, and then finally says he’s not being rescued. From here on it’s all about how he handles a given situation all in an effort to remain alive. Even his determination to try and escape makes him worth rooting for.

But really, it’s all about Bates’ Annie Wilkes. For starters, there’s the way that Bates managed, quite effortlessly, to go from mood to mood. She transitions from excited and happy (reading about Misery’s return), to gloomy, to upset, to outright angry and deranged. It’s done effectively, that like Caan’s character, there’s even a few moments where I was able to feel sad for her. I could see her as a woman that’s had difficult times. All this allows for enough suspense, as any little thing could set her off. Because of the nuanced performance, the psychological elements also manage to surface really well and be effective, even if it’s not to the shocking or surprising level as before.

And, of course, this being a King adaptation, there’s bound to be some moments that are even more unsettling than others. This film has more than it’s fair share of cringeworthy scenes. However, upon further thought, it could just be me that’s really bothered by one. Up first, there’s the hobbler scene. You know, the scene where she breaks his recently healed legs so he doesn’t try to escape. Even though I knew that scene was coming up, it still got under my skin. The moment she starts on about how it came to be and why it was used, I tensed up. Then out comes the block of wood and sledgehammer. I knew it was almost over. Then it was. While they show the first, which was more for effect than anything, and didn’t linger long, I couldn’t look at it. Thankfully, the second wasn’t displayed. Then there was the reveal of Caan’s badly damaged legs at the beginning of the film. It was just gruesome and somewhat disturbing, but effective. I find that these scenes, particularly the latter, was meant to set a kind of tone to the film. It sort of puts you on edge, and allows everything else to come in and surprise you.

The finale showdown was insane. It’s quick, but really got me. Not like the first time, but I was still able to get a bit caught up in the moment. He just starts with the taunting and then lights all those pages on fire. I’m not certain if it was out of spite, as he knew he was going too have to make a break for it now, or if he simply wanted a reaction from her. It got her near and he whacked her in the head with his typewriter. Afterwards, it was a fight to the death. One would get the upper hand and then lose it to the other. It was certainly interesting to see how much force and energy each used to try and achieve the outcome, even if they were coming from different reasonings behind this newfound level of rage.

The only thing I didn’t seem satisfied with was how the sheriff put all this together. Does he just have a good memory? Based on how long he was and wasn’t investigating, it’s almost too convenient. I also couldn’t figure out what was with the constant need to have up close shots of items in hands or just items that are solo. I could understand occasionally (the ceramic penguin), but it felt like a lot.

I may know this film really well, but I don’t envision my not watching this from time to time. I may have posed this question at the beginning, but I know I’ll never be able to answer it, or understand the answer I come up with. Some films just seem to lure us back.

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