Misery: A Movie Review
Screenplay: William Goldman
Based on the novel Misery by Stephen King
Studio: New Line Cinema
Year Released: 1991
is a suspenseful tale that touches on, yet never fully explores, the power
that literature can exert on a demented mind. For a scary movie, it’s
rather intelligent (despite some annoying flaws), with no gaping plot
holes. The characters are smart and endearing, while the villain is
Sheldon has just completed his latest novel in the same Colorado lodge he
finishes all his books. As he is driving back to town along a desolate
mountain road, a blizzard strikes, and his car hits a slippery patch and
crashes down an embankment, turning over several times before resting
Annie Wilkes, who lives on a nearby farm, witnesses the crash and pries
Sheldon from the wreckage with a crowbar. A former nurse, she takes him
home and splints his two shattered legs and broken arm. Throughout the
rest of the movie, Sheldon is bed-ridden and crippled, which increases his
peril and the film’s tension.
Wilkes, she informs him, is his number one fan. She has read all his
books, which center on a beautiful Southern belle named Misery Chastain.
Wilkes feels blessed by God, because He sent her to rescue Sheldon so he
can write more Misery books.
troubles are just beginning, though.
he allows Wilkes to read the book he has just completed, his first
non-Misery novel. Wilkes doesn’t like the profanity, and flies into a
rage when Sheldon tries to justify it. Her diatribe is the first hint we
get of her insanity, but it does raise an interesting question: Are all
people who pray to God and object to profanity insane?
strikes when Wilkes purchases and reads the current Misery book, Misery’s Child. Sheldon, you see, has grown tired of Misery and
kills her off, intending this to be the last Misery novel.
a stormy night, Wilkes enters his room. “You dirty birdie,” she
hisses. “You killed her. You murdered Misery!” Screaming and ranting,
she smashes a table into the wall just above Sheldon’s bed.
next day, Wilkes wheels a charcoal grill into Sheldon’s room. His new
manuscript is on the grill. She douses it with lighter fluid and hands him
a match. He must burn his new book and rid the world of this filth, she
explains. “I asked God about you. And God said that he delivered you
unto me to show you the way.” When Sheldon objects, she sprays him
with lighter fluid, and he is forced to burn the only copy of his
unpublished book. Not only does Wilkes pray to God and object to
profanity, but she’s a book-burner to boot.
battle of wills now begins. Wilkes wants Sheldon to bring Misery back to
life with a new novel. She buys him an old typewriter, paper, a table and
a wheelchair. Sheldon, although he hates Misery Chastain and wishes to
keep her buried, works on this new book to stay alive and plot his escape.
example, rather than take his pain pills, he stores them in the bed,
between the mattress and the box spring. He lifts the typewriter over his
head, trying to strengthen his arms. And while he still can’t walk, he
is healing quickly, but still pretends to be an invalid to deceive Wilkes.
He even uses a bobby pin to unlock his door and explore the house in his
wheelchair when she’s away. He is especially nice to Wilkes, hoping to
make her think he really wants to write this novel.
plans backfire, though. When he’s nearly finished with Misery’s
Return, he asks Wilkes to have dinner with him, then, while she’s
elsewhere looking for a candle, he pours the powder from his accumulated
pain pills into her wine glass. She spills the wine, though. Then she
finds his bobby pin and discovers he’s been outside the room. She fixes
that by strapping him to the bed and breaking both his ankles with two
mighty swings of a sledgehammer (Stephen King, in the book, does it
better: Wilkes chops off his foot with an axe and seals the stump shut
with a blowtorch.).
finally wins in the end, though. He announces to Wilkes that
Misery’s Return is complete. Wilkes, who has been reading every page
as he types it, is on pins and needles for the last page. What’s going
to happen? Sheldon, though, stalls by asking her to get a match, a
cigarette, and a glass of wine. Every time Sheldon finishes a book, he
sips a glass of wine and smokes one cigarette. Wilkes knows this, of
course, so she thinks nothing of it. She comes back with the items, and
Sheldon, charming to the end, says this time he needs two
glasses. Wilkes, ecstatic that she’s been asked to partake of his
ritual, hurries to get the glass. While she’s gone, Sheldon lights the
match, and, just as Wilkes walks through the door, burns the last page,
then throws it onto the rest of the book. A grisly struggle ensues, and
Sheldon finally kills her. The irony is obvious. Wilke’s dementia
threatens Sheldon’s life yet results in her death.
I said at the beginning, the movie raises a provocative question: Can
literature drive sane people insane? It is evident that Annie Wilkes is
obsessed with Misery Chastain. She named her pet pig Misery, and her
bookcase is a shrine to Misery, with the books organized in a kind of
altar, with a framed photo of Sheldon in front. When she finishes Misery’s
Child, in which Misery dies, Wilkes sees herself as Misery’s savior,
forcing Sheldon to write her back to life. When Wilkes reads the first
chapter of Misery’s Return, she prances with joy, singing out “Misery’s
alive, Misery’s alive!” In fact, Wilkes herself seems to realize how
entwined her own life is with this fictional character. At one point in
the movie, when she’s depressed over how close Sheldon came to dying,
she tells him, “You’ll never know the fear of losing someone like you
if you’re someone like me.” Sheldon is Misery’s creator, so Wilkes
must keep him alive – and, more importantly, imprisoned, so he can write
the next Misery book.
this raises yet another question: Was Wilkes a wacko before she read her
first Misery book, or was she perfectly normal before, with the obsession
turning into madness? Or maybe she was merely an eccentric, and the death
of Misery combined with Sheldon lying helpless and wounded in her home
sent her over the edge? Can literature do this to normal people? Can it
drive a sane person insane?
are powerful yet subtle issues; the film never comes right out and
addresses them. In my opinion, they deserve an equally subtle treatment,
in which the answer is left up to the viewer, or perhaps craftily planted
with sneaky clues.
Unfortunately, in what
I feel is the major flaw of the movie, it hits us over the head with the
answer. During one of his trips out of his room in his wheelchair, Sheldon
conveniently finds Wilkes’ scrapbook. In it, he discovers, through
clipped out newspaper stories, that Annie Wilkes was tried for the deaths
of several newborn infants at the hospital where she was head of the
maternity ward. Although she was acquitted, the stories left the strong
impression that she had, in fact, killed the babies.
that answers that. Wilkes is just a nutcase. Is it too much to ask a film
to leave us with some disturbing, unanswered questions? Must they always
give us the nice, pat answer?
the anti-Christian bias in the film is evident. Not only does Wilkes
object to profanity, pray to God, and burn books, but she wears a cross
necklace and has placed in her scrapbook – next to newspaper stories
about murdered infants – religious images such as praying hands. One
would think that directors and producers would tire of such an
over-worked, inaccurate stereotype.