The sentence “I’m your number one fan” chills me to the bone thanks to Stephen King’s famous 1987 horror novel, Misery. Given the intensity of the book, it’s no wonder that Rob Reiner directed the 1990 film which is equally suspenseful and terrifying. The film follows the famous writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan); he has just finished the last book in the Misery series and celebrates with some Champagne. On his drive back to New York he hits a snow storm and his car skids off a dangerous sidewinder. Paul does not die, he is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Cathy Bates) and nursed back to health in her isolated farm house, Paul soon learns that Annie is his number one fan and although she has set his broken legs and set him on a drip, she doesn’t exactly want him to leave.
The book follows the same basic plot but Paul has already written the final installment to the Misery collection and while that is being published, he is writing a new book called Fast Cars and he’s not driving back to New York, he gets drunk and decides to just drive until he decides to stop – romantic.
Paul Sheldon the weak vs. Paul Sheldon the brave
This idea of Paul being weak and strong changes between the book and the film constantly. His resourcefulness kicks in fairly quickly in the film compared to the book, yet the first time Annie talks in the book, Paul informs us that she’s insane so everything she does seems wrong and unusual. In the book Paul has already given up, Annie has got him hooked on prescription painkillers and he is totally dependent on her, he is in unbearable pain most of the way through and is unable to move. In the film, Paul is not shown to be dependent on Annie, and seems compos mentis. He is able to move around and seems to display quick thinking and logic so Annie will work in his favor, in the book he makes a handful of blunders that cause Annie to physically hurt him or mentally torture him, and as the book progresses he gets smarter. I’m not sure which I prefer because both are interesting, I guess it is easy to imagine what you would be like in a state of duress and judge people in fiction for their actions, but in reality I know I would fall-a-fucking-part.
Moderate misery vs. Total misery
Okay, so in the film, Paul Sheldon is pretty miserable. He’s been kidnapped by an insane woman who is hell bent on torturing him in any way possible, she dangles his freedom in front of his face, toys with his survival instinct and threatens to kill him most of the time. If any of you have heard of this film you will have heard of her ‘hobbling’ him, you can imagine what that means. In the book he is so miserable you almost want him to die because I personally can’t see how someone can ever be happy after everything that happened. Annie doesn’t just torture him, she mutilates him, the ‘hobbling’ in the book is done differently and actually shocked me, I shouted ‘OH MY GOD’ in a train station and then had to explain that it was an exciting book and I have a passionate nature to the man next to me who literally flew out of his seat. In one part of the book *SPOILER* she cuts off his thumb and then presents it to him in the middle of a birthday cake. She orders him to blow out the candles or she will make him eat his ‘special candle’. Gross. She also gets him addicted to his painkillers so he is half in pain from his accident and various things that Annie has done and the other half of him is like a smack head on withdrawal. These painkillers also make him extremely drowsy so he can’t react properly to what is going on around him, but he can’t stop taking them. I like that he is totally miserable in the book and I think the film would provoke a bigger reaction if he was addicted to the tablets, however the beauty of literature is that you can imagine how something looks, if she had ‘hobbled’ him on screen in the same way the book describes it would have been done all wrong, and if she cut his thumb off and handed it to him on a fucking cake I think I would have laughed at it, but when you read something it becomes a little more personal.
Buster and Virginia
I’m gutted that Buster (Richard Farnsworth) and Virginia (Frances Sternhagen), the local area’s only sheriff and deputy, who also happen to be married, are not a part of the book. I’m glad that Reiner and screen writer William Goldman created these characters because they add a lighthearted side note to the film that the book lacks, it gives you something normal and familiar to fixate on while Paul Sheldon is lying in a mental woman’s bed. It also helps create a sense of helplessness to make these two characters responsible for finding Paul, the audience is faced with two elderly officials who clearly have no experience with missing persons, especially not of a famous writer’s stature. I can’t imagine what my 92 year old granddad would do if he was put in charge of finding J.K.Rowling – send a telegram? When Paul’s editor calls and reports him missing, Buster assures her that he will put the name ‘through the system’, he proceeds to write ‘Paul Sheldon’ on scrap paper and pin it to a cluttered pin board, at that moment we all think: ‘oh shit’. That is why these characters are so great at adding the vital pulling point to make this literary adaption worthy of Stephen King suspense.
There isn’t much more I can say. If you are one of those people that hates horror, don’t worry. This is totally more of a thriller than a horror and only one awful thing happens so you get plenty of time to look away. I would definitely say watch the film before reading the book if you’re a noob because I think if I grew to love the book, I might be slightly disappointed at some changes, whereas when you do it the other way around, the book becomes exciting and beautifully…Stephen Kingish.
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