Friday, 10 June 2011


“Misery”, is a 1990 American thriller film, based on Stephen King's 1987 novel of the same name. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film received critical acclaim for Kathy Bates' performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes. The film was ranked 12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Kathy Bates won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Annie Wilkes.

It is a gruesome book and an equally gruesome film. I hadn’t forgotten how much it made me shudder, and I was shuddering all over again when I watched the film “Misery” last week. It is a claustrophobic, film and book, the main action taking place in the bedroom in a remote farmhouse where the novelist, Paul Sheldon, is held captive by Annie Wilkes. She constantly tells him; “I’m your number one fan.”

Paul is the author of a series of popular historical novels about a character called Misery Chastain. Annie has read every word of his books.

Paul is a prisoner, held captive by the relentless snow storm, during which he has crashed his car. He is a prisoner because of the injuries he has sustained in the road accident, and he is also a prisoner, because Annie has manipulated events to her advantage. She used to be a nurse and decides that she will nurse him back to health, telling Paul that the telephone lines are down, and she can’t call for help. She intends to keep him there.

Both of Paul's legs are broken and he has a dislocated shoulder, so he is bedridden and incapacitated. Again, Annie claims that she is his 'number one fan' and talks a lot about him and his novels. She is happy when Paul lets her read his new novel, but later admits she disliked the excessive swearing. While feeding him, she is angered and spills soup on him but regains control and apologizes. She buys a copy of Paul's latest book, “Misery's Child”, but after learning that he has "killed off" Misery, Annie flies into a rage, almost smashing a table on Paul's head. She reveals that nobody knows where he is, contradicting what she had earlier told him.

“And don't even think about anybody coming for you. Not the doctors, not your agent, not your family. 'Cause I never called them. Nobody knows you're here. And you better hope nothing happens to me. Because if I die... you die”. 

Annie leaves and Paul hears her driving away in her car. He tries to escape his room, but she has locked the door.

I say that Paul tries to escape, but this is a task of Herculean effort and entails Paul dragging himself across the floor only to find the door locked. In both the book and the film, the reader/viewer is completely engaged in Paul’s struggle. We feel his despair.

So Paul sees that Annie is unpredictable and dangerous, and that he is at her mercy.

The next morning, Annie makes Paul burn his latest manuscript. When he is well enough to get out of bed, she insists he write a new novel entitled Misery's Return in which he brings the character back to life.

Paul reluctantly obeys, believing that Annie might kill him otherwise.

Paul has become Scheherazade, the narrator of the tales in “Arabian Nights”; like Scheherazade, he is telling stories to stay alive.

Annie pesters Paul to finish writing the novel, Paul prevaricates, knowing that Annie is going to kill him and then herself.

Linking himself to Scheherazade, Paul plays for time. He tells her;

“It’s almost finished. By dawn…we’ll be able to give Misery back to the world.”

I can’t remember if Paul says those words in the book, it’s been a long time since I read it and I don’t have a copy here to check. But this is a subtle play on Scheherazade’s situation. In “The Arabian Nights”, Scheherazade, breaks off her tale each morning, saying that;

“the dawn is breaking.”

Scheherazade knows that she will be kept alive by her husband, because he wants to hear how the story ends.

But surely “Misery” is an exaggeration. People don’t kidnap people and hold them prisoner. Do they?

Well, apparently they do; just type in “obsessives kidnap” into Google and scroll down to view the numerous cases.

Annie Wilkes is an obsessive, and almost daily we hear of obsessives’ behaviour spiralling out of control. The concept of stalking is well documented and we hear stories of men and women having to suffer the obsession of a stalker. It is a contemporary theme. I think that “Misery” is an exposition of obsession. About individuals feeling that they “know” a writer/film star/ singer/ footballer. That they are destined to be together. They seek “signs” in their work, that are meant for them only. Madonna and Jodie Foster have both been on the receiving end of obsessive fans. And it’s not only the celebrities, the wealthy and famous, that fall victim to the obsessive’s possessive eye.

“When most of us think "stalking," it's the well-publicized incidents 
involving celebrities that come to mind, but you don't need to be 
famous to be a stalker's fixation. 

Stalking is a crime of obsession, and is often associated with 
different types of psychopathology, including psychosis and severe 
personality disorders. Depending on the stalker, behaviour may range 
from overtly aggressive threats and actions, to repeated phone calls, 
letters or approaches. Stalking harassment may go on for years, 
causing the victim to exist in a constant state of stress and fear. 
The violent aspects of stalking behaviour often escalate over time, and 
in extreme cases, can end in murder.”

suite 101.

Thanks to Jan Vander Laenen for helping me to identify Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto number 1, used as a soundtrack in "Misery".

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