15. Misery: Sledgehammer
Well misery DOES love company! Ha ha ha ha ha ha…
Yeah this film is messed up.
So it tells the story of Paul Sheldon, an author who gets in a car crash and is rescued by a woman who enthusiastically professes to be his number 1 fan. However she is less than impressed upon reading his latest novel, part of a long running series about a character called Misery Chastain, reacting pretty strongly to the news that her favourite character has been killed off because Paul wants a fresh start. She acts like he has actually murdered a friend of hers and after setting fire to his new manuscript (even though I only write as a hobby that bit was hard to watch) suggests he might like to bring back Misery in a brand new story. Or else.
Misery was adapted from a, you’ve guessed it, Stephen King novel and I always imagined it came from King’s real life desire to tackle other genres and try new things while also trying to appease his audience. While King said at the time that Annie was an amalgamation of his scariest fans, he has since said she more represents his struggles with alcohol abuse and his desire to escape the grasp addiction had on him.
I think one of the reasons I find Annie so unsettling is that the reason she is able to care for Paul is that she is a former nurse. So to me the character is a symbol for one of the scariest things: A medical professional who has the utmost confidence that what they are doing is right when they are actually putting your life in danger. Annie is very ill and has no doubt that keeping Paul at her houses against his will and forcing him to write is what ought to be done.
My fear of people in power abusing their position comes back later in the list, but no matter what way you cut it and what she means to the individual Annie is a memorable villain because she is so well rounded. She is very, very funny, something that I think people are afraid to do with scary characters sometimes in case the audience can’t take them seriously as a threat. However the more relatable she is when she is calm the more unsettling her moments of lunacy are.
There is a great moment where Annie criticises Paul’s half hearted attempt to resurrect the character of Misery. She informs him his effort to retcon the previous story don’t work because the book ended with Misery dead in the ground. Although she likes that he named a character after her, he can leave that in. Seriously, I love Annie. She tells a story about watching an old movie where a character is saved by editing and how even as a child she felt cheated and utterly furious that the film makers did not take the ‘how is he going to get out of this one?’ dilemma seriously. Watching her anger build as she relives the memory is just fantastic and indicative of why Kathy Bates now has an Oscar to polish:
I could talk about why Kathy Bates was the right choice for this role all day. A lot of famous actresses coveted this role while they really struggled to find an A lister who wanted to play Paul Sheldon. It is easy to see why. This is Annie’s film, not Paul’s. It is so rare for the woman to have the more interesting role out of the two, a role that is given so much more depth, intrigue and hell, even lines. If actresses turned down roles for them not being as interesting as the male counterpart, there would be no movie industry. But that is what happened here. And of course, many of the actresses who desperately wanted the chance to shine in a thriller like this rather than just hold a gun in their underwear like the typical ‘female threat’ were just wrong for the role. Stephen King shot down the idea of a theatrical adaptation starring Julia Roberts some years later saying: ‘Annie…is a brawny woman who can sling a guy around, not a pixie’ Annie was always written as a physically imposing creation and that is why Bates, hardly the classic female lead, was allowed to come into her own and man does she own. The believability of the character is what makes the scene below work so effectively…
The film does a brilliant job of creating what is essentially a two hander (give or take some excellent work by Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen) with the classic cat and mouse twist-Both characters are fighting for the upper hand, both have different strengths: She is the captor, he is sane etc and as a result they are reasonably well matched. It is not obvious who is going to come out on top in this battle of wits…Until Annie decides, fuck this battle of wits, let’s resort to brute strength and physical dominance.
And that is when things get ugly. A notorious look away scene, the reason the hobbling (there I said it!) disturbs me so much is because Annie genuinely believes she is doing her right-to-be-nervous Paul a good turn by breaking his ankles. Often with really good horror it is what is not shown that freaks us out due to our imaginations being so good, so when the scene approached I assumed that when she swung her sledgehammer up after strapping down his legs and placing a wooden block between them, the camera would cut away before the impact…It was this naive assumption that made me almost vomit up my lunch.
As she looks down on him tenderly, freaking tenderly, she reassures him: ‘Almost done…just one more!’ This time it is not shown but no matter: Every time I close my eyes I see his ankle go from one side of his foot to the other so there was really no need. As Beethoven plays in the background (I’m pretty sure it’s a record, but so repulsed by what is on show its possible I missed his cameo) and the unfortunate Paul screams as you might, Annie softly says: ‘God I love you.’
So you see it is not just the wobbly ankle that gets me. They opted out of the book version of hobbling where Annie actually cuts his foot off because they decided it would be too gory. It is not the ‘ewww gross’ so much as James Caan’s helplessness coupled with her absolute conviction that she is right. She can’t be reasoned with, she can’t be stopped. But she is recognisably human and trying to be kind.
YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!
The threat of the Annies of the world is very real. You see they are trying, you recognise their talents, you sympathise with them for their lack of understanding of how the world works, you want them to be happy.
But not like this.
Tomorrow (today…hopefully) A man waves goodbye to his family for the last time…#14