Now That's An Oogie Mess: Misery (1990)

I am really having a lot of fun exploring where the category of "women in film" has taken me and I am only six days into this marathon, hopefully, this time around I can have a sort of reflection on the last day, something I had hoped to do with the Halloween month, but failed to do when caught up with some school priorities.  The next stop on my unplanned list brought me to a Stephen King adaptation, something I have blogged about before with the surprisingly watchable The Mist.  However, The Mist was a film I heard about within film critic circles and from various film based podcasts, as opposed to Misery which had a reputation that more than preceded itself, due almost entirely to a scene involving James Caan's ankles and a sledgehammer.  I say it has a reputation for this alone, and it is somewhat of a shame, because Kathy Bates is a revelation in this film, it is one thing to play a crazy woman who entraps an author in her house to write texts, however, to add layers of delusion and religious based madness, is a whole other thing.  I do not believe that I have seen any of the other Oscar nominated performances from that year, and, to be honest, it really does not matter, since it clearly deserved to go to Bates.  I was glad to catch up with this role, because Kathy Bates has come to the point in her career, that she is essentially playing roles predicated upon her being Kathy Bates, her recent cameos on The Office come to mind immediately.  Yet, in 1990 when this film was initially released she was still establishing herself as a well-known and respected actor and was still years away from her empowering role in the overtly problematic, but, nonetheless, cinematic Titanic.  It is one thing to act along side Richard Farnsworth and James Caan, but is even more a feat when you act circles around them in the process.  Of course, considering that it is being reviewed now within the framework of women in film, the problems the narrative creates relating to a rhetoric of hysteria and women's outlets of desire must be acknowledged, not to mention the very self-engratiating manner with which Stephen King demands his readers, in this case viewers, comprehend the woes of writing creatively.

Misery focuses on well-established author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who has recently finished a text in his prolific Misery series, focusing on a woman and her experience in 19th century America.  Concerned with being pigeon-holed by this particular sort of text, Sheldon decides to write a book focusing on the experiences of his childhood in New York, a far cry from his previous work.  Although his subject has changed, his methodology has not, taking up shelter in a remote lodge in Colorado until he completes his text, enjoying one cigarette and one glass of Don Perignon after.  Unfortunately, he complete his task in the dead of winter and must travel in a heavy snow storm to return home.  On his trip he crashes on a snow bank, presumably left for dead to the elements.  Sheldon, however, is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) a local nurse, with excellent hospice care, who openly admits to being Sheldon's "number one fan" a statement she validates by quoting passages directly and debating the most minor of details with Sheldon.  It appears as though Annie has the best of intentions, yet when she reads Sheldon's new work she is disgusted by its foul language and lack of dignity in relation to the Misery series, only to be pushed over the edge when she purchases the final installment of the Misery series to discover that the protagonist she has invested much time into has been killed off by Sheldon.  At this point, Sheldon realizes that Annie has been quite deceptive about her contact with the community and their being made aware of his forced inhabitation in her home, even leading to a concern by the local sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth).  Annie, however, in her deep web of delusion manages to plan far ahead of any escape Sheldon could hope to make, going so far as to infamously "hobble" him into staying.  Yet, Sheldon realizes that he can dangle the final chapters of his "revised" Misery book, in order, to play at Annie's affections, a methodology that allows him to attack her and eventually kill her.  He returns to New York, now crippled, and finds his texts receiving critical praise, although he is completely dismissive of the possibility of recounting his experiences of entrapment, especially since he finds himself still paranoid about seeing Annie even in high-scale dining establishments.

The film is excellent and certainly is a thrill to watch and it is impossible to deny the horrific nature of a delusional woman entrapping an author as a result of a devilish cocktail of delusion and fandom.  However, it cannot be overlooked that the film problematizes the image of the single woman living alone, something which is often depicted problematically in an urban setting, and only worsened by the secluded rural setting.  While one could certainly glean moments of sympathy from this film which are directed towards Annie, it is clear that she is a villain and somewhat less clear, but, nonetheless, suggested that it is a result of her feminine instability.  Her fandom, within the context of the film, is clearly rooted in her loss of a husband, assumedly to infidelity.  It is not necessarily her adoration of Sheldon, so much as her love of the figure and idea of Misery, an independent and successful, all be it fictional, woman.  The film appears far too concerned with noticing how particularly "feminine" her madness is, constantly tying her break downs and mental issues to the domestic space, even though her large, domineering nature visually contradicts the demure assumptions about domesticity and femininity.  One also cannot help but consider this film as a text about the problem of acknowledging non-physical disability, especially since viewers are provided with Sheldon's character as an example of physical disability, therefore, deserved of outright pity.  To borrow from feminist disability theorist Susan Wendell, Annie also suffers from a disability, but because it is mental and not clearly quantitative, aside from her violent outbursts, society, or in the case of this film viewers, is unwilling to accept it as a serious problem or issue to acknowledge within a social conversation.  Annie is certainly a demented character and is to be reprimanded for trapping a person against his will, yet the film fails to really consider the emotional distresses faced by her years before that may have been overlooked because of their decidedly non-physical elements.

Key Scene: As hyped as it is and well known, there is no denying the cinematic intensity of the "hobbling" scene.

This is a solid film that I own on DVD, however, it is more than acceptable to check out on Neflix, where it is currently Watch Instantly.

1 comment:

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