Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Misery: Book vs Film

It is rare to find an actor so good that when they are the only thing on screen you want to stick around for two hours just to see what they do. Tom Hanks managed it, Will Smith not so much... Misery certainly managed it as 99% of the entire film revolves around only two people and their relationship. It's compelling and creepy because of two things - its plot and its two main actors.

Firstly, Kathy Bates and James Caan are incredible! Secondly, Stephen King is a master story-WRITER (in joke for those who have read the book!) if not THE master so any plot conceived and made by him is a great place to start.

Bates plays Annie, an ex-nurse who lives in the middle of a remote US town far away from her neighbours and other townspeople when she stumbles across an overturned car in a snowstorm. As she pulls the dying man from the wreckage, she is shocked to discover that it is none other than her all time favourite author Paul Sheldon, writer of her favourite book series ever - the Misery books.

So nice Annie takes Paul in to her home to look after him right? WRONG! She takes him home and gives him pain killers and feeds him and changes him. But she isn't nice - she's psychotic! And as Paul starts to recuperate he quickly realises his "saviour" has a temper and he had better keep on the right side of it.
The plot develops at a relatively quick pace as Annie asks permission to read the latest Misery book Paul was carrying with him when he had the accident - only to discover that he has done the unthinkable and killed Misery off. Furious, she forces him to write her return and Paul soon discovers his own form of escape in the 19th century world of his most lucrative creation.

The thing to realise about this film is that Paul is in an impossible position. His legs are so badly broken from the crash that he has no choice but to stay where he is - in the spare bedroom at Annie's house looking at those same four walls. And as time goes on and there seems to be no sign of somebody trying to track him down, he resigns himself to his situation. But Annie is volatile and she doesn't like to be told no which makes Paul the victim of her horrific bursts of rage with one scene particular nasty where she decides she can't have him heal and restores him to his former crippled self. And as Paul quickly learns, Annie may well be crazy - but she is not stupid. The language she comes out with is priceless and King manages to make phrases like "you dirty bird" menacing simply by making Annie say them.

Paul's frustration and Annie's mental instability make for a fascinating relationship as the film develops with a dramatic ending that doesn't disappoint.


Now as for the book, which I have just finished, holy crap! I am a massive Stephen King fan and have read many of his dark and twisted novels and thoroughly enjoyed them... but even this (sorry Stephen!) may have been too much for me. The "hobbling" scene as it is often reffered to makes the film version look like something out of Cbeebies by comparison and was so detailed in its graphic horror that I think I may have forgotten to breathe for a few seconds. And it isn't just that scene, there are quite a few parts in the book that were jaw-droppingly horrific. It's like watching a nasty car accident. You don't want to look, you know you shouldn't, it's just going to get worse - but something compels you to keep on...

Overall, the film sticks very well to the plot of the book so it certainly falls into the good King book to film conversions (there are many bad ones!) What the book has, however, that the film doesn't have is time. The book really manages to explore the sheer length of time Paul Sheldon is stuck in that bed, wholly dependant on Annie - his saviour/captor. And the further into the book you get, the crazier Paul gets. The writer in him starts to imagine scenarios that aren't actually happening, starts to plan lavish ways he could escape or what was going on in the outside world he has for so long been cut off from. The imprints on the ceiling start to take shapes, the calendar on the wall, forever on February, makes for the longest month of his life. And when you realise that he is there for months not weeks you feel his frustration and his anger and his fall into madness. The chapters in the book are also broken up into different lengths - with some less than a page to show Paul slipping in and out of consciousness from the pain and the drugs.

The film just doesn't manage to pull that descent into madness off, and keeps Paul relatively sane right up to the end.

So overall, I really couldn't tell you which is better. If you are more faint-hearted perhaps just stick to the film but if you think you can handle it, the book is a disturbing masterpiece.

Both would get a 4 out 5 FOBLES.

I'd say enjoy but.... well you know.

LE xx

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