Misery 1990
Misery gets the all basics right along with an iconic performance from Kathy Bates and some smart creative changes to Stephen King’s novel.

Misery follows Paul Sheldon, a writer, who is critically injured after an accident in a snowstorm in Colorado. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes, an obsessive fan of his work, who nurses him also keeping him hostage.

About the Book

Misery, to me, is first and foremost a story about Domination. Both characters have their own reasons to do so. Annie Wilkes suffers from a lack of love in her life and severe psychological issues. Paul Sheldon, a writer feeling trapped writing for a popular franchise of novels. By making him addicted to drugs, burning his new original book, and forcing him to write the latest entry for the franchise he so desperately wants to exit, Annie Wilkes singlehandedly breaks Paul Sheldon. Not just psychologically but physically as well.

Misery as a book is a frighteningly violent and psychological struggle that feels bleak, desolate, and almost worse than death.

Criticisms for the book

Probably the biggest criticism for Misery is reading Paul Sheldon’s work on the book “Misery Returns” while being held captive. We have a chance to read parts of the actual book Sheldon writes for Annie. Although it’s detailed enough to be convincing, it’s nearly pointless. Apart from some minor parallels with reality and some discussions over it with Annie, it serves no real purpose in the story. I don’t expect myself to ever read through those parts in future re-reads, if there ever are any.

Where the film differs

The film does tone it down quite a bit compared to the book and with good reason. Being a movie from the 90s, I would have never expected it to reach mainstream audiences without censoring events the way it does. However, the movie does achieve this in clever ways.

  1. Paul’s addiction to Novril is left out completely, serving as just a mere painkiller in the film. The film instead creates a new event where Paul tries to poison Annie by stashing pills over many days and mixing their contents in her drink on the pretense of a celebration to “Misery’s Return”.
  2. Paul feeling forgotten and presumed dead as no one comes looking for him, is probably the bleakest part of the story. Contrary to the book, the film has Buster, a trooper looking for him since he goes missing. This does make the film tenser with almost a race to the clock. It also adds an element of tragedy to his death as we’re invested in this character. However, seeing Buster as a character also contradicts the idea of Paul Sheldon being the narrator of the story, giving us a third-person perspective to the events.
  3. In the book, Paul loses almost an entire leg instead of just his ankles as shown in the film. The movie still manages to make it feel disturbing with a gruesome shot of the ankle-twisting by the blow of the hammer.
  4. The story of “Misery Returns” has been left almost entirely which was an excellent decision. It drastically improves the pacing of the film while focusing on more important plot points.

Criticism for the film

Aside from all the specifics, the film broadly doesn’t have a specific narrator. Unlike the book, the film almost belongs equally to both Annie and Paul. We see Annie go shopping and driving in the snow even on occasions when we see Paul left struggling alone in the house.

This feels rather underwhelming in comparison to the book where we experience everything from Sheldon’s perspective. We never know where Annie goes off to, how far she is from the house or how well the trooper is investing his case. A true sense of helplessness and feeling death might be better than a life with Annie Wilkes just feels lacking from the film.

The Verdict

Misery gets nearly all the basics right along with an iconic performance from Kathy Bates and some smart creative changes to Stephen King’s psychological horror novel.