The next of my book to film comparisons is going to be Misery by Stephen King, the story of a successful writer rescued by his ‘number one fan’ following a serious car accident, who quickly realises that sweet Annie Wilkes may not be as well-meaning as she first seemed. Interestingly, it’s also one of King’s most autobiographic novels, with Wilkes representing his own real-life readership who he felt had been forcing him to write books he didn’t truly believe in, mirroring the protagonist’s longing to kill off his most famous character and write ‘real’ literature.
In terms of both the book and the film, I love the fact that the prisoner concept is subverted from the norm, with a woman holding a man captive and the former being the one that holds all the power in the warped dynamic that emerges between the two. I think, by-and-large, the film was very successful in capturing the essence of the original book, with its constant sinister atmosphere and infamous antagonist.
By far the most successful aspect of the adaptation to screen is the casting of Kathy Bates as deranged former nurse, Annie Wilkes. Bates understandably won the Academy Award for her captivating performance of a woman constantly on the edge, flitting between the roles of prudish, sickly-sweet caregiver and manic kidnapper.
The film has a very small cast, with the only other major player being James Caan as Paul Sheldon, the successful writer and subject of Wilkes’ obsessions. Whilst I think Caan played the scenes of Paul’s physical pain very well (of which there are a few), other than that I found his performance pretty flat. Not once did he scream, cry, well-up or yell in frustration at his situation or even show much emotion on his face at all for that matter. Perhaps I’m being harsh and his performance merely pales more so than usual because Bates is so charismatic in her role.
In terms of changes from book to film, I think some of Paul’s inner turmoil is lost, as we don’t have the luxury on screen of being able to hear his thoughts like we can in the book. His fear of losing his mind, his longing to write to hold onto his sanity and his fantasies about what may be happening in the outside world are largely lost, though for the sake of pacing, I can understand why this was necessary. Along a similar vein, I think we also lose some of the sense of time. Much of the book is about the sheer boredom and constant churning undertone of fear that Paul feels as time drifts slowly by. Because the film has to keep moving, we don’t get the same notion of just how long he has been held captive.
As much as the film is famed for its cringe-inducing hobbling scene, and it is indeed painful to watch, if you’ve read the book you’ll no doubt agree when I say the version of events in the book is far more disturbing, and there are a few other cases as well wherein the violence is actually significantly removed or toned down for the film, believe it or not.
I really liked that they kept the same concept for the film’s final scenes, in which Paul continues to be haunted by the memory of Annie, though once again I think the book’s version of this scene is more dramatic and impactful.
All-in-all, I’d say this is a very good if not perfect adaptation, faithful to the tone and feel of the original text, and certainly worth watching for Bates’ performance if nothing else.