Freedom is just a handcuff away.
Vacation. Tote bag. Two pairs of chrome steel handcuffs.
Long-married couple Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) are trying to revive their marriage with a new game. After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts, she loses her taste for the game and says No. Uncuff me. Gerald coyly says no. Then he gruffly says no. Then he taunts her to beg, as he mounts her violently. Then he has a heart attack…
From Stephen King’s gripping novel, GERALD’S GAME is a damnably intriguing thriller, director/co-writer Mike Flanagan’s grand What If.
What If you were in a vacation home, miles from where anyone could hear you scream, and inescapably handcuffed to a poster bed, with your dead husband five feet away on the floor, being eaten by a stray dog? Would you die of thirst first? Or insanity?
Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard have judiciously re-written small elements of King’s story. Usually a guarantee of movie failure when that happens, this time it modernizes and tightens the storytelling. Whereas novel-version Gerald is a tubby hubby with a nubby, the filmmakers have cast 60-year-old Greenwood, who is ripped like Crucifixion Jesus; whereas in the novel, Gerald’s game was a regular event, here it is the couple’s first experiment; whereas novel Jessie had to deal with phone wires being cut, here she must deal with a dead cellphone.
And the most innovative, constructive change from the novel: Jessie’s various inner voices are represented by only two people – Gerald and herself: At one point, Gerald rises from the floor and chastises Jessie on the ridiculous situation she is in. Despite her relief at Gerald being alive, we know it is not Gerald, but one of Jessie’s inner voices. Then she herself chimes in – another Jessie, clean and unmussed, logically reasoning how to survive. Soon both Live Gerald and Clean Jessie roam freely around the room, arguing all sides of the conundrum!
The stray dog entering the house and pulling bits of meat off Gerald’s arm and face is just gravy. But it all serves to trigger Jessie into understanding how to escape. In her delirium, Jessie has two visions: one is a tall man with a misshapen face, standing in the corner shadows with a bag of jewelry and small bones; the other is a flashback to her youth where she spent a glorious afternoon watching an eclipse with her father as he held her in his lap. And masturbated.
A brilliant performance by Young Jessie (15-year-old Chiara Aurelia), whose dad is Elliott from E.T. (Henry Thomas)! Jessie’s unsavory flashbacks hold more clues on escape. Blood. Menstrual blood. Jessie likens her father to the scavenger eating her husband; she started her period a month before the incident, “Maybe he smelled the blood and did what all dogs do.” She remembers her father visiting her in the bedroom after the eclipse (which we realize is such a heavy-handed metaphor, Stephen King might as well have written that Jessie was watching the darkening of her soul, the death of her childhood, the consumption of her innocence…) and psychologically manipulating his masturbation incident into her burden as being a secret to keep from mom.
One element consistent with the novel and movie is how virulent the attack on the male gender. If you’re a sensitive sir, steer clear of this movie that makes men look like the pigs they are. A prime example of this is the fact they couldn’t even film this movie as written, because Jessie was originally topless. Would any of the men in the viewing gallery focus on anything else were Carla Gugino’s magnificent rotating harmonic balancers on display while bound and struggling and bouncing? I rest my case, Yeronner. (Yet stop calling us pigs. “Puppets to evolutionary genetics” is more correct. The poor pigs are taking a bad rap; they’re as prone to spreading their genetic seeds as all animals are.)
Surprisingly, they repeat the joke told in the novel, verbatim:
Q: What is a woman?
A: A life support system for a cunt.
Life support. Support life. Jessie exorcises the demons of her past, i.e. frees herself from her childhood burden, as she frees herself from her physical prison (even if you’ve read Gerald’s Game, nothing will prepare you for the cinematic rendition of Jessie with hand “degloved” – a word that sounds every bit as painful as what it might mean), even as she frees herself from the social stricture of marriage, with Gerald’s death. (In the novel, Jessie is actively involved in precipitating his heart attack, by kicking Gerald in the chest and balls. In the movie, a combination of stress and Viagra topples Gerald. So Flanagan actually missed the opportunity to make Jessie responsible for all three freedoms here).
With Netflix as a new force and platform for movies, director Mike Flanagan found he could approach GERALD’S GAME more authentically, than if it was sacrificed to the Big Studio system. Like another lean adaptation of a compelling King story, “1922,” (released in October 2017, directed by Zak Hilditch, starring Thomas Jane), GERALD’S GAME is an excellent low-budget, big-reward adaptation, bucking Big Studio convention to bring us a solid, visceral tale that leaves us psychologically spent. Still, she should’ve been topless–