Handcuffs, hungry dogs, and a haunter in the night – when I’d heard that Netflix was making a movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, I was pretty excited. First, because I love King and consume his tales of terror in any media form I can get, and lastly, because Netflix usually makes great movies and TV shows. I felt that if any company could make a decent adaptation of Gerald’s Game, it would be Netflix. I won’t lie, I was a bit hesitant to get excited though, the novel’s premise is not something I could see being easily translated onto the big screen (does it still count as a big screen if it’s on your TV?)
There are going to be some spoilers in this article by the way.
Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game follows the tragedy that occurs to Jessie Burlingame after she accidently kills her husband (the aforementioned Gerald) during a sex game. Handcuffed to the bedframe, unable to call for help or reach the keys, Jessie contends with feral dogs, a foreboding visitor in the night, and the madness within her very own mind.
The novel was published in 1992, is set in Western Maine, and most of the novel is set in that bedroom with interludes of memory flashbacks. A lot of the dialogue is internal and Jessie is trapped in the handcuffs until the very end of the novel, so you can see my curiosity as to how Netflix was going to adapt it.
One of the main differences was that the movie is set in present time while the novel was set in the 90s. Another is that they villainized Gerald more in the movie. In the novel, Jessie was fine with being tied up and playing out Gerald’s rape fantasies until that fateful day at the lakehouse. He does seem to realize that her protestations are real and tries to continue with it, but in no way did he spring the fantasy on her with no warning as he does in the film. The manner of his death is also different. The movie has him having a heart attack and falls off the bed, cracking his head, when Jessie tries to wake him. In the novel, Jessie fights back when he won’t stop, kicking him in the stomach and groin, knocking him off the bed and causing the heart attack.
Another is the inner dialogues. In the novel, Jessie speaks to three female personas: “The Goodwife” or “Goody Burlingame” (a Puritanical version of Jessie), Ruth Neary (an old college friend), and Nora Callighan (her ex-psychiatrist). The movie has her speaking to a tougher version of herself, as well as Gerald. The timing of these conversations is also very different. In the novel, the hallucinations are caused by stress and severe dehydration. In the film, she starts having a mental breakdown right away. This does makes sense as the film makers had a much more limited time frame than King.
Other than that, the film plays quite true to the novel (excepting for what had to be cut due to the media constraints) and I did enjoy it. I especially liked the Dark Tower callout (when Gerald tells Jessie that “All things serve the Beam.”) The director, Mike Flanagan, also included the connection between Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne. This novel is another one from the 90s and contains similar themes to Gerald’s Game, such as sexual abuse and mental instability. In novels, the protagonists (Jessie and Dolores Claiborne) witness the eclipse. This is when Jessie is being molested by her father and Dolores is killing her husband (molesting her own daughter.) They each have a strange vision of the other that neither understands.
Over all, the movie was one that I found enjoyable and, for such a difficult novel to adapt, did a wonderful job. I definitely would recommend watching it, and reading the book. By the way, the “de-gloving” scene is just as horrific in the film as it is described in the novel, so have fun with that.
Flanagan didn’t stop at just including playful references to King’s other works, he also included a couple from his own movies. The bed frame is actually based on the design of the mirror frame from his amazing psychological horror, Oculus – one of my favourite horror movies of all time. It’s hard to notice the first time around because it has been flipped upside down but it’s there! Also, the book (Midnight Mass) that Jessie pulls off the shelf is none other than the one written by the protagonist, Maddie Young, in Hush.
Definitely another well thought-out movie by Mike Flanagan and also an amazing adaptation of Gerald’s Game. Despite my trepidations of a movie that is about a woman handcuffed to the bed the whole time, it really does the source material proud.
Until next Sunday, my faithful readers!
x P.L. McMillan