36 Films: Misery (1990)

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t tie us to a bed and break our feet.

Part 1 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Falling Prey to Cruelty and Misfortune” with Misery.

The Synopsis

Famous pop author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is fortunately rescued from a horrific, snowed-in car crash by his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). She feeds him, nurses him back to health, and takes a sledge hammer to his feet when he acts naughty. What begins as a life-saving effort reveals itself to be the deranged fantasies of a woman obsessed with control, pain, and Misery.

The Situation

“Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune” – This situation only requires the presence of a Victim and either a Master or a Misfortune. Bad Thing A happens to Person B and has lasting ramifications on Person B’s life. In this case, Bad Thing A is followed up by Totally Insane Person with a Sledgehammer C.

Both the Victim and the Master are obvious here in what might be the best portrayal of a fangirl gone wild to ever hit film. Despite the situation’s simplicity, it allows for a broad range of dramatic entanglements and, in this case, is the basis for a sickly rich story that allows for characters you can feel deep down in your bones.

The Movie

Is there anything better than putting two seasoned actors together in the same room with a veteran director and making a horror film? What started as one of Stephen King‘s best novels reveals itself in film form to be another animal completely and makes me never, never want to meet Kathy Bates in person. Or, at least, it makes the scene where she takes a sledge hammer to her wall in Fried Green Tomatoes look completely different.

The helplessness and victimhood that Paul Sheldon feels is so complete that you can’t help but hold your breath whenever he’s crawling down the hall to escape. Every fiber screams out for silence as if Annie Wilkes will here you from your seat in the theater and punish Sheldon for your insubordination.

Like other examples of this dramatic situation, Misery places the audiences in the shoes (or bedsheets) of the victim and places the victim in harm’s way for no particular reason. There’s no great ethical impulse or reasoning for his position. Sheldon was in a car crash during a snow storm – something that anyone could experience – and, as a result, he finds himself being slowly tortured and fearing for his life. The film forces us to imagine what it would be like to find ourselves in the same situation the next time we turn on our car and head out of the driveway. Will we wake up in harm’s way?

Bonus Examples: Sleepers, RootsCastaway

Supplication – The Most Dangerous Game

Deliverance – The Rescuers

Crime Pursued By Vengeance – Death Wish

Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred – The Lion King

Pursuit – Silence of the Lambs

Disaster – Airplane!

Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune – Misery

Revolt – Lucky Number Slevin

Daring Enterprise – The Professionals

Abduction – The Chaser

The Enigma – Se7en

Obtaining – There Will Be Blood

Enmity of Kin – Once Were Warriors

Rivalry of Kin – Grumpy Old Men

Murderous Adultery – Match Point

Madness – Grizzly Man

Fatal Imprudence – The Fly

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Oldboy

Slaying of Kin Unrecognized – Halloween

Self-sacrifice for an Ideal – Hunger

Self-sacrifice for Kin – Harakiri

All Sacrificed for Passion – A Single Man

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones – The Seventh Continent

Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior – Toy Story

Adultery – In the Mood For Love

Crimes of Love – Dog Day Afternoon

Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One – Festen

Obstacles to Love – I Love You Phillip Morris

An Enemy Loved – Underworld

Ambition – Wall Street

Conflict With a God – The Truman Show

Mistaken Jealousy – My Best Friend’s Wedding

Erroneous Judgment – The Contender

Remorse – In Bruges

Recovery of a Lost One – Gone Baby Gone

Loss of Loved Ones – Dear Zachary

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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