Misery Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Write to stay alive: the explicit and hidden meaning of the film Misery (1990): plot analysis ending.

Country: USA

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama, Film adaptation

Year of production: 1990

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Actors: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth

tagline: Paul Sheldon used to write for a living. Now, he’s writing to stay alive

Awards and nominations: In 1991, the film won an Oscar for Best Actress.

Movies based on Stephen King novels belong to a separate horror genre. Most of them have a unique handwriting, original flavor and usually leave a strange, not always pleasant aftertaste. Unlike many other Stephen King films, Rob Reiner’s tape does not contain mysticism – it’s just a tense thriller. The point of the movie Misery is that sometimes the natural desire for stability can turn into an obsession, and the threat can come from an unexpected direction. However, as always with King, there is a double bottom here.

What is the movie about

Brief summary of the film “Misery”. Paul Sheldon, a well-known writer who created a series of women’s novels, ends it with the death of the main character Misery and begins work on another book. Putting the manuscript in his briefcase and performing his usual ritual of drinking a glass of champagne and smoking a cigarette on the road, he gets behind the wheel and drives home to New York.

James CaanJames Caan played the role of Paul Sheldon. Frame from the film.

Suddenly, a snowstorm begins, Paul’s car skids, and he gets into an accident. He is discovered by a woman named Annie Wilkes. After pulling the man out of the car, she takes him to her house.

Paul wakes up to find that both of his legs and arm are broken. Luckily for him, Annie turns out to be a nurse. After helping him, a woman who calls herself an ardent admirer of the writer (more precisely, she refers to herself as “fan number 1”) begins to nurse him. Filled with gratitude, Paul promises that Annie will be the first reader of his new novel. His words make her infinitely happy. However, the idyll does not last long…

Miss Wilkes lives in the wilderness. A raging blizzard has cut off the telephone wires, and Paul, who, thanks to her efforts, is slowly recovering, cannot contact either the publisher or his family – and this worries him. The publishing house itself soon begins to search for Paul. One of the employees calls the sheriff of the town from which the writer left, and he begins his investigation.

When Sheldon lets Annie read the manuscript, the sweet, devout woman suddenly turns into some kind of fury. The fact that he began work on a completely different work, she does not like at all. A little later, having bought the last novel about Misery and having read up to the scene of the death of the main character, Miss Wilkes completely loses control over herself. Furious, bursting into Paul’s room in the middle of the night, she forces him to burn the new manuscript. And then, in an ultimatum order, he demands that he write a continuation of “Misery”: according to the crazy fan, the main character must live.

Having frightened her idol to death, the fury soon turns into a sweet and caring middle-aged nurse again. After putting Paul in a wheelchair, setting up his desk, and getting out his typewriter and paper, she really expects him to write a sequel for her. Sheldon tries to object, to which Annie, in whose eyes madness reappears, informs him that no one knows where he is, and only his fate depends on him.

Kathy BatesThe role of Annie Wilks was played by Kathy Bates. Frame from the film.

Having gained some freedom of movement, Paul waits for Annie to leave the house, after which he examines it, finds the medicines that she gives him, and takes more painkillers for himself. He then discovers an album of newspaper clippings that belongs to Annie. From there, Paul learns that a few years ago, while working in a hospital, she killed a child. The woman suffered punishment for this and even underwent treatment, but her psyche never fully recovered.

Realizing who he’s dealing with, Paul decides to give her what she wants and starts working on a new book about Misery. He is visited by inspiration, about which he informs the nurse and offers to note this matter. Satisfied, she arranges a candlelit dinner. After managing to distract her, Paul quickly and carefully pours an anesthetic powder into her glass of wine. However, the idea fails – Annie spills wine on the table.

Day after day, the book about “Misery” is slowly being written. The recovering Paul makes more and more daring forays almost every day. Upon discovering this, Annie realizes that he will probably leave her soon. Having openly confessed her love to him, she wants him to always stay with her. After putting Paul to sleep, she ties him to the bed and again breaks both of his legs with a hammer…

Meanwhile, the sheriff, unsuccessfully trying to find the writer, turns his attention to his books about Misery. His wife laughs at him, but for some reason it seems to him that in this series of women’s novels he will find some kind of clue and find out what happened to Sheldon.

Indeed, in almost every book the thought is repeated as a refrain: “There is justice higher than human. I will be judged by Him.” The words seem very familiar to the sheriff. He goes to the library, picks up a newspaper archive and finds a clipping that talks about Annie. The nurse accused of murder utters the same phrase, word for word.

Ending explanation

Based on the description of the content of the film “Misery”, it is difficult to imagine a blissful ending. Partly it is. The explanation for the ending of the picture is as follows.

Near the end, the Sheriff realizes that he seems to have found the answer to Sheldon’s disappearance. He goes to Annie, but she kills him with a gunshot.

Having lost hope of salvation, Paul bites the bit. After finishing the book, he demands that Annie provide him with a bottle of champagne, matches and a cigarette – all he needs for the traditional “ritual”. Looking at his tormentor with hatred, he burns the final chapters before her eyes. Realizing that now she will not know the end of the book, Annie becomes furious. Having completely lost control of herself, she attacks Paul, but he rebuffs her and kills her with great difficulty.

Almost eighteen months pass. Having barely recovered from two broken legs, Paul publishes his new book, The Return of Misery, and meets with an agent at a restaurant. She asks him to write another book, an autobiographical one, in which he would tell what happened to him in a house in the forest. At that moment, a waitress approaches their table, and Paul flinches – he thinks he sees Wilkes. But in fact, she is completely unlike his tormentor. Smiling sweetly, the girl tells the writer that she is his “fan number 1” …

The meaning of the ending of the film “Misery” is that the writer remained Annie’s prisoner forever. This final picture of Rob Reiner differs from the book. In the novel, after the rescue, Paul really couldn’t forget her for a long time and “died 10 times a day.” But in the end he was able to find a new idea for the novel. After that, he definitely came to life, he had a muse. And Annie left.

writer's manuscriptFrame from the film.

The meaning of the film

Rob Reiner’s tape tells not only about how scary madness is, it also has a hidden meaning. According to King himself, who embodied his own writer’s phobias in the image of Paul, Misery is a work about responsibility.

In their analysis of the picture, many viewers write that one of its meanings lies in the ambiguity of fame and popularity. This is a double-edged sword. The negative side of fame has many guises, ranging from pressure from the fan community to complete control from admirers of talent.

Who is Annie Wilks? According to the simplest interpretation, it symbolizes the very dark part of the fandom, which is not able to separate the creator from the world he created. Is Annie being held hostage by Misery? The film clearly shows that she is a typical crazy fan girl, in love with both the writer and the character he created. In the book, however, things are somewhat more complicated. There, Paul is for Annie more of a tool with which she can achieve the “resurrection” of her beloved heroine. If only the tool could be replaced, she would have sent Sheldon to the other world long ago.

But what about Paul? He didn’t see any point in continuing the Misery story. Trying to dismiss her (and at the same time – from a huge number of readers who love this series of books), he, in the form of Annie, seems to meet his heroine in reality. Like a vengeful phantom, she turns his life into an endless nightmare. First, Paul sees a strange fan in front of him, then a crazy one with sadistic inclinations, and closer to the finale, evil in the flesh. Book Misery took revenge on her creator.

Paul was soon released from captivity, but ended up in another. Physically, he was free, but his mind (according to the film – forever, according to the book – for a very long time) remained captive to his “fan number 1”.

King once said that for him, Annie symbolized the struggle with addictions. For Paul, she embodied everything that hinders his creative development. We don’t need to be famous writers – everyone has their triggers. And almost anywhere we can expect a personal Annie Wilkes.

writer in captivityFrame from the film.

Similar films

Here are a few films similar in meaning to Stephen King’s Misery:

  • “Shine” (USA, UK, 1980). Jack Torrance works as a caretaker at a hotel during off season. The man’s wife and son, who are with him, do not suspect that they are in danger.
  • “Dolores Claiborne” (USA, 1995). The wealthy mistress of the house in which Dolores Claiborne worked all her life left a will in her favor. This set off a chain of strange and eerie events.
  • “Tusk” (USA, Canada, 2014). Journalist Wallace Brighton disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Friends go looking for him – they do not suspect what they will face.
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