Misery: Kathy Bates- Serial Killer

by Kristin Grady

The “Cliffhanger” scene in Misery gives Annie a long backstory of antisocial behavior and provides a turning point for Paul. Performing a flashback to her childhood, Annie reveals the source of her malicious fanaticism, a plot hole in her favorite series, Rocket Man. Such a blatant “cheat” shattered her precious fantasy world and she will not accept the same from her idol, Paul Sheldon. Annie’s unnerving speech makes Paul realize if he wants to live, he’s going to have to write a masterpiece, then fight his way out.

Paul killed Misery because he was tired of writing about her and he was out of ideas. Annie’s violent insistence on Misery’s resurrection didn’t change that. Scientific studies say information obtained through torture is unreliable, so Paul may have written the cheated first draft in a panic, trying to stave off further abuse. Resentment seeps into his response because Annie is threatening him into reviving a dead character he detests and she’s giving him notes. Annie’s quick anger shuts that right down. 

The scene is mostly from Paul’s point of view, slowly raising his internal alarm. As Annie begins to relive her childhood indignity, the shot is from a low angle, looking up at Annie, from Paul’s wheelchair perspective. The shot tracks in slowly towards her, it appears she’s growing, filling the screen, swelling up to monster-size as Rocket Man’s betrayal builds to a dramatic crescendo. The end of the shot rests on a close-up on Annie’s face,  her eyes look splayed in a funhouse-mirror madness. The shot progression emphasizes Paul’s rapidly sinking feeling as he watches her transform from a psychotic human being into something unreal and terrifying. He finally knows the true depth of the danger he’s in.

After the peak of her flashback, a brief, yet very significant moment passes between them. Annie sees Paul’s petrified expression and a look of shame crumbles her fury. She’s aware enough to know when she’s losing control and scaring people. Paul sees this look and there’s a bit of genuine sympathy in his expression. Annie was right about the Rocket Man plot hole, but such an outburst could get popcorn thrown at a kid’s head. He seizes the opportunity to sympathize by saying “They always cheated with those cliffhang… Chapter Plays…” 

Annie kneels down in front of Paul like a kindergarten teacher explaining the rules to a child. As she rattles off the details of Misery’s death, new horror grows on Paul’s face. There’s no pulling one over on this lady. Annie has meticulously memorized every detail of the Misery novels, so Paul has to reach her impossibly high standards or endure more torture. In a dejected sigh, Paul expresses a feeling of powerlessness. Even if he did write the Sistine Chapel of romance novels, one would never be enough for Annie. Rocket Man’s betrayal left a blast crater of emptiness inside her that could only be filled by Misery. Annie does not want Misery to die. The only way to keep Misery alive is to keep him. By revealing her weakness for cliffhangers, she gave Paul the distraction (lighting the last chapter on fire) he needed to overpower her in the end… He just had to write a perfect novel first.

Annie ultimately forces Paul to be a better writer, which was part of his reason for killing Misery in the first place. Burnt out on Misery, he wanted to write something different, something better. Annie’s obsessive fanaticism eventually drew a very different, much more creative Misery novel (with airtight plot) out of him. Paul wrote Misery’s Return under unimaginably extreme duress, but his desire to be a better writer drove him to pull it off.

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