Friday, February 5, 2010

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #2: Misery

Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I just decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan like last winter). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a weekly (I'm going to try, I swear...) feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.

There have been many occasions upon which I have basically pretended to have seen Misery. Well, maybe I didn't pretend, but I did smile and nod and not acknowledge that, in fact, I had never seen the film. I felt like I had seen it. I'd seen enough clips and knew enough about the movie to put the pieces together and come up with an accurate synopsis. Watching Misery now was really just like filling in the gaps with heaping lumps of Kathy Bates-brand crazy glue. Excuse the phrasing, but over the course of my life I have only been aware of Kathy Bates as she experiences middle age. She has literally always been middle aged to me. When I became conscious of her, she was near the age bracket of my parents, aunts, and uncles and seemed like someone who could feasibly be invited over from just up the road for a cup of coffee. To add to that, she reminds me a bit of a teacher that I had in middle school, and I suppose that when I try to conjure up an idea of Kathy Bates I conjure her as the Hollywood variation on that woman. Basically, I have ascribed the characteristics of my middle school teacher onto Kathy Bates and thus believe that Kathy Bates should be clever, kind, a bit wry, and insanely good at algebra. That is to say that when I see Kathy Bates as sociopath ex-nurse Annie Wilkes I'm forced to wonder if any of the authors on our required reading list were ever locked up in my 8th grade lit teacher's guest room. I also have to repress the sudden, conflicted bubbles of rage that arise while listening to Annie's cheery jibber jabber and suspect that had I seen Misery prior to entering junior high my fond memories of this upstanding educator would be shaded by nightmarish visions of her white-knuckling a sledgehammer. Alright. Not seriously. But I'm really not comfortable with Annie Wilkes.
Annie Wilkes reminds me that (in spite of my daydreamed delusions of grandeur) I probably don't want to be famous. I mean, I get creeped out when people I've known for years know more about me than I thought they did, if some deranged woman in a jumper popped out of a bush and told me all about my favorite colors and superstitions, I'd call the cops. I would literally be so insanely paranoid that I would become Howard Hughes overnight. If I were famous, there's a high probability that in my fledgling moments of recognition I would place more 911 emergency phone calls in a week than the NYPD receives in a year.
"Police, this man is looking at me funny" "This isn't a prank call, there's a teenager with a camera stalking me" "Gah! Strangers are sending me personal mail!" "MTV is sending someone called 'Snooki' to interview me and I'm afraid". I feel Paul Sheldon's (James Caan) pain. Here he is, a dude trapped writing what must be the lamest series of books ever. He finally kills off his character and writes something he can be proud of and a crazy bitch douses it with kerosene and throws it on the grill because, well, the profanity! After a "people do talk like that" argument of epic proportions, Annie Wilkes demands something catered specifically to her tastes and sets up our ailing author in front of typewriter. What have I concluded from this? That Misery is actually Stephen King's horrific dramatization of the elitist world of the academic fiction workshop. Yep. Enter the institution, get both legs broken, a decreased sense of your own self-worth and a keen knowledge of how best to work within the elasticized box of "things that will get you hired" (except, you know, that box is filled with so-called literary fiction and not Victorian bodice-rippers with characters named Misery Chastain). This is the part where I yell without grace "YA BURNT" and queue up the song "Little Boxes".

Then, of course, I remember that I'm actually not bitter about academia. I love it. I'm just, well, self-aware. I have to wonder, though, if Stephen King was holding a little bit of a grudge here or there because let's face it, the similarities are sort of uncanny. I mean, hardly a day goes by without the writer being workshopped attempting to drug the critic's paper coffee cup as the critic swings a sideways insult that questions the writer's sophistication. James Caan, in this case, gets built up and brought down with each passing day. You're great! I'm your number one fan! It's fantastic! By the way...if I'm going down I'm draggin' you down with's some sedatives, I suggest you give in.

Here's what I don't get, though (spoilers ahead, matey). This guy is a writer. He may write romances and not mystery, but with all that time stuck in bed, he's got an endless string of moments to pin down a plot. How is it that someone with all that time to hatch a plan actually succumbs to the tried and true 'never turn your back on the villain' routine? I mean, seriously! If you knock her down, horror movie logic dictates that she is not yet dead! Check for a pulse. Get her weapon. Throw that typewriter down once more for good measure. It's not like someone with two broken legs is going to get far unless their captor is entirely, 100% dead or incapacitated. Don't leave it up to chance. That doesn't even make sense. Note to fictional horror victims: if there is only one villain, said villain is not supernatural, and said villain is properly disposed of, there will no longer be any need to rush and mess things up. Your getaway will be smoother if nothing is going to wake up and chase you. Keep that in mind. A typewriter to the head may guarantee a concussion, but it does not guarantee that you will make it out of the building alive. Food for thought, Paul Sheldon. Food for thought. Typewriter.  Once, twice, three times for good measure.

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