There’s simply too much emotional baggage in Gerald’s Game to ever consider that it is a horror story. While occasional lapses into nightmare parallel constructions riddle the movie, we’re required to keep Jessie (Carla Gugino) company as she ponders her fate while handcuffed to a bed after her husband has died of a heart attack. Gerald’s Game resembles “black box theater.” This is a brooding confessional delivered by Jessie and the voices in her head. The voices in her head are performed by the ghost of her dead husband, and a liberated version of herself as they argue with each other (and her). This reminds me of cheap psychology; dream-people portraying aspects of Jess’ personality as in Jung, and then the husband-father projections of Freud. The psychology doesn’t work for me because it’s too basic to get into over the film’s hundred minute running time. If Stephen King wanted to write a stand-alone story of a woman’s “inner struggle,” he could have done it without the need for handcuffs, but I’m jumping ahead.
Jess and Gerald are a good-looking, childless older couple who plan a romantic weekend at their house by the lake. The idea is to spruce up their love-lives. Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), being an older man, requires rape fantasies and little blue pills to get aroused with his wife of eleven years. Choking down her unaddressed rage and resentment, she agrees to his wishes, but like an extremely melancholy farce, he drops dead from a heart attack trapping her in the bedroom with his corpse and a hungry dog who saunters in to eat Gerald one piece at a time. In speaking to extensions of her personality, she is forced to summon repressed memories of her abusive father (Henry Thomas) and thus connect (in a meaningful way) his actions with those of her husband. I don’t know what this has to do with being handcuffed to a bed by her dead husband, but King and co-screenwriter/director Mike Flanagan think it’s important. What I think is important is survival and escape. I kept asking myself, “what would I do,” but then I kept answering myself that I would never put myself or anybody else in this position. This is just not my thing, you know what I’m saying?
The movie would’ve been exponentially better had we gone to credits right after her eventual rescue. Instead, we spend another ten minutes wrapping up the scattered conceptual threads into a presentable bow. This is a story that would benefit enormously from leaving certain ideas alone, and not in that bizarre nihilistic In the Tall Grass way. I enjoy that there is an obstacle to overcome, and Gugino’s performance is wonderful, but she neither needs sympathy from the audience, nor must she shed her demons to escape. She goes about her escape in the grisliest of ways which is proof that what really mattered was her bravery. Stephen King would use this same trick for his female characters in Dolores Claiborne and Rose Madder, but with more satisfying resolutions. Still, Gerald’s Game is a decent movie if you can forgive the rudimentary psychology at play.
Gerald’s Game can be seen on Netflix. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!