Misery is based on the novel of the same title by Stephen King. King wrote the novel due to the negative response aimed toward Eyes of the Dragon, which was an epic fantasy novel with little to no horror elements.
James Caan and Kathy Bates are excellent in the film adaptation, released in 1990, three years after the novel debuted. Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a writer who is in a car accident who falls into the hands of an overly-obsessed fan. Paul killed his series’ main character, Misery Chastan, in his latest novel because he wanted to move onto writing other things. Annie, played by Bates, demands that Paul write a new book bringing Misery back to life. He resists, but she insists.
Kathy Bates created a major splash with this movie. This was not her first film role. She did some other film and TV work, including a short role on a soap opera, before this film. Her performance as Annie Wilkes earned her an Oscar and it may be her most memorable role to date. Her character can go from a very caring individual to a suddenly very threatening foe.
I think Caan is fine as Paul Shelton. I think the movie belongs more to Bates than it does to him. There are some other characters in the film but I think the movie becomes less interesting whenever there is a scene about the investigation of Shelton’s disappearance. The scenes with Bates and Caan are so strong, that focusing on other characters seems like a mistake.
One small detail I think is worth noting is the fact that Bates’ character’s name is Wilkes, shared by President Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. Maybe King just liked the name Wilkes, or perhaps the name is more popular in Maine or nearby states. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. But when I hear the name Wilkes, I tend to think of John Wilkes Booth. King could have chosen the name because of that association.
Another notable thing is that Annie Wilkes might be one of the first dramatic examples of a deranged fan. “I am your number one fan,” she tells Paul. That was initially meant to sound nice but it is also is a bit chilling in hindsight. Misery was published after the murder of John Lennon by a fan who ultimately grew to hate Lennon but before the murder of Selena Quintanilla by the leader of her fan club. Both celebrities were murdered by infatuated fanatics.