Based upon Stephen King’s 1992 suspense novel, Gerald’s Game is the story of Jessie Burlingame, the trophy wife of a successful lawyer, who accidentally kills her husband Gerald during a romantic getaway weekend. Handcuffed to a bed with minimal chances of rescue, Jessie begins to listen to the voices that speak up in her head.
Mike Flanagan’s film adaptation just hit Netflix hot on the heels of a successful screening at Austin’s Fantastic Fest. While many viewers are going into the movie without any previous context from the novel, there are quite a few Constant Readers out there wondering how solid this adaptation is. This is 2017, a year when a book-to-screen translation of King’s work can be as critically panned as The Dark Tower or as well-received as It. What follows is a look at three significant scenes from Flanagan’s film and how they compare to their corresponding scenes from the book they drew from.
CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FILM AND BOOK VERSIONS OF GERALD’S GAME
The catalyst of King’s novel largely starts out the same as the film. Both have successful lawyer Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) handcuffing his wife (Carla Gugino) to their bed in an effort to spice up their sex life, despite Jessie’s misgivings. On page and screen, Jessie’s protests are dismissed by her husband as part of the game (though he knows that she’s not kidding), and he crawls on top of her. It is here that the plot parts ways from that of the book as Gerald sits at the edge of the bed and quarrels with his wife over their failing marriage, when he suddenly clutches his chest and keels over on top of her. In King’s original story, Jessie is slightly more aggressive and she kicks Gerald in the stomach and in the groin. He falls to the floor, cracking his head on the way down, has a heart attack, and quickly dies. In both versions, Jessie finds herself alone in the cabin, unable to move more than a few inches in any direction. That’s when the voices start, and when she begins to get visits from the so-called Space Cowboy who lingers ever closer throughout the film.
Flanagan’s adaptation is astoundingly faithful to the page all the way through Jessie’s entire escape scene. As Gerald’s wife suffers from dehydration, fatigue, and hallucinations, she constantly attempts to free herself from the handcuffs that affix her to the four-post bed in her husband’s cabin. The book has her trying to break the headboard, trying to slide off the bed, and push the entire thing toward the bureau where the handcuff keys lay. Neither of these attempts make it into the film, though she does try to visualize slipping out of her cuffs and breaking a post to free her other hand.
The most infamous element of the book, however, makes its way onscreen in all of its gory glory. Using a shard of broken glass, Jessie proceeds to make jagged incisions into her wrist, effectively administering a degloving injury to her own hand in order to lubricate her hand enough to slide it out of the right handcuff. From there, she is able to slide the bed close enough to the bureau to grab the key and unlock the other handcuff. After passing out for a bit, Jessie awakens to nightfall and to the horror that the Space Cowboy has returned to the house. Jessie confronts him and throws her wedding ring at him with the reasoning that he wanted it for his souvenir box of jewelry and bones. She makes it out of the house and into her car where she is startled by a vision of Space Cowboy sitting in the backseat, and subsequently crashes into a tree, knocking her out cold. As one of the most memorable parts of the novel, the degloving scene got its time on the field, handled with zeal.
Jessie’s ordeal doesn’t quite end with her physical escape from the cabin; she has inner demons to confront, as well. Demons whose genesis resides in her mind and in her past. Six months after fleeing from the house, Jessie is still recovering from her previous ordeal both externally and mentally. Here, however, is where the similarities get fuzzier. Jessie pens an expository letter to an old friend in King’s book; whereas, the film has her writing to a younger version of herself. It makes sense; the bulk of Jessie’s escape and recovery is contingent upon her confronting past trauma, as personified through visions she has of her childhood self. As such, she must also confront Death, embodied by the Space Cowboy.
One of the passages in the letter revolves around a serial necrophile named Raymond Andrew Joubert, who was making his way through Maine. As fate would have it, Joubert is revealed as the Space Cowboy, confirmed when Jessie confronted him in a court hearing. He also repeated her wild yelling that Joubert was “not anyone,” and that he was only “made of moonlight.” Not only does Flanagan keep the courtroom confrontation intact, but he amplifies Jessie’s internal conflicts by using the faces of men in her life as surrogates for Joubert and for her own deep-seated fears.
Like Stephen King’s bestselling novel, Flanagan’s adaptation of Gerald’s Game focuses far more on character than on thrills. While the most shocking moments are few and far between, they do show up and don’t let the audience look away for even one moment. Gerald’s Game is one of the better Stephen King adaptations across the board; between this and record-breaking box office numbers for It, it’s a good year to be a Constant Reader.
A.M. Novak is a California-based freelance writer, columnist and staunch Halloween 6 apologist. Her horror film analyses have appeared on Birth Movies Death, F This Movie!, Daily Grindhouse, and wherever they’ll let her talk about scary movies. See her work at www.anyawrites.com and follow her shenanigans on Twitter @BookishPlinko.