Major spoilers for Gerald's Game.
Gerald's Game, Netflix's new Stephen King movie, is a very unexpected film. Starting as a simple sex-gone-wrong thriller, it turns into supernatural chiller, repressed-memory drama, torture porn horror - and that's before we even get to the jaw-dropping ending.
Based on King's 1992 novel of the same name, on the surface it's a bit different to what you expect from the writer. There's no Maine setting, no child with fantastical powers, no overly sadistic bullies - not even a struggling writer recovering from addiction trying to work through their block. And yet what it does have is a complex, human story underpinning the horror-inflected plot. Pair that with horror maestro Mike Flanagan as director and a far-reaching central performance by Caral Gugino and you've got one of his best movie adaptations.
In Gerald's Game, we follow Jessie (Gugino), who is stuck handcuffed to a bed in a remote house after her husband (Bruce Greenwood) has a heart attack mid-way through a bid to spice up their sex life. What follows is her desperate attempts to survive and escape, but also a regression into her mind, with cinematically-minded visions of herself, her husband and her traumatic past coming to light; as it goes, we learn as a twelve-year-old Jessie was, during an eclipse, sexually abused by her father and later tricked into guilty silence, something that unsurprisingly influenced the rest of her life. This isn't just about escaping metal confines - it's about escaping the mind as well.
But what about that ending? Gerald's Game ties itself up with a cautiously happy endnote but does so with a pretty shocking twist and rather dark case of coming to terms with the past.
What Happens To Jessie After Escaping?
After having an epiphany care of a vision of her younger self, Jessie slits her wrists and uses the lubrication of the blood to escape her handcuffs. She crashes her car escaping the house - with a few more visions along the way - and is eventually rescued by a nearby couple.
So, to the ending. As outlined in her letter to her younger self, following all this, the expected happened - she was taken to a hospital and questioned by police but lied and said she didn't remember any of the horrors experienced in the house. Not that it mattered much - it was determined Gerald died of a heart attack, not her pushing him off the bed - and afterward, his company covered up the sexual elements of the case; essentially, the truth was repressed. Jessie got several skin-grafts for her mangled hand and used the life insurance payout to start a foundation to help victims of child abuse, channeling her self-imagined torture while tied to the bed into something practical and helpful.
Physical horrors aside, Jessie's journey is one of rediscovery and acceptance. She's been repressing what he father did to her - both the sexual abuse itself and his victim-complex cover-up - since she was a child, always knowing it (she objects to Gerald calling himself "Daddy" during sex) yet never truly able to admit it to even those she allegedly trusts. But she's also been fighting to avoid addressing the problems with her marriage; the much older lawyer Gerald is quite evidently a father substitute, and on a more base level she's been hiding the true nature of their fractured relationship from herself for years.
Across the film, all of these thoughts slowly come to the forefront care of creeping visions, the solitude, and the encroaching possibility of death forcing her to face the past. Everything is framed to hinge on the moment of the eclipse - sat on her father's lap was when innocence was lost - with visions hued in its highly-saturated red glow. This is the ground zero of her broken mental state.
Gerald's Game's ending is thus unflinchingly about addressing and learning from the past. Jessie only escapes by remembering cutting herself accidentally on a glass in the aftermath of the eclipse, and her new life after the handcuffs is built on her using everything to power herself forward - getting past it but also using it. To hammer this home, the film has her address the letter to Mouse (her younger self, retroactively providing the pre-teen hope) and the final shot even shows the 2017 eclipse ending, a neat visual coda to the message.
Of course, there's another side to the story. While most of what Jessie experiences is in her mind, the final minutes reveal something much more skin-crawling.
- Gerald's Game (2017) release date: Sep 29, 2017