AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Misery
Director: Rob Reiner (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Nov 1990
Duration (in mins):  104
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Cast: James Caan  (Paul Sheldon)
  Kathy Bates  (Annie Wilkes)
  Frances Sternhagen  (Virginia)
 

Summary: At the Silver Creek Lodge in Colorado, novelist Paul Sheldon celebrates the completion of his latest book with a glass of Dom Perignon champagne and a cigarette. Afterward, he packs up the manuscript and checks out of his cabin. As he drives away, a snowstorm hits, and Paul loses control of his car on a windy, mountain road. The car crashes, landing upside down on the snow-covered hillside. Months earlier, in New York City, Paul complains to his agent, Marcia Sindell, that he has become a romance novelist and wants to get back to serious writing. Marcia reminds him that his romance novels, featuring the character “Misery,” have made him rich and laments that he has killed her off in the latest installment, Misery’s Child. However, Paul is finally working on a novel that will make him proud and intends to finish it in Silver Creek. Back in the present, Paul is discovered by a local named Annie Wilkes, who pries him out of his wrecked car, takes him home, and makes him her patient, administering an intravenous drip feed and pain pills. When he first awakens, Annie introduces herself as Paul’s “number one fan” and assures him that she is a nurse. Later, when Paul asks why he is not in a hospital, she says the roads are closed and phone lines are down due to the blizzard. In another moment of wakefulness, Paul asks Annie if he will be able to walk again, and she pulls the sheets back to reveal his swollen, heavily bruised legs in makeshift splints. She confirms that he has many broken bones but will be able to walk once he receives an operation. She also reports that she re-located his dislocated shoulder. Marcia Sindell begins to worry about Paul, who has not been seen or heard from in days. She contacts Buster, the Silver Creek police chief, who agrees to investigate. Meanwhile, Annie continues to take care of Paul, who says it is a miracle she found him. She corrects his assumption, admitting that she used to sit outside his cabin and daydream about what he was writing, and when he left on the day of the blizzard, she was right behind him. Annie asks to read the manuscript she salvaged from Paul’s car, and he permits her in a show of gratitude. That night, Annie reveals that she read the first forty pages and detests it. Losing her temper, she yells at Paul for using bad language, and Paul becomes frightened. Later, when Misery’s Child is released, Annie excitedly retrieves her copy from the general store and reads it quickly, reporting on her progress and comparing the book’s brilliance to the Sistine Chapel. She introduces Paul to her sow named “Misery,” and later confesses that his books helped her through the heartbreak of her husband leaving. In the middle of the night, Annie rouses Paul and berates him for killing off the character Misery in Misery’s Child. She threatens him with a stool, then smashes it into the wall, warning that no one will ever come for him. Later, Paul drags himself out of bed but discovers that the door to his room is locked. After finding him on the floor the next morning, Annie rolls a charcoal grill into his room and forces Paul to light his manuscript on fire, aware that he only keeps one copy of his works in progress. Just then, Buster flies overhead in a helicopter, casually pointing out the Wilkes farm and instructing the pilot to turn around. Later, Annie presents Paul with a wheelchair and sets up a writing table by his window. She announces that he is going to resurrect her beloved Misery in a new novel, titled Misery’s Return. Paul pretends to be pleased but asks for a different kind of paper for the typewriter. Annie goes into town, and Paul uses a bobby pin she dropped on the floor to unlock the door to his room. Finding the front door locked and the phone disconnected, he wheels himself through the living room, noticing his signed portrait alongside Annie’s collection of Misery books. In the kitchen, he spots a knife block on the counter but hears Annie’s car approaching and hurries back to his room. Later, Buster discovers Paul’s car, and Sherman Douglas, the Colorado police chief, tells reporters that Paul is presumed dead. However, Buster notices pry marks on the driver’s side door and determines that Paul was rescued. Annie criticizes Paul’s early attempts at the new Misery book, but when he writes something that pleases her, he suggests they celebrate with a candlelit dinner. Having stashed numerous pain pills, he uses them to drug Annie’s wine, but she knocks over the glass before taking a sip. As time goes on, Paul continues to write, his legs heal, and he regains strength by lifting the typewriter in secret. On a rainy night, Annie delivers Paul’s pills in a stupor and says she has fallen in love with him but knows it is unrequited. She produces a shotgun from her robe and says she needs to load it. When she drives into town, Paul sneaks out of his room and steals a knife from the kitchen. On his way back, he finds Annie’s scrapbook with newspaper clippings about various mysterious deaths, including her husband’s, and Annie’s incarceration for a number of infant deaths at a hospital where she worked as a nurse. Back in his room, he practices pulling the knife from his sling, then hides it under the mattress. Hours later, Paul awakens to find Annie injecting him, and he loses consciousness. Waking up again, he finds himself strapped to the bed. Annie wields the knife and says she knows he saw her scrapbook. To discourage him from leaving his room again, she places a block between his legs and uses a hammer to break his ankles. Sometime later, Buster becomes suspicious of Annie when he sees her losing her temper in town, and reads about her conviction at the library. He goes to her farm, where Annie hides Paul in the basement just in time to greet Buster at the door. As the police chief searches the house, Annie explains that she is Paul’s biggest fan and has been writing another Misery novel to keep his legacy alive. Buster starts to leave, but hears Paul cry out from the basement. Just as he opens the basement door and recognizes Paul at the bottom of the stairs, Annie shoots the police chief from behind. She tells Paul it is now time for both of them to die, but Paul convinces her that he needs to finish the last Misery book. Promising to complete it before dawn, he sneaks a container of lighter fluid in his pants and returns to his room. Hours later, he begins typing the final page and Annie anticipates the three things he always uses to celebrate the end of a book: a cigarette, a match, and a bottle of Dom Perignon. She delivers the items, and Paul instructs her to get a glass for herself. He then throws the manuscript onto the floor and douses it with lighter fluid, using the match to ignite the book as Annie returns. Devastated, she throws herself onto the ground, and Paul bashes her over the head with the typewriter. In the ensuing struggle, Annie shoots him in the shoulder and he trips her, causing her head to hit the typewriter. Believing she is dead, Paul crawls out of the room but Annie attacks once more, and he uses a doorstop to deliver the fatal blow to her skull. Eighteen months later, Paul celebrates the critical success of his latest book, The Higher Education of J. Philip Stone, with Marcia at a restaurant. He claims his experience with Annie helped him as a writer, but when Marcia suggests he write a non-fiction account of his abduction, Paul balks at the idea. Explaining he has not yet recovered, he hallucinates Annie as their waitress, while the actual waitress introduces herself as Paul’s “number one fan.” 

Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment
Nelson Entertainment
Director: Rob Reiner (Dir)
  Barry Sonnenfeld (2d unit dir)
  Steve Nicolaides (Prod mgr)
  Dennis Maguire (1st asst dir)
  Drew Rosenberg (2d asst dir)
  Artist Robinson (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Andrew Scheinman (Prod)
  Rob Reiner (Prod)
  Jeffrey Stott (Co-prod)
  Steve Nicolaides (Co-prod)
Writer: William Goldman (Scr)

Subject Major: Abduction
  Convalescence
  Multiple murderers
  Novelists
  Nurses
  Specific type of fans
  Torture
 
Subject Minor: Automobile accidents
  Blizzards
  Escapes
  Farms
  Firearms
  Literary agents
  Malpractice (Medical)
  Murder
  Pigs
  Police chiefs
  Search and rescue operations
  Waitresses
  Winter
  Wounds and injuries

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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