On the page, King’s tale of a successful pulp writer who yearns to stretch his artistic muscles but is forced to write another genre novel by a philistine fan… well, it smacks of sour grapes and ingratitude, doesn’t it? But on film, under Rob Reiner’s direction, it’s just an efficient scare machine, the tale of an injured man trying to escape from an alternately smothering and torturing captor.
James Caan is usually the most physical of actors, but he enjoyed the comeback of his career as a man who could barely move, And Kathy Bates earned an Oscar (and became a star) by making nurse Annie Wilkes into a fully-fleshed, even sympathetic human being. In the film, being a woman of dubious taste is the least of her sins. (Indeed, her lecture to Caan’s Paul Sheldon on why his narrative shortcuts cheat the reader is perfectly valid.) What’s scary about Annie is her volatility. Paul never knows whether her next move will heal him or hurt him; in the notorious hobbling sequence, it becomes clear that she may not even know the difference.
The pair’s time together plays like a doomed romance between two twisted souls who deserve each other but are both too passionate to keep from hurting each other. In the end, one is free, and one is damaged beyond repair, but it’s not apparent which is which.