Gerald’s Game, directed by Mike Flanagan, delivers a brilliant and explorative deconstruction of its main character. Being visually smart in how it does it and keeping us gripped with a premise that keeps the tension going throughout, the film never struggles in holding your attention. But, I do feel it does one thing in particular that slightly robs it of its effectiveness and left me feeling like some of the punch had been taken out of the film in the end. So, let’s explore the many great aspects of the film and see if that one nagging issue was enough to lessen my opinion of the film, overall.
Based upon Stephen King’s novel, the film tells the story of, Jessie Burlingame – played by Carla Gugino – and her husband, Gerald Burlingame – played by Bruce Greenwood – who go on a trip to their remote lake house where they hope to reconnect and also bring a little excitement back into their love life. However, events quickly spiral out of control after Gerald suffers a heart attack and Jessie is left handcuffed to the bed, completely unable to escape or get help. But, Jessie’s problems go beyond being trapped and alone as soon her fragile mind begins to unwind and all sorts of terrors begin showing up.
I went into, Gerald’s Game expecting a tense thriller about a scary situation and came out having experienced a deeply psychological character study, that left me completely wowed at what the film had ended up making its focus. This film does such a brilliant job of deconstructing its main character. What starts out seeming like a regular person, turns into an exploration of someone with a chilling past; a past that has trapped her and caused her to never free herself from the shackles of a particular, traumatising moment as a child.
It’s certainly an interesting way to explore a character. Handcuffed to a bed, with no hope of escape or rescue and instead of it being about countless attempts to figure out a solution, the film instead takes just as much time, if not more, to delve into the mind of Jessie. After the traumatising event sinks in for the character, the film is able to capitalise on the situation and pull its entire focus into Jessie and who she truly is as a person. I found it utterly engrossing, watching as this seemingly mundane person unravelled before my eyes and became someone with more and more fascinating but distressing layers.
And the way in which the film achieves this look into Jessie’s mind, is perhaps one of the most effective ways of exploring the crumbling psyche of a character. Utilising manifestations of her dead husband and a more stable looking version of Jessie, the film is able to visually communicate much of what is happening within her head, in a way that not only makes for a more thrilling experience, but also feels more honest than if it were just the character speaking to herself in an empty room.
These areas of her mind battle with her and they battle with one another. It also tells us much about the character that we wouldn’t learn if it were just her. The self-destructive part of her mind is visually represented by her husband (if that doesn’t clearly communicate the inner thinking of Jessie, then I don’t know what does); while the more stable part of her mind is a version of herself who has a confidence and a composedness, that emanates from her.
It is from these manifestations that who Jessie is, becomes clearer the more they exist for Jessie. And the writing of them brilliantly portrays the bickering voices that we all have inside our heads; voices that contradict one another, that try to make sure they’re heard over the other voices and sometimes tell you the things you don’t want to hear and aren’t ready to accept. It is this aspect of the film and how it is executed, that I think is one of the most effective aspects of the whole film. I felt I fully began to understand Jessie and the film made it so easy to do so.
And it’s at this point that I must praise the cast of the film. Both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are fantastic. Gugino has a character that is all over the place mentally and emotionally; she even has to play a stable manifestation of the character next to the real Jessie who is on the brink of a complete breakdown and also possibly death. That’s a lot for an actor to take on and do well, and Gugino does it faultlessly. She is the focus of the film and she holds it all together with ease.
And she is also supported by a striking, sinister performance from Bruce Greenwood, who taps into a level of cruelty that I don’t think I’ve ever seen from the actor. He has a particular monologue near the end of the film that dragged me in and had me hypnotised by his every word. Greenwood finds this quiet evil within him and when needed, brings it storming to the front of his performance. Both he and Carla Gugino take on the challenging content of the film and fully deliver on what it asked of them.
I mentioned a little bit a go about the film not making Jessie’s attempts at escape the only focus of the film and I want to touch on that a little bit more. I was expecting the film to primarily structure itself around Jessie’s escape and I expected it to ramp up in intensity as her options dwindled and the ones left would result in some disturbing scenes. I was content with this sort of experience.
But as I’ve already pointed out, the film had a much more enthralling focus and I think it’s better because of it. But that doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t take the time to set-up or explore this aspect of the film. It in fact does a really good job of laying out all the necessary pieces for this aspect of the story. It meant that when those pieces slowly started to show up again, it didn’t feel like the film was cheating; it didn’t throw in anything that was unknown about before, and then go and have that maybe be Jessie’s saviour. The film is up front with what’s on hand and it never leaves us, the audience, in the dark. I appreciated this a lot, as I was expecting it to ‘deus ex machina’ us and have a miraculous opportunity appear. It’s smart and it’s fair in how it’s handled.
So, you have a film that takes place almost completely in a single room, where a character is handcuffed to a bed and her only points of communication are with the manifestations of her crumbling psyche. Yet, the film has more tension, more to grab your attention and more for your brain to gorge on, than most big-budgeted extravaganzas could ever hope for. In the 100 minutes this film was on for, I got more from a single character than I’ve gotten from some recent big-budget films with a large cast of actors/characters. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you put some time, care and meaningful content into your film.
However, there is one issue with this film that stood out to me the moment it happened and that is that the film really robs itself of its effectiveness with an ending that feels heavy handed and out of sync with the rest of the experience. Don’t worry, there will be NO SPOILERS. The ending felt to clean – too simple, like it felt it needed to wrap itself up in a neat little bow.
I was absolutely loving my time with, Gerald’s Game until that ending happened and it diminished my enjoyment of the film (ever so slightly); it left a sour taste in my mouth. I still look back on the film and appreciate nearly all that it did, but I just wish the ending was not how it was. It takes away from what is a really good film. A film that had me completely gripped by it premise and had me utterly engrossed by its character. Though I suppose, this is one of those films where it’s going to be hard to get the ending right – to have it be a satisfying conclusion, and in the case of Gerald’s Game it didn’t succeed at a satisfying ending.
I’m still going to recommend Gerald’s Game. Despite that irritating issue, there is a still a film worth watching. It will hold every bit of your attention as you tensely sit there gorging on the brilliantly handled character deconstruction. So, load up Netflix and check this film out.
What did you think of the film and my review of it? Let me know in the comments section down below. I’d really appreciate it if you would follow my blog directly and follow my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it will help to grow them both. But, I’ll finish up now by thanking you for your time and wishing you a wonderful day.