Warning: This post contains spoilers for Gerald's Game.
Imagine the following: A woman and her husband of 11 years drive up to their lavish, yet isolated, lakeside house for a weekend of wild sex and $200-a-serving Kobe steaks, meant to rekindle the flame of their stagnant marriage.
Once there, he handcuffs her to the antique wood four-poster bed...and dies.
On. Top. Of. Her.
This is not Fifty Shades of Grey fanfiction, but rather the actual plot of Gerald's Game, the Netflix-adaptation of Stephen King's novel by the same name. And despite the rather absurd premise, it's well worth a watch.
King's novel is difficult to adapt. Watching someone struggle to get out of handcuffs for almost two hours sounds like a bad Houdini experiment, so almost all of the action takes place inside Jessie's (Carla Gugino) head as she attempts to free herself from bondage. To get around that, director Mike Flanagan has personified the voices of Gerald (Bob Greenwood) and Jessie herself, making them appear to her as people in the room, almost like Devil Kronk and Angel Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove.
But what makes the film interesting isn't actually if and how Jessie will finally be released, but rather how she got there in the first place. At its core, Gerald's Game is a reflection on abuse and sexual assault, and the way women are taught to deal with them.
The first hint of this we get is when Gerald first handcuffs Jessie to the bed, and, under the guise of "trying something new," tries to engage her in a long-dormant rape fantasy without her consent. She is horrified, and pushes him off, demanding he release her. He is in the middle of taunting her, alluding to the idea that he may want her to struggle in more than just fantasy, when he clutches his chest and dies.
Later, we learn that this isn't the first time Jessie has faced abuse at the hands of someone she trusted. During the day and a half that she's cuffed to the bed, her mind wanders back to an incident that happened the summer she was 12. While watching an eclipse with her father at their lake house, he asks her to climb on his lap, like she did when she was a little girl. As the two look up to the sky, he masturbates quietly behind her. He then manipulates her into keeping quiet about it, intimating that her mom will think it was all her fault. If Jessie talks, she will end their family.
So yes, on the surface this film presents as a somewhat funny warning about the dangers of kinky sex (there are a couple of subplots that I won't get into here, but let's just say you have to suspend your disbelief). But looking deeper, you'll find the real meaning: that the physical handcuffs that hold Jessie captive are only as strong as the shackles in her mind. It's not something to snigger at.
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