Spoilers give the game away!
I read the novel years ago, just to get that out of the way first, and never quite understood how it was so popular. The premise seemed exceedingly simple, and while there are some horrific elements, ‘Gerald’s Game’ always struck me as more thriller than anything else. But, whoever at Netflix thought it was a good idea to make the novel into a TV movie, they brought those aforementioned horrific elements to life pretty well.
So, straight in. Gerald and Jessie Burlingame’s marriage isn’t what you’d call the happiest in the world, and they’ve come to an isolated lake house here in nowhere Alabama to try one last ditch effort to reconnect. Both Gerald and Jessie assume what they want, at least first, is some long-missed sex. Jessie’s got a new nightgown for the occasion, Gerald popped some Viagra, and out come the handcuffs too. And about there is when things begin to go horrendously wrong.
Despite the title going to him, Gerald doesn’t play a whole lot more in this story. He dies, and that can’t be counted as a spoiler because, as we all know, this is actually Jessie’s own story. Gerald’s ghost pops back up to be Jessie’s antagonist side when she begins to hallucinate, but, we’re getting ahead of ourselves and that’s unfair to Jessie. The camera turns only to her and we begin to starve and thirst with her, be plagued by helpful and so-not at the same time, and dive deep as a bloody eclipse outside sends her down the forgotten well of memories out back.
For those of you who may not know it, both the story ‘Dolores Claiborne’, which was converted to film, and this novel ‘Gerald’s Game’ endure an eclipse. At the same time Dolores Claiborne stands over a well with her bastard husband down on it and a bloody black sun overhead, wherever else she is a young Jessie thinks of pennies and a father being wrong to his daughter, and a black sun coldly observes the beach. The film actually addresses this part of the story in the adaptation, which is a bold move, and a well-done one, I thought.
One has to feel pretty hard for the role of young Jessie, as played by Chiara Aurelia, and the mountains of abuse she had to endure from her father. What happened during the eclipse wasn’t bad enough, no, Jessie’s father Tom Mahout (Henry Thomas) actually flipped a guilt trip on his own girl and gained her silence about it. Whatever she may have endured since then, whatever she allowed to happen to her with Gerald, it appears to come from this place of a child’s simple love. But that child should not be silent anymore.
As we surface, the reality of the situation is setting in, and oh by the way, there’s a mangy dog eating Gerald’s dead body. Charming. We know she’s hallucinating her Practical-Sensible Voice as herself, and Gerald pops up just to poke her once in awhile, but this other presence made of moonlight, is worrisome. The hunger may be gone but oh the thirst is just maddening. Jessie rallies her courage and her nerve, and paints the bed red, in hope of gaining freedom at long last.
Talking about what happens after Jessie finally obtains her freedom herself, thank you very much, would give the entire game away and I’d rather not. A good deal of the glorious tension made in the first three acts is of course gone now, and the wrapup of what-happened-after was a little too quick for my tastes, but it seems as though the filmmakers wanted to get in every last thing from the book they could manage, so no X marks on that score. Carla Gugino as Jessie delivers a breathlessly, ruthlessly strong performance, of a woman no-one took seriously and the girl inside her that was used and discarded like tissues. King writes incredibly strong female characters, and Gugino did justice to the role and then some. Bruce Greenwood as Gerald himself was perfectly fine, and the reveal of the Moonlight Man at the end quite well-portrayed too.
Break the rules of Gerald’s Game on Netflix now!