Stephen King once said ‘Fiction is the truth inside the lie,’ but what if the truth is unutterable? The story of Gerald’s Game is just that. Thankfully for us, King was the one who told it.
The Maine-born author has a reputation for digging up the deepest tombs before kicking his readers into the black pit without a word of warning. OK, maybe a few words, but still, it’s fair to say that he doesn’t treat his fans like glass, believing that we should never be molly-coddled. I suppose we should be flattered.
Gerald’s Game was always going to be dark: a married couple goes for a ‘make or break’ weekend at their isolated country house and after an uncomfortable attempt at role-play, the husband (Gerald) suffers a heart attack leaving his wife Jessie handcuffed to their bed. But this already dark synopsis gets a whole lots darker.
As Jessie lies there in despair, she is forced to deal with her unutterable past. She has the time to do it, but more importantly, a small yet powerful part of her brain is forcing her to unleash something she has kept caged up for years, something no-one wants to hear, least of all herself. Taunting hallucinations come to haunt her like malicious spirits and prompt her to remember her own sexual abuse as a young girl at the hands of her father.
The horror genre is twisted by nature, so ideal for pursuing complicated truths. Child sexual abuse lies at the top of the ‘subjects that must not be uttered’ list. Yet to avoid it would be refusing to acknowledge one of the biggest horrors of all, if not the biggest. Perhaps the reason for this is that it lies on a totally different spectrum to what we know as ‘normal’.
Abandonment, neglect and even physical harm are issues that are often relatable and almost always digestible. This type of child abuse is another can of worms altogether.
When I first watched Forest Gump as an eight-year-old, the idea that Jenny Curran, Forest’s young female friend, was being molested by her father never occurred to me, even though this was heavily alluded to throughout the film. My young mind was incapable of grasping this concept and it was only until a few years later that I was able to fully grasp the horror of Jenny’s childhood. I still don’t know if it was the second viewing of the film itself that made it click or something else I’d seen or heard before or a combination of both. I don’t know how, but it suddenly became a plausible reality. Except it was not normal.
This became the first of many life discoveries that made my skin crawl and still do. When a film or a book confronts a topic such as this, it makes it visible. As is quoted in Gerald’s Game, ‘Sometimes it takes heart to write about a thing, doesn’t it? To let that thing out of the room way in the back of your mind and put it up there on the screen,’ and this film has heart.
Jessie’s head is a dangerous place for her to shelve her darkest memories. The film focuses on her own hallucinations and memories as she remains bound to the bed, but ends with her gaining control over an utterly hopeless situation. Blood squirts from her hand as she “peels it like an orange” (King’s words, not mine) and squeezes it through the metallic ‘cuff.
The handcuffs, symbolic of her own suppressive nature, were initially used by her husband to make her comply with his own morbid fantasies. They represent the men in her life: restricting, uncomfortable and intrusive. Most of all, they represent herself and the self-inflicting horrors she is capable of, her own mind being both friend and foe.
Towards the end of the film, we see Jessie find solace in telling others about her past, and in doing this, she creates a space of normality for her and those who have experienced a similar ordeal. Her memories no longer fester in the dark like she did as she lay chained to the bed.
Of course, even in the light, some demons remain. The Moonlight Man, a distorted figure who ominously visited Jessie during her days spent bound to the bedposts, was real all along and not another figment of her imagination as we were led to believe. His name is Raymond Andrew Joubert and he is both a serial killer and a necrophile. Under the synthetic courtroom lights, he seems weak yet, in turn, conjures up feelings of unsettling confusion. As Jessie aptly states, “You look so much smaller than I remember“, so why does his small-ness feel so disquietening?
Jessie turns her back to him because, under the glaring lights, he is no longer a threat, but the horror is made all the more real by placing him within such a mundane setting. That’s a pretty scary thing, if not for Jessie, then for the audience, who take comfort in The Moonlight Man not belonging to the “regular world”. By moving The Moonlight Man from one realm to the other, from Jessie’s gloomy bedroom and hallucinating mind to the well-lit courtroom, the film shows us the all too easy transition of horror from fantasy to reality. Now that’s unnerving.
It’s shocking to think that the person you feel most sorry for at the end of the film is this man, someone so riddled in darkness he is only capable of inflicting terror on others. There are no words big enough to describe the origins of this man’s evil. Perhaps this is why it was so wisely left out.