Friends, last night I sat down to watch Gerald’s Game, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name. You may have noticed the title appearing on your Netflix home screen next to The Documentary About Hasidic People (which is worth watching on the strength of its subject matter, though not its cinematic merits), American Vandal (which is the greatest thing I have ever seen and made me a better person and went back in time and fixed me in high school also). But I opted to watch Gerald’s Game while my girlfriend was out of the house for two reasons.
- I was aware that it is a Stephen King story with a female protagonist, and since I recently wrote a somewhat pointed critique of his treatment of female characters, I was curious to see if his insights into womanhood had deepened since he made a thirteen year-old Beverly fuck all her male friends in the name of unit cohesion.
- Sometimes I think I can watch scary stuff by myself and just make arch, hilarious commentary about it for the benefit of my dog, remaining utterly unmoved by its attempts to frighten me. This notion reveals a baffling lack of insight about myself–specifically that I have the heart of a hummingbird and a very poor ability to differentiate between reality and fiction–especially given that I had just made the exact same mistake with Mindhunter, which I also started watching while my girlfriend was out of town, and was then forced to fall asleep with every light in my house blazing, and a dull machete propped up next to my bed.
I AM THE JELLO.
If you haven’t seen it (spoilers ahead, obviously) Gerald’s Game concerns a married couple who go to their secluded vacation home for a weekend getaway to revive their flagging sex life. They are exactly the kind of wealthy, middle-aged white people who populate Viagra commercials (Bruce Greenwood is 61 and Carla Gugino is 46, which strongly evokes the vibe in erectile dysfunction ads that imply that yes, she’s his second wife, but she’s old enough that people are at least forced to feign acceptance of it). But instead of investing in his-and-hers bathtubs, our couple has brought something a little more adventurous for their tryst.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Gerald missed a crucial part of those Viagra commercials, in which they beg one to consider whether one’s heart is healthy enough for sex. Gerald’s isn’t, and he soon expires on top of his handcuffed wife.
Jesse is horrified (not so much heartbroken, because Gerald was being super rapey in the moments before his death), trapped, and alone (or is she). What follows is one straight lady’s 127 Hours, with a sprinkle of parental abuse and a disfigured bogeyman thrown in there for good measure. By the end of the film, I was terrified, yes, but also oddly comforted because, unlike the victims in Mindhunter (who could be ANYONE), there is no danger of my ever being trapped in such a situation, for reasons I shall now enumerate.
- The dog. On Gerald and Jesse’s drive up to their palatial second home, they encounter a stray dog feasting on the carcass of an opossum. “Let us help it!” Jesse cries. “Let us fucking not,” replies Gerald, who drives on. This is where my story with Gerald would end, because there are ZERO CIRCUMSTANCES in which I would abandon a dog, one of god’s few redeemable creatures, to the fate of a cold and hostile world. I would DEMAND my husband stop the car, and if he refused, I would cross my arms sulkily and refuse to accept his erotic overtures for the remainder of the weekend. Now I can acknowledge that the movie did an excellent job of casting this particular dog, which does look a bit forbidding, yes. No scruffy terrier nor deep-eyed retriever he, but a German Shepherd whose coat has plainly been collecting exotic odors for some time. So okay, maybe I would not let him in the car, but I would be thoroughly put off by his appearance, which so strongly evokes the dead deer in Get Out. At the very least, I’d say “Gerald, look: this whole roadkill scene has the feel of an operative metaphor. And I can’t quite figure out what it signifies: I don’t know if I’m the dog or the opossum or what, but it forebodes, okay, so I think we ought not to engage in any activities more strenuous than paperback reading for the time being.”
- I’m gay. I’m pretty much fully gay, so the likelihood of my having a husband with whom I have Viagra-dependent sex is basically outside the realm of possibility for me. Please note, however, that this fact falls second on my list, because it is still more likely that I would marry a man and stare in wonderment every day at his massive diamond on my gay-ass hand, than it is that I would abandon a dog in need.
- “Gerald.” Even if I did marry a man, it would not be a “Gerald.” Just say it out loud; it feels bad in your mouth. “Gerald.” It’s like a fatty bite of steak you keep chewing but can’t break down, and plan to spit into your napkin when no one is looking. “Gerald.”
- The Marriage. Even before things go very wrong, it’s clear that Gerald and Jesse’s sex life is really the least of their problems. Recently, Jesse overheard Gerald joking that women are nothing more than “life support systems” for their vaginas. If I were Jesse, I would take that opportunity to look in the mirror, realize I look like Carla Gugino, and trade the fuck up. You find evidence that he’s cheating (oh, he’s definitely cheating. No 61 year-old has abs like that without an agenda), you pocket half his money, and you find yourself a young, pliable partner whose heart (both physically and figuratively) is healthy enough for a woman of your stature. TAKE ANY HEART, TAKE MINE.
- The Handcuffs. Now look, we are not here to judge or to kinkshame anybody. Gerald and Jesse have been together for eleven years, and I don’t blame them in the slightest for getting a little bondage-curious. Except that it’s really Gerald who is leading the charge on this, and it is he who brings the cuffs, which are some seriously not-fucking-around-handuffs. When he busts them out, Jesse is like “Oh, I was expecting something Velcro, or animal-patterned, or just less heavy-duty.” To that, Gerald replies, without a moment’s hesitation, “No, those break too easily when you pull on them.” Jesse meekly accepts this explanation, and that is the moment, before the cold steel even closes around her wrists, that she truly surrenders her autonomy. Because if my Gerald revealed that he was a secret handcuff expert after eleven years of marriage, well, I’d have some questions. Questions like “HOW DO YOU KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT THE RELATIVE STRESS CAPACITIES OF VARIOUS TYPES OF HANDCUFFS, GERALD? HAVE WE BEEN READING THE AMAZON REVIEWS OR DOING A LITTLE RESEARCH OF OUR OWN? AND WHERE THE SHIT DID YOU BUY THESE “SERIAL KILLER WHO IS IMPRISONED BUT COULD STILL SNAP AT ANY TIME” LOOKING CUFFS, ANYWAY? WHEN DID YOU BUY THEM? LET’S SEE THE RECEIPT. I’M SERIOUS. GET OUT YOUR PHONE AND PULL UP YOUR CARD HISTORY, AND LETS. START. LOOKING.”
- The Dog Again. When they arrive at the house, Jesse realizes that the dog has followed them, so she puts out a bowl of steak for it, because she is a basically decent person. Gerald complains that the steak is “genuine $600 per ounce Kobe” (no it’s not Gerald, and the men at the butcher shop have not stopped laughing since you left) and should not be wasted on a dog. Faced with such callousness, I would forbiddingly wrap a shawl around my shoulders and call “here boy” into the darkness until the dog came. Then I would feed it and bathe it and use it as my primary source of emotional support throughout the divorce proceedings.
- The Escape. Even assuming that I overcame my scruples and good sense, and found myself with a deceased husband and his rock-hard boner collapsed on top of me, I think I would handle the situation somewhat differently than Jesse. For one thing, she gives up mighty quick on breaking the bed frame, using the cuffs to file it down, or scooching it over to be nearer to the cell phone. I would stick to that strategy, or any strategy other than arguing with my hallucinations.
- The Stephen King Reference At one point, one of Jesse’s cruel hallucinations refers to the dog (which at this point is grazing on Gerald’s corpse) as “Cujo,”which of course is a Stephen King reference in a Stephen King property. I find this detail so offensive, that were I in Jesse’s position, I would escape by bursting through the fourth wall like the Kool-Aid man.
- The Glass. Finally, assuming all else had failed and I was faced with the choice of cutting off my own hand, or dying in a humiliating position and being eaten by the dog, I would die. No question. I do not have it in me to peel my own flesh off like a glove. You’ve got me beat there, Carla Gugino. But I would at least die knowing that my corpse nourished a blameless canine, rather than one of the awful men who had ruined my life.