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[Interview] Mike Flanagan Talks Controversial ‘Gerald’s Game’ Ending and One Thing He Couldn’t Leave Out

[Interview] Mike Flanagan Talks Controversial ‘Gerald’s Game’ Ending and One Thing He Couldn’t Leave Out

Mike Flanagan‘s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game was released by Netflix last Friday to rave reviews, with many critics calling it one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made. I had the opportunity to speak with Flanagan ahead of its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, where we discussed a multitude of things about the film (be on the lookout for more articles from this interview coming out this week). Chief among which was the controversial epilogue that concludes the film.

***SPOILERS***

The Stephen King novel upon which Gerald’s Game is based is 332 pages long, the final 50 of which are an extended coda following Jessie’s escape from the handcuffs and the mysterious Moonlight Man that takes up residence in her cabin. Readers have taken issue with King’s resolution to Gerald’s Game and the way it is told (via a letter Jessie writes to her college roommate Ruth) ever since it was released in 1992. Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard keep the epilogue mostly intact, except they have Jessie (Carla Gugino) write the letter to herself since Ruth is absent from the film.

Lest you think that Flanagan is blind to the criticisms of the epilogue of Gerald’s Game, rest assured that he is fully aware of them. When I brought up the fact that I was worried he was going to leave the coda out of the film due to the fact that so many readers take issue with it, he replied:

“It was something when I read the book that I loved. I know it was polarizing with fans of the book, so the people that hated that epilogue in the book are going to hate it in the movie. I fully expect that [the epilogue is] going to be the lightning rod for people to be like ‘Oh I was so into it and then (groans) that ending.’ But that’s what happened in the book. There was never a time where it felt right to do the film without that ending, for better or worse”

As I pointed out in my review of the film, the epilogue is a little clunky, but leaving it out would deprive the viewer (and Jessie) of an important moment of catharsis. I ask the question: what is the lesser of two evils? Leave out the epilogue for the sake of quality but deprive audiences of a satisfying conclusion? Or include the clunky epilogue and give your audience that sublime moment of catharsis? Flanagan and Howard choose the latter, and while it does hurt the film somewhat, it is ultimately the right decision if only for the moment when Jessie and the Moonlight Man meet in the courthouse.

“I thought that we needed to have her confronting a physical embodiment of all the male perversion that she has dealt with in various forms from various people throughout her life,” Flanagan said. “I wanted to take all of that male gaze and the dirty nastiness that she’s gone through and put it all into skin.”

While Jessie does encounter the Moonlight Man in the courthouse in King’s novel, Flanagan and Howard change one important part about it that drastically changes its tone. In the novel, Jessie spits in his face and walks out. In the film, their interaction is a bit more peaceful:

“We thought ultimately that more important than [spitting in his face] would be finding the perfect words in that it wasn’t that she was lashing out in some way,” Flanagan said, “but that it was just like ‘You know it’s not even worth that.’ To make such a giant man who represents such a giant problem in men…I don’t know if you caught it but when she says to him ‘You’re so much smaller than I remember.’ That is the first thing she says in her first flashback as a child about the house. So the first thing you ever hear her say is ‘It’s so much smaller than I remember’ and her father says ‘It’s because you’re bigger.’ So that is what all of this has been building up to and what we wanted was for those words to land. We wanted to watch him wilt in that and that was just more satisfying to me emotionally. We talked about a punch at one point, but for all of this to boil down into one moment of violence just felt wrong. She needs to walk out of that courtroom towering over him. That was the only way we felt was an honest way to get there.”

Like it or not, that epilogue was going to happen no matter what, and even if the execution may not have been perfect, the intention is honorable and the message is clear.

Gerald’s Game shares a connection to one of Stephen King’s other novels: Dolores Claiborne. Not only do both novels feature child molestation as a subplot, they also both feature an eclipse. In Gerald’s Game Jessie has a vision of Dolores looking over the well where *SPOILER ALERT* she has just killed her husband. In the film adaptation, Flanagan and Howard have Jessie recount her vision in a scene that may confuse viewers who are not familiar with King’s novels.

“I’m just such a King nut, there’s no way I could do this without the Dolores Claiborne reference, or at least some version of it. [In the film] I had [Jessie] describe the most common paperback cover of Dolores standing over the well. I just thought that might jog more memories.”

And on the possibility of nabbing a cameo from Kathy Bates, who portrayed Dolores Claiborne in Taylor Hackford’s 1995 film adaptation? Flanagan considered it, saying:

“Wouldn’t that have been cool?” But that would have cost a lot of money and we couldn’t include Dolores for rights reasons.”

Yes, Mike, that would have been very cool indeed!

Gerald’s Game is currently available for streaming on Netflix.



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COMMENTS

32 Comments
  • I think it was perfect as is. People complain too much these days, especially about actual good things.

    • Garbageface

      Says the person complaining about people complaining too much

  • Liam

    I didn’t see a problem with the ending. There was no reason to cut it and even less reason to consider what the film would have been like without it. It’s an amazing film as it is.

  • Francesco Falciani

    the ending was a typical stephen king ending…a mess….! but i bloody loved it anyway…the movie is one of the best stephen king adaptation ever! 5 stars out of 5

  • nicholasmwalker

    i love the ending, i honestly don’t see why people had a problem with it

    • It’s the voiceover….and again in the book that coda is 50 pages.

  • The story needs the coda, but what it did not need was voiceover. The voiceover made it feel like a Hallmark channel movie.

    That entire ending segment could have worked so much better w/o voiceover and the right music. The images are strong enough on their own (Jessie writes a letter that Young Jessie reads, etc.) Keep the court dialogue.

    Loved the rest of the film, though.

  • Aaron Johnson

    I love it, beginning to end. The book AND the movie.

    • Necro

      1000% agree!

  • Necro

    Well I’m super excited to say after an 11 year wait for this film that I fucking LOVED IT! Flanagan nailed it IMO! I really liked the actors and how they came to life as the voices in her head, I was worried how Flanagan was going to handle that, I thought maybe he’d just have us hear voices throughout the film. An excellent choice to go that route if you ask me! The ending with her voiceover was kind of irritating, her voice in that whisper tone got on my nerves, but that’s neither here nor there, a relatively small gripe. Besides that I personally give it a 4/5!

    • Bannedscorpionape:(

      I agree. It felt cheesy but i still loved this film

  • Rob Rosado

    Granted, I expected the film to end with the sirens, but I am very glad it ended the way it did. She needed to stare down this guy and say what she said. That IS the story. Without it, the film wouldn’t have been complete. Didn’t mind the voiceover, either.

  • Bryant Burnette

    I didn’t think the ending was clunky at all. Great movie, top to bottom.

  • Bannedscorpionape:(

    Loved this film! I wasnt expecting much but damn was this scary. I thought it was scarier than IT. the ending was good but felt like a lifetime movie ending. It didnt feel cinematic at all. It just wasnt well executed but still good overall.

    9/10

    • Satanzilla

      Sesame Street is scarier than IT though.

      • Joe Neira

        Lol

  • Jan

    Oh shit. Watching it right now, just saw what ill refer to as “the glove scene”. Pooped a little.

    • Tiger Quinn

      Wow was that off the charts gory.

  • Satanzilla

    I thought it was very well made and acted and the story had a lot going for it, a unique and interesting horror setpiece. But King always does something to ruin it, and Gerald’s Game is no exception.

    The story would have been great with just the dog or even the dog with the hint of a human interloper but King lays it on with a trowel and he has to insert a gigantic murderous freak into the story. This was such a groaner moment and in this particular production it disrespects the quality work Carla Gugino was doing. It’s a collision of two incredibly unlikely plot lines — woman handcuffed in secluded spot and husband dies? Freakish murderer invades the home? “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”

    The coda demonstrates another problem — King’s tendency to hold forth at excruciating length about the human condition. No thanks Stephen — your observations are pedestrian and often laughable. Kubrick was so prescient in boldly carving all that gibberish out of The Shining, using all the excellent horror ideas from the book and ditching the rest.

    Had that been done in this story, the moonlight man would have just been the slightest of hints or left out altogether, and the story would have ended when the local residents found her at the crash. And a good but flawed film would become a little masterpiece.

    • Tiger Quinn

      Complaining at this point that King lays it on thick is like being mad that Hemingway uses so few words. It’s his thing, and he does it more often than not very well.

      • Satanzilla

        Didn’t say he had to change. He is who he is and has legions of fans.

        I said the movie would have been more effective if it had been pared down.

  • JoeInTheBox

    I liked that they didn’t do the spitting. It does feel way more cathartic to verbally respond.

    I do wish, that they set up the Moonlight Man early in the movie. Would have made his presence more mysterious and threatening. Would also have had the audience question her sanity more, whether or not that is him or she’s imagining/hoping he’s there. Would have also made the ending feel less clunky.

    • biff

      If you listen closely to the car radio at the beginning, you’ll hear the news report about a “graveyard robber”…

  • jackstark211

    Watched it last night and I loved it.

  • Tiger Quinn

    This was so much better than I expected it to be. Really well done. And I agree, her walking away was very powerful.

  • biff

    Brilliant. The homogenization of Goody/Ruth/Nora into Jess and Gerald was one stroke, the solidifying of Jessie’s backstory was another. I do miss the Space Cowboy, but Carel Struyken’s Moonlight Man was creepy as all get-out.

    • Space Cowboy and Moonlight Man are the same person though….

      • biff

        I am aware ;D Just thought it’d be hilarious with dude lurking around in the shadows to the Steve Miller song =D

  • Dylan Gutierrez

    Someone could edit scenes from Dolores Claiborne and insert them during her remembering the vision. It’d be perfect.

  • Christopher Webster

    The epilogue made it feel like a true King adaptation. I appreciated that.

  • pablitonizer

    I just saw the film and I really liked it, it was very well executed. However, I never felt the twist, I suspected the moonlight man was real all the time, at the beginning with the radio news, then the dog with suspicious scares, the footstep, then why would she make up a man with a certain figure if she wasn’t able to actually see it? Nobody saw this man as real psycho visiting her during night time? I need to read this book asap, must be beautifuly terrifying

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