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.
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.