Spoiler alert & trigger warning: This blog post contains spoilers and sensitive content. You’ve been warned!
Originally a novel, Gerald’s Game follows a married couple embarking on a romantic vacation. While enjoying their serene getaway, a kinky game goes awry, causing the wife to experience psychosis. While the surface level plot is engrossing, the underlying symbolism and themes are even more captivating.
Gerald’s Game is a Netflix production that was released in 2017. The plot of the movie was inspired by the 1992 novel by Stephen King also titled Gerald’s Game. The movie starts with Gerald, played by Bruce Greenwood, and Jessie, played by Carla Gugino, embarking on a much needed vacation. They drive up to a cottage in the middle of nowhere, where viewers are exposed to some tension in their marriage. Upon arrival, Gerald and Jessie waste no time tending to their neglected sex life. He handcuffs her to the bed in a kinky game, but things go horribly wrong. The director of the film is Mike Flanagan and the screenplay was written by Flanagan and Jeff Howard.
Once Jessie is handcuffed to the bed, her husband dies, presumably of a heart attack. She pushes his limp body off the bed with her feet and begins to take in her surroundings. Can she break free of the handcuffs by force? If she screams, will anyone hear her? How will she survive? A stray dog comes into the house and begins to gnaw at her husband’s flesch, understandably mortifying her. As a by-product of survival or lack of sustenance, Jessie begins to hallucinate her husband talking to her. Or is he alive and still playing a sex game with her? The answer is unknown to Jessie. Together, they discuss logistics. He helps her realize that no one will hear her cries, she can’t break the bed frame since it’s reinforced, but there is some water on the ledge above her. The longer Jessie remains in the house alone, the more she goes crazy… or so she thinks. How much of what she’s seeing is real?
At the peak of Jessie’s psychosis, she begins revisiting disturbing moments of her life. Audiences learn she was sexually abused by her father as a child. Still helplessly tied up, Jessie is visited by what she perceives to be a demon. His face is sunken and his eyes glow red, like the eclipse she experienced with her father many years ago. She screams at him, exclaiming he is not real, only a fragment of her imagination. Eventually, Jessie gains the motivation and strength to tear her hand from the handcuffs. Freed, she frantically starts the car, but crashes into a tree, waking up a nearby household who saves her. After recovering, Jessie learns Moonlight Man is a real person, not a demon, but everything else was a hallucination. Moonlight Man is a serial killer currently on trial. She decides to visit him in court where she confronts him and simultaneously puts her inner demons to bed.
The most compelling part of Gerald’s Game was the fact that Jessie didn’t know reality from hallucination. I believe this was a symbolization of her not knowing the difference between real love and fake love. This became apparent to me when her father’s sexual abuse was revealed. Survivors of sexual abuse can struggle in relationships as adults because they never learned what healthy, supportive and honest love was. I think Jessie’s marriage with Gerald didn’t contain true love because he didn’t respect her compassion in the beginning of the film. He constantly brushed her off and disrespected her boundaries and needs. When Jessie sees Moonlight Man in the house thinking he’s a delusion, this was a symbol that she didn’t see the demon in her own life, her husband. Overall, Gerald’s Game was a fantastic film with tons of suspense and jaw-dropping imagery.