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Literature / Gerald's Game

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A horror novel by Stephen King. The setup is rather High Concept — during a bondage game proposed by husband Gerald, things go south. Gerald himself ends up dead, and protagonist Jessie Burlingame finds herself in a whole heap of trouble when she's still handcuffed to the bed.

Somewhat amazingly, a (very faithful) film adaptation was produced by Netflix in 2017, starring Carla Gugino as Jessie and Bruce Greenwood as Gerald.

Definitely not to be confused with Geri's Game. (Though they both involve heart attacks and mind games.)

But you said these tropes sounded like fun:

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    Tropes that appear in both versions of the story 
  • Abusive Parents: Jessie's father sexually molested her when she was 10 (12 in the film).
  • Affectionate Nickname: Jessie's father calls her "Punkin". In the movie, he calls her "Mouse".
  • Amoral Attorney: Gerald is slowly revealed to be one.
  • Arc Words: "You're not real. You're only made of moonlight."
  • Attempted Rape: Causes Jessie to kick Gerald in the groin, giving him a fatal heart attack.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Jessie's father first appears as a caring, devoted Family Man but is really a manipulative, sexually abusive asshole.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • The movie.Jessie successfully broke free of the handcuffs and she even started a foundation to help victims of sexual abuse. But her husband is still dead, her right hand will likely never fully recover from her injury, her world was turned completely upside down, and it seems her nights were (and may continue to be) plagued with visions of the Moonlight Man. Though she did confront said Moonlight Man on his court date and said essentially that she’s no longer afraid of him.
    • The book. Jessie has confronted all her inner demons and now lives at peace in her dream house with a housekeeper that helps her with the chores.
  • Body Horror: Jessie is forced to essentially deglove her right hand with a piece of broken glass and use her blood as lubrication in order to escape her bonds. It's precisely as horrible as it sounds.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Surprisingly averted; it's the motivation that can be bad, yes, but not the act itself. Of course, you probably won't want to run off and play with some handcuffs right after reading this.
  • Chained to a Bed: One of the most famous (and horrifying) examples in fiction.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Gerald's Game is set in motion by the stars aligning in such a ludicrous fashion that you kind of have to laugh. But the protagonist's ensuing predicament is awful enough that you won't be laughing for long.
  • Creepily Long Arms: One of the more noticeable traits of The Space Cowboy.
  • Creepy Souvenir: The Space Cowboy's attire is littered with the bones of past victims.
  • Daddy's Girl: Jessie was like this... until her father sexually molested her.
  • Dangerous Key Fumble: Befalls Jessie when she tries to escape in her car.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: Jessie never is sure whether or not there is someone in the shadows, watching her at night.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The Moonlight Man is revealed to be a serial killer who mutilates and sexually defiles male corpses.
  • Determinator: In between increasingly unsettling and haunting flashbacks that go way back to her childhood, both the book and the film is sectioned with Jessie's various attempts at releasing herself from the handcuffs.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Jessie's father is first shown as a loving father but shows his true colors when he sexually molests her. And just oozes his assholishness when he emotionally manipulates his daughter to keep his abuse of her secret.
  • Gorn: Jessie's method of freeing herself is shown in all its nauseating glory in both the book and the film.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Due to her angle on the bed, Jessie is mostly able to only hear Prince eating Gerald's corpse. Mostly.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Raymond Andrew Joubert, although the name only comes up in the book's and film's denouement.
  • The Grim Reaper: Jessie thinks the Moonlight Man is Death coming for her. It turns out to be a serial killer that was stalking her.
  • Hearing Voices: In the book, Jessie hears four voices in her head: Ruth Neary (her old college roommate), Nora Callahan (a psychiatrist she stopped seeing), "Goodwife Burlingame" (a version of herself that is a submissive wife), and her 12-year-old self from the day the eclipse happened. In the 2017 movie, these are condensed into two characters: Gerald and herself as she is now.
  • Humanoid Abomination: How Jessie sees The Space Cowboy, in her dazed and near mad state.
  • I Love the Dead: The creepy stranger Jessie sees is Raymond Andrew Joubert, a necrophiliac serial killer and cannibal, who regularly broke into crypts and mortuaries for years and violated male corpses.
  • In the Dreaming Stage of Grief: Played for Horror as Jessie hallucinates from stress and thirst. When she starts to see a distorted humanoid figure that shows her a basket of jewelry and human teeth, she forces herself to dismiss it as a dream "made of moonlight". Months later, she sees the man on trial for murder and realizes he was really there with her.
  • Innocence Lost: When Jessie's father sexually molested her and manipulated her into silence, she lost her childhood and sense of self.
  • Karma Houdini: Jessie's father never faced comeuppance for his crime. Jessie never told anybody what he did to her, and by the time the novel is set, he's been dead for years.
  • Kinky Cuffs: After a while, Gerald only finds Jessie sexually attractive if she's tied to the bed. Unfortunately, he likes to use real handcuffs. However, he could only get the type made for males; this is what makes Jessie's escape possible.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Not exactly, but close enough. Jessie eventually breaks a glass and effectively degloves her hand, so blood would serve as a lubricant and allow her to pull her hand through the cuff.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Jessie's inner self speculates that her sexually abusive history with her father is why she married Gerald: an older man, someone who objectifies her, and happens to be a lawyer as well. It's the only dynamic she really knows.
  • Living Shadow: How Jessie percieves The Space Cowboy.
  • Looks Like Orlok: The creepy stranger, mostly.
  • Marital Rape License: Gerald gives off this vibe when he attempts to rape Jessie despite her explicitly saying no to him.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Jessie remains uncertain if the "Space Cowboy" is just a hallucination or an apparition of Death itself. He's real, but a merely mortal Serial Killer.
  • Meaningful Background Event: References to a dog barking in the woods are spread throughout the first two chapters or so. In the film, Jessie and Gerald encounter the dog on their front porch before going inside.
  • Parental Favoritism: Jessie was her father's favorite out of his three children. Their close relationship took a dark turn however when he sexually molested her.
  • Parental Incest: And not just confined to backstory either. No, King tackles this ugliness head on.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Gerald's death causes most of the plot.
  • Psychological Horror: In spades.
  • Scars Are Forever: Jessie has undergone multiple skin grafts on her right hand by the end of the story, and it seems unlikely that she'll regain full usage of it.
  • Secondary Character Title: The title of the book/movie is the protagonist's husband who dies early on.
  • Shadow Archetype: Possibly the Space Cowboy to Jessie, given his implied back story.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Stress Vomit: As a child, Jessie vomits after being molested by her father.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The couple break one of the most intrinsic rules of bondage in that the restrained person must always be able to escape or call for help if the restrainer is incapacitated for any reason. Likewise metal police handcuffs are not recommended for the same reasons.note  Justified in that the fact that he didn't bother with any of the safety measures and insisted on real handcuffs is used deliberately to establish Gerald's character. There's also the fact that, at the time the novel was written (1992), the internet effectively did not exist for the average person, removing one of the primary means of easily discovering typical safety procedures for this sort of activity. You would have to know someone "in the scene" or do a lot of surreptitious research, neither of which Gerald is likely to do, not to mention he's not exactly the type who would care that much about his wife's safety anyway.
  • Urban Legend: A much darker take on an old yarn regarding, of all things, Batman.

    Tropes in the 1992 novel only 
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Prince's intuition is described by King in a way that doesn't feel that farfetched.
  • Asshole Victim: Gerald, who was about to rape Jessie. It's further implied that he wasn't a great person (or husband) even before that moment. Jessie admits to herself she's not sorry he's dead.
  • Auto Erotica: Jessie had sex with her prom date on the back seat of his father's Oldsmobile.
  • Better than Sex: When Jessie finally gets rid of the handcuffs, she feels ecstatic, and thinks that if sex was even half this good, people would be doing it on every street corner.
  • Cool Old Lady: Meggie Landis, the housekeeper Jessie hires to take care of her after her ordeal in the book. She doesn't show up in the movie.
  • Crossover: With King's Dolores Claiborne. Both characters are caught in the path of the eclipse, which allows them a moment of physic connection. It's very brief, and if you haven't read both books, it might seem like a stray, random moment of weirdness that's never followed up.
  • Daddy's Girl: Jessie was one of these as a child, and her father took advantage of their relationship.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ruth Neary, the voice in Jessie's head that belongs to her old college roommate.
  • Fingore: Jessie must give herself a degloving injury to escape the cuffs. For the love of god, do not look up "degloving."
  • Hairy Girl: Ruth Neary (Jessie's feminist college friend) was the first woman Jessie had ever known who refused to shave her legs and armpits.
  • Hope Spot: In the book, Jessie remembers the jar of Nivea cream on the shelf above the bed, and attempts to open it, hoping to use the cream as lubricant to free herself. As she's concentrating intensely on opening the jar one-handed, however, Prince the dog chooses the worst possible moment to run into the room, startling Jessie and causing her to drop the jar.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It:
    • How Goody Burlingame, the more submissive voice in Jessie's head, tries to rationalise Gerald's attempt at rape.
    • After molesting her, Jessie's father says that it happened because "a man has certain needs" and his wife wasn't fulfilling them. However, he does admit that this is a shitty excuse.
  • May–December Romance: Implied. Their ages are not specified, but Gerald is described to be older than Jessie.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Jessie's already made herself sufficiently paranoid by imagining what might be making those strange sounds in the dark before anything really does come after her.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Once he's captured, Joubert turns out to be a childlike but thoroughly insane man who talks about his "mummy-daddy" in a high-pitched cheerful voice and is excited to get to ride in a police car.
  • Repressed Memories: Trapped on the bed, Jessie's mind has nothing to do but drift back to a past memory she has forgotten, a memory that not only gives her a plan to escape, but helps her to survive the psychological trauma that comes afterwards.
  • Signature Style: Stream-of-consciousness writing? Italicized, parenthetical snatches of phrases representing the main character's little brainfarts? Multiple contexts for the same phrase, all of them disturbing? Must be a Stephen King book.
  • Slut-Shaming: Subverted. Jessie has a vision of "Punkin" (an imaginary version of her younger self) being thrown in the stocks "for sexual enticement." Jessie violently rejects the idea that a child so young can be guilty of such a crime.
  • Spiteful Spit: After confirming Joubert was the Space Cowboy, Jessie spits in his face, symbolically moving past her instinctive defense of her father and declaring she'll never be used by a man again.
  • Straw Feminist: Maybe her real-life counterpart is less so, but the version of Ruth that lives in Jessie's head is utterly scornful of men and considers them the cause of most of the world's problems.
  • Stock Punishment: Both "Goody" and "Punkin" are imagined in Puritan garb, and Jessie sees visions of both of them placed in stocks for their obscure crimes.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: Jessie flashes back to a solar eclipse when she was a child.
  • Trophy Wife: Jessie bitterly admits that she was one of these for Gerald, having given up her bold and independent spirit for financial security.
  • Vomiting Cop: Sheriff Norris Ridgewick throws up, when he finds what is in the truck of Raymond Andrew Joubert, a necrophiliac cannibal (for example, a sandwich with a human tongue) but manages to get out of the truck just in time. A character says that "the State Police would have torn him a new asshole if he'd puked on the evidence. On the other hand, I'd have wanted him removed from his job for psychological reasons if he hadn't thrown up."
  • Xenofiction: Some parts of the book are told from the perspective of Prince, the stray dog.

    Tropes in the 2017 film only 
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Gerald in the book is described as nearing fifty, overweight and losing his hair. Movie!Gerald is played by Bruce Greenwood, who, despite being more than a decade older than Book!Gerald, is a very attractive man with a full head of hair and an impressive physique for his age.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: A very small example, but along with the Pet the Dog example below, in the film Gerald is a LITTLE less aggressive and backs off, angry but also disappointed, when Jessie struggles against him via biting his lip, before he has his heart attack. In the book Gerald refuses to back down at all, forcing Jessie to kick him repeatedly, which is suggested to have been the last bit of stress that triggers said heart attack. Whether Movie!Gerald would have uncuffed Jessie then had he not suffered said heart attack, or reverted to his book behavior is left up in the air.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Downplayed. It doesn't apply to a character's birth name, but nickname. In the book, Jessie's father nicknamed her "Punkin", in the movie, it's "Mouse".
    • In the book, Jessie refers to the mysterious stranger in the room as "the Space Cowboy". In the film, he's dubbed "the Moonlight Man".
  • Adaptational Modesty: In the book, Jessie is topless and wears nothing but a pair of underwear throughout her ordeal. In the film, she wears a full slip.
  • Adapted Out: Ruth Neary, Nora Callahan, Meggie Landis, Brandon Milheron... basically, if the character wasn't physically in the house or a family member of Jessie's in the book, they don't show up in the 2017 film.
  • Ascended Extra: In the book, Gerald lies dead on the floor and only briefly appears in Jessie's hallucinations. In the 2017 movie, he serves as a major hallucination that tries to talk her down and manipulate her.
  • Canon Welding: In the 2017 movie, when Jessie is coming to terms with the likelihood that she's going to die when the Moonlight Man returns, Gerald tells her "All things serve the Beam." This could be either a Shout-Out to The Dark Tower, or have considerably deeper implications.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The hallucinatory Gerald, who represents a mix of the real Gerald's abuses and Jessie's own defeatist fears, abuse-conditioned thought patterns, and self-loathing, is still shown horrified at Jessie's backstory of abuse rather than making her feel guilty for it.
  • Fan Disservice: Carla Gugino spends much of the film in a skimpy outfit and Bruce Greenwood, who is very handsome and fit for a man in his sixties, spends a good portion of it shirtless and with his six pack abs clearly visible at a few points but the tone and story make the effect very off putting.
  • A Glass in the Hand: A young Jessie does this when the sight of her father affectionately touching her mother's hand triggers a traumatic memory of her father sexually abusing her in the past. Remembering this incident gets Jessie to realize she can use the water glass above the bed to cut her wrists enough to escape one of the cuffs.
  • Mythology Gag: Gerald calls the dog Cujo.
  • Pet the Dog: In the movie, Hallucination!Gerald is genuinely horrified that Jessie was sexually molested by her father and gives her a wistful farewell when she escapes her bondage.
    • After what happened during the eclipse is revealed, Hallucination!Gerald profoundly realizing why it didn't work out between the two of them, looking troubled when learning about the many secrets Jessie kept from him during their marriage. He looks very concerned about how Jessie knows the reasons so many people choose to commit suicide by slitting their wrists.
  • Psychosexual Horror: Jessie is chained to a bed as part of a bondage game proposed by her husband, Gerald. However, after Gerald dies suddenly of a heart attack, Jessie is forced to find a way out. During the story, Jessie is forced to confront her sexual trauma, which was that her father sexually abused her during a solar eclipse. She's been afraid of sex and intimacy ever since and subconsciously married Gerald because he reminded Jessie of her father.
  • Setting Update: The 2017 film moves the setting to The New '10s, rather than 1992, when the book was written. By extension the day of the eclipse moves forward from 1963 to somewhere around 1989.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the book, Prince (Jessie's canine visitor) is shot by police. The film version doesn't tell us the dog's ultimate fate.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the book, Prince (the dog that feasts on Gerald) is shot by the police. In the 2017 film, we don't learn his fate.