How Misery (1990) by Rob Reiner Uses Photography Style to Create a Hitchcockian Thriller

Kathy Bates in Misery (1990)

Have you ever wondered how Misery (1990) by Rob Reiner manages to create such a suspenseful and claustrophobic atmosphere that keeps you glued to the screen? The answer lies in its photography style, which uses various techniques to create tension and contrast between the characters and their surroundings. In this article, we will analyze how the film's cinematography contributes to its success as a psychological thriller film that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock's films.

The Use of Close-ups and Extreme Close-ups in Misery

One of the most noticeable features of the film's photography style is the use of close-ups and extreme close-ups, especially on Annie's face. These shots emphasize her emotions and expressions, as well as her dominance and control over Paul. They also create a sense of intimacy and invasion, as the audience feels like they are trapped with Paul in Annie's house.

Close-ups are shots that show a person or an object in detail, usually filling most of the screen. They are often used to show the facial expressions or reactions of a character, or to focus on a specific element that is important for the story. Extreme close-ups are shots that show only a part of a person or an object, such as an eye, a mouth, or a hand. They are often used to create intensity or suspense, or to reveal something hidden or unexpected.

In Misery, close-ups and extreme close-ups are used frequently to show Annie's changing moods and behaviors, as well as Paul's fear and pain. For example, in the scene where Annie forces Paul to burn his manuscript, the camera alternates between close-ups of Annie's face and Paul's face, showing their contrasting emotions. Annie is smiling and excited, while Paul is horrified and devastated. The camera also zooms in on Annie's eyes, which are wide and manic, and on Paul's hands, which are trembling and holding the lighter.

Another example is the scene where Annie breaks Paul's ankles with a sledgehammer, which is one of the most shocking and memorable scenes in the film. The camera shows an extreme close-up of Annie's face, which is calm and serene, as she says "God, I love you" to Paul. Then, the camera cuts to an extreme close-up of Paul's face, which is twisted in agony, as he screams "Annie!" The camera also shows an extreme close-up of the sledgehammer hitting Paul's ankles, which is accompanied by a loud crunching sound.

These examples show how close-ups and extreme close-ups are used in Misery to create a Hitchcockian thriller, as they increase the tension and suspense in the film. They also make the audience feel more involved and empathetic with the characters, as they see their emotions and reactions up close. They also highlight the contrast between Annie's psychotic personality and Paul's helpless situation.

The Use of Low-angle and High-angle Shots in Misery

Another technique that the film employs is the use of low-angle and high-angle shots, which convey the power dynamics between the characters. For example, when Annie first brings Paul to her house, she is shown from a low-angle shot, which makes her appear larger and more imposing. On the other hand, Paul is often shown from a high-angle shot, which makes him look smaller and more vulnerable.

Low-angle shots are shots that show a person or an object from below, usually looking up at them. They are often used to show the superiority or authority of a character, or to make them look more threatening or intimidating. High-angle shots are shots that show a person or an object from above, usually looking down at them. They are often used to show the inferiority or weakness of a character, or to make them look more helpless or pitiful.

In Misery, low-angle and high-angle shots are used frequently to show the imbalance of power and control between Annie and Paul, as well as their different perspectives and situations. For example, in the scene where Annie discovers that Paul has been out of his room, the camera shows a low-angle shot of Annie standing over Paul's bed, holding a knife. She looks angry and menacing, as she accuses Paul of lying to her and cheating on her. The camera then cuts to a high-angle shot of Paul lying on his bed, looking scared and confused. He looks trapped and defenseless, as he tries to explain himself and calm Annie down.

Another example is the scene where Paul manages to escape from his room and explore Annie's house. The camera shows a high-angle shot of Paul crawling out of his window, using a rope made of bed sheets. He looks determined and hopeful, as he tries to find a way out of his captivity. The camera then shows a low-angle shot of Annie driving back to her house, singing along to the radio. She looks happy and oblivious, as she does not suspect that Paul has escaped from his room.

These examples show how low-angle and high-angle shots are used in Misery to create a Hitchcockian thriller, as they increase the drama and suspense in the film. They also make the audience feel more involved and empathetic with the characters, as they see their situations and emotions from different angles. They also highlight the contrast between Annie's delusional personality and Paul's realistic situation.

The Use of Color and Lighting in Misery

The film also uses color and lighting to create contrast and mood. The film has a predominantly cold and bleak color palette, which reflects Paul's isolation and despair. However, there are also moments of warmth and brightness, such as when Paul writes his new novel or when he sees the sun outside his window. These moments contrast with the dark and gloomy scenes, and create a sense of hope and relief for Paul.

Color is an important element of photography style, as it can convey different emotions, atmospheres, and meanings. Different colors can have different associations and effects on the viewers, depending on the context and culture. For example, red can be associated with passion, danger, or violence, while blue can be associated with calmness, sadness, or coldness.

In Misery, color is used to create a contrast between Annie's and Paul's worlds, as well as their personalities and moods. Annie's world is mostly white, which represents her obsession with purity and innocence. She wears white clothes, lives in a white house, and drives a white car. She also decorates her house with white objects, such as porcelain figurines, candles, and flowers. However, white can also have a negative connotation, such as sterility, emptiness, or madness. Annie's white world is not only pure, but also bland and lifeless.

Paul's world is mostly blue, which represents his loneliness and depression. He wears blue clothes, writes on a blue typewriter, and sleeps in a blue room. He also sees the blue sky through his window, which reminds him of his freedom and creativity. However, blue can also have a positive connotation, such as tranquility, wisdom, or loyalty. Paul's blue world is not only sad, but also calm and rational.

The film also uses other colors to create contrast and mood. For example, in the scene where Annie forces Paul to eat soup with a rat in it, the camera shows a close-up of the soup, which is green. Green can be associated with nature, health, or growth, but also with envy, sickness, or poison. The green soup represents Annie's jealousy and cruelty towards Paul. Another example is the scene where Paul sets fire to his manuscript and tries to kill Annie with it. The camera shows a close-up of the fire, which is orange. Orange can be associated with warmth, energy, or excitement, but also with danger, violence, or destruction. The orange fire represents Paul's anger and desperation to escape from Annie.

Lighting is another important element of photography style, as it can create different effects on the shapes, textures, colors, and shadows of the objects and characters. Lighting can also create different moods and tones for the scenes. For example, bright lighting can create a cheerful or realistic mood, while dark lighting can create a gloomy or mysterious mood.

In Misery, lighting is used to create contrast and mood in different scenes. For example, in the scene where Paul wakes up in Annie's house for the first time, the camera shows a bright lighting that fills the room with natural light from the window. The bright lighting creates a realistic and normal mood for the scene, as if nothing is wrong with the situation. However, the bright lighting also creates a contrast with Paul's confusion and fear, as he does not know where he is or what happened to him. Another example is the scene where Paul finds out that Annie has killed several people in her past, the camera shows a dark lighting that casts shadows on Annie's face and scrapbook. The dark lighting creates a gloomy and mysterious mood for the scene, as it reveals Annie's dark secrets and history. The dark lighting also creates a contrast with Paul's shock and horror, as he realizes that he is in danger with Annie.

These examples show how color and lighting are used in Misery to create a Hitchcockian thriller, as they increase the drama and suspense in the film. They also make the audience feel more involved and empathetic with the characters, as they see their situations and emotions through different colors and lights. They also highlight the contrast between Annie's psychotic personality and Paul's realistic situation.

The Comparison Between Misery and Hitchcock's Films

The film's photography style has been compared to that of Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Hitchcock was known for using similar techniques to create tension and suspense in his films, such as Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), and Vertigo (1958). Some critics have even called Misery a "Hitchcockian thriller", as it shares some of the themes and motifs that Hitchcock explored in his films, such as obsession, identity, voyeurism, and violence.

One of the similarities between Misery and Hitchcock's films is the use of close-ups and extreme close-ups to show the emotions and expressions of the characters. For example, in Psycho, the camera shows a close-up of Norman Bates' face as he watches Marion Crane take a shower, revealing his twisted and voyeuristic nature. In Rear Window, the camera shows a close-up of L.B. Jefferies' face as he witnesses a murder through his binoculars, revealing his curiosity and fear. In Vertigo, the camera shows a close-up of Scottie Ferguson's face as he suffers from acrophobia, revealing his anxiety and panic.

Another similarity is the use of low-angle and high-angle shots to convey the power dynamics and perspectives of the characters. For example, in Psycho, the camera shows a low-angle shot of Norman Bates standing over Marion Crane's body after he stabs her, showing his dominance and control. In Rear Window, the camera shows a high-angle shot of L.B. Jefferies looking down at his neighbors from his apartment window, showing his inferiority and isolation. In Vertigo, the camera shows a low-angle shot of Scottie Ferguson looking up at Madeleine Elster on top of a tower, showing his weakness and desperation.

A third similarity is the use of color and lighting to create contrast and mood in different scenes. For example, in Psycho, the film uses black-and-white photography to create a stark and realistic mood, as well as to emphasize the shadows and contrasts in the scenes. In Rear Window, the film uses bright and colorful photography to create a cheerful and lively mood, as well as to highlight the diversity and richness of the scenes. In Vertigo, the film uses green and red photography to create a mysterious and romantic mood, as well as to symbolize the themes of obsession and deception in the scenes.

These examples show how Misery and Hitchcock's films share some similarities in their photography style, as they use various techniques to create tension and suspense in their films. They also show how Misery pays homage to Hitchcock's films by borrowing some of his elements and themes. However, Misery also has its own unique style and identity, as it adapts Stephen King's novel into a faithful and remarkable film.

The Use of Music in Misery

Another aspect of the film's photography style that contributes to its success is the use of music. The film's score was composed by Marc Shaiman, who was inspired by Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock's frequent collaborator. Shaiman used orchestral instruments to create a dramatic and tense soundtrack that matches the film's tone and pace. He also used musical cues to foreshadow or highlight certain events or actions in the film, such as Annie's mood swings or Paul's escape attempts.

Music is an essential element of photography style, as it can enhance the emotions, atmospheres, and meanings of the scenes. Music can also create different effects on the viewers, depending on the tempo, volume, pitch, and harmony. For example, fast music can create excitement or urgency, while slow music can create calmness or sadness.

In Misery, music is used to create contrast and mood in different scenes. For example, in the scene where Annie brings Paul to her house for the first time, the music is cheerful and upbeat, as it plays a song called "I'll Be Seeing You" by Bing Crosby. The song is a romantic and nostalgic song that Annie loves, as it reminds her of her childhood and her love for Paul. The song also creates a contrast with Paul's confusion and fear, as he does not know what Annie has planned for him.

Another example is the scene where Paul tries to escape from his room while Annie is away, the music is tense and suspenseful, as it plays a fast and loud orchestral score. The score is composed of strings, brass, and percussion instruments that create a sense of urgency and danger. The score also creates a mood of anticipation and anxiety for the audience, as they wonder if Paul will succeed or fail in his escape.

A third example is the scene where Paul confronts Annie with his new novel, the music is dramatic and emotional, as it plays a slow and soft orchestral score. The score is composed of strings, woodwinds, and piano instruments that create a sense of sadness and tragedy. The score also creates a mood of resolution and closure for the audience, as they witness the final showdown between Paul and Annie.

These examples show how music is used in Misery to create a Hitchcockian thriller, as it increases the drama and suspense in the film. They also show how music complements the film's photography style, as it enhances the emotions and atmospheres of the scenes. They also highlight the contrast between Annie's delusional personality and Paul's realistic situation.

The Conclusion

In conclusion, Misery (1990) by Rob Reiner is a film that showcases a remarkable photography style that enhances its storytelling and atmosphere. The film uses various cinematic techniques to create contrast, tension, and emotion in its scenes. The film also pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, by borrowing some of his elements and themes. The film is a masterpiece of psychological thriller genre that deserves to be revisited and appreciated by new generations of viewers.

The FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about Misery (1990) by Rob Reiner and its photography style:

  • What is the meaning of the title Misery?
  • The title Misery has multiple meanings in the film. It refers to the name of the fictional character that Annie Wilkes is obsessed with, as well as the novel series that Paul Sheldon writes about her. It also refers to the state of suffering and pain that Paul experiences in Annie's captivity, as well as the emotion that Annie feels when she realizes that Paul does not love her.
  • What is the significance of the typewriter in the film?
  • The typewriter is a symbol of Paul's creativity and freedom, as well as his imprisonment and torture. Paul uses the typewriter to write his novels, which are his source of joy and expression. However, he also uses the typewriter to write a new novel for Annie, which is his source of fear and oppression. The typewriter also represents the conflict between Paul and Annie, as they have different views on what constitutes good writing and storytelling.
  • What is the difference between the film and the novel?
  • The film is a faithful adaptation of the novel by Stephen King, but it also makes some changes and additions to enhance its cinematic appeal. For example, the film changes the way that Annie breaks Paul's ankles from using an axe to using a sledgehammer, which is more graphic and shocking. The film also adds a subplot involving a local sheriff who investigates Paul's disappearance, which adds more suspense and action to the story.
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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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