As that woman, Carla Gugino is spellbindingly terrific, doing some of the best work of her career. She inhabits the fear and gumption of Jessie, a person who must recognize she will die handcuffed to a bed unless she undoes the physical shackles placed on her by a husband (Bruce Greenwood) who then had a fatal heart attack, as well as the lifelong mental shackles placed on her by all the men in her life: her newly late husband Gerald, her sinister and predatory father Tom (Henry Thomas)… and even the Moonlight Man.
Indeed, perhaps the most visceral image in the film outside of the blood splatter of Jessie’s escape from the handcuffs, is of the enormous shadow cast by seven-foot-tall actor Carel Struycken. Appearing midway through the film as a seeming hallucination (at least at first), Struycken’s nameless visitor enters the remote lake house where Jessie and Gerald attempted to get away for the weekend, appearing like a wraith as unknowable as Death himself. He also comes bearing a box in which he collects the jewels, bones, and other paraphernalia of the recently deceased. It’s a treasure chest that he implicitly wishes Jessie to donate to.
A dark and enigmatic figure whom Jessie nicknames “the Moonlight Man,” because he only appears when the full moon is at its brightest during the witching hour, this leering countenance immerses Gerald’s Game in a supernatural fog. There’s a reason that even six years after the film’s release, he is still appearing on social media as a kind of meme’d celebrity.
If only his seeming original symbolism in the film stayed within the nether region from whence he came: that uncanny valley between sleeping and waking, nightmares and reality, death and life. Yet it’s not meant to be.
In what might be the best example of King’s need to over-explain and rationalize so many of his ambiguities, Gerald’s Game on page and screen ends not with Jessie’s escape from her literal and metaphysical trap—or her succumbing to them. We definitely see her commit gruesome, yet liberating, damage to herself as she rips the skin from her hand to escape one of the handcuffs and then unlock the other; we also see her come face to face with the visage of her potential death as on the hour of her liberation, the Moonlight Man returns and demands a toll if she is to exit the house. So she bequeaths him the wedding ring she no longer needs; we even see how despite this offering the shadow of Death lingers over her still with the Moonlight Man appearing in her mind’s eye and bathed in crimson as she continues losing an extraordinary amount of blood in her car.
She survives all her traumas, thankfully, yet the film is unable to resist King’s gilding of the lily. Hence the film concludes not only with a denouement, but a long-winded voiceover in which Jessie, while writing a letter to her imaginary younger self, tidies everything up with a neat bow, including the Moonlight Man. As it turns out, he was neither a hallucination nor a manifestation of Death; he was a necrophiliac-turned-serial-killer who just happened to suffer from a condition that caused him to grow into a seeming giant.