Gerald’s Game, Chekov’s Dog, Pavlov’s Cat and Schrödinger’s Gun

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Gerald’s Game, this new Stephen King adaptation streaming on Netflix, is about a woman who is left handcuffed to a bed after a sex game goes wrong. In a holiday cabin in the middle of nowhere with no hope of rescue, she only has her own fractured thoughts to keep her company.

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Chekov’s Gun is a dramatic principle coined by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov that states how everything in a story must bear relevance to the plot. The example he gave was that you must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if you have no intention of it firing it in Act Two. It’s actually a bit frustrating if it is always abided by as you can end up looking at every aspect of a film trying to predict what is going to happen. Sometimes a few Red Herrings can be a good thing. In this movie Chekov’s Gun is actually a dog. Once the protagonist and her partner narrowly avoid hitting it with their car on the way to their secluded weekend retreat, you just know they are going to wish they’d killed it later.

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Pavlov’s Dog refers to the theory of respondent conditioning where an animal is taught to respond to a neutral or artificial stimulus in the same way as it would a biologically potent one. It was established by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov who rung a bell every time he fed his dog so the canine eventually started to salivate on hearing the ringing without the presence of food. Here the dog is reacting to a natural instinct and real incentives but Jessie, the woman at the heart of the story, trapped but slowly fighting back like a cornered cat is plagued by fake stimuli, each with a tangible association to something she has genuinely experienced before. While her present situation has put her in a frightening position she is reacting as much to the events of her past and struggling to know which she should respond to.

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Schrödinger’s Cat is the name of an exercise examining the processes of thought and the theoretical properties of quantum mechanics devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. It supposes that if a live cat is placed in a sealed box with some poison it remains simultaneously both dead and alive and it is only once the box is opened to reveal the state of the cat that it becomes either one or the other. It is at this point that both possible realities collapse into one. In Gerald’s Game it is the tool that will surely cause death and mutilation, the metaphorical gun if you like, that is surrounded by an uncertain, shifting reality. As Jessie’s mind creates hallucinations of other people in the room is not clear whether she will die, whether she has already died or whether she will somehow find a way to survive. All things are possible and it is only at the end that the truth of what is going on is irrefutably clear.

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That’s my theory. It’s worth a watch to see what you think.

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