WARNING: The following may contain potential spoilers for the novel and film Gone Girl, depending on your definition of “spoilers.”
These are a few of the things I said about Gone Girl, the novel, two years ago:
Gone Girl has been one of those “everyone’s talking about it” books for months. That said, it’s really not that easy to talk about, between the potential spoiler minefield of any plot discussion and the fact that…yeah, almost everyone’s talked about it already.
In Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn smartly blends plot-based suspense with psychological intrigue, and does it through the alternating perspectives of two unreliable–and frequently unlikable–narrators. The novel explores some provocative and unsettling questions about marriage: in general, its particular shape for any two people involved in it, and just how much of our real selves we allow into it.
But I wouldn’t advise taking Nick and Amy Dunne as any sort of models for marriage, even of the cautionary variety. They’re one of those couples whose individual dysfunctionalities match up well enough to form an entity with its own unique flavor of screwed-up. Flynn’s insights into both of their minds had me questioning, shifting allegiances, and anxious to see how it would all play out. And for me, it was the twists and turns of Amy and Nick’s thoughts, even more than the plot in which they’re involved, that made Gone Girl riveting reading.
These are a few of my thoughts about Gone Girl, the film:
The first part of this post makes it clear that I’m in no position to know how this movie will come across to the six people who haven’t read the novel. In any case, I’m assuming that most of the opening-weekend audience for it was largely comprised of people who did read it, and were curious to see how it would translate to film. (And if you’ve read this far, you’ll have already taken note of the spoiler warning.)
I’m not a “read the book first” stickler or a “the book is always better” purist. Having said that, I do think there are some things books do better than movies. Depicting the motivations and interior lives of their characters is very high on that list, and those are crucial aspects in a psychological thriller.
It’s fortunate that Gillian Flynn adapted Gone Girl for the screen herself; she knows this story better than anyone else, and was the best person to decide which elements to keep and which to cut or change. For the record, there are cuts, but few significant changes in the plot. What is changed is the edginess of Flynn’s main characters. Both Amy and Nick felt smoothed and flattened out, compared to how they were originally written. Nick comes across as a slightly better, less slimy person in the film, although this feels more due the depiction of his relationship with his twin sister Margo than anything in his relationship with his wife. Amy seems even more untrustworthy and manipulative, if that’s possible, but this may be partly due to context; the roles of her parents are reduced here, and while their exploitation of their daughter in the Amazing Amy books was never an excuse for Amy’s crazy, it did help explain where some of it came from.
While there’s here’s still plenty of crazy in Gone Girl, its protagonists feel less complex on screen than they did in print, and that gave me a sense that the “psychological” was dialed back while the “thriller” was ramped up for the movie. Given the different vocabularies of film and writing, that makes sense–“thriller” renders more easily in visual terms. Gone Girl‘s plot transitions to this new medium effectively, and the film achieves a suspenseful mood even for viewers who are familiar with its story already.
I agree with many of Deb Rox’s thoughts about the adaptation at BlogHer.com (although I’m less inclined to be as rough on Ben Affleck as she is):
“The economy as a character was all but lost. The people of Missouri fared relatively well. Amy’s parents and the book series that played a role in warping Amy was grandly diminished…What remained was a good deal of focus on the ridiculousness of media vultures and our appetite for victim stories. And Nick and Amy remained, but the story morphed into a survival story with Nick as his own hero…
“By softening Nick, the major cost was a loss of seeing marriage itself as a villain. A lot of the punch to the Punch and Judy of it all was dissipated. Some of the words were there, but it didn’t feel the same because the takeaway that Amy is dangerous because she’s Evil Amy, but she wasn’t the real villain in the novel. Marriage is the real villain of the book Gone Girl, and not because it traps men into lives with psycho women. Marriage’s way of inviting control and possession, intrusion and restriction, and especially of limiting the agency of women was torn apart in the novel.”
This movie worked for me much more than it didn’t. Overall, I thought it was really well done, it completely held my interest, and I wasn’t overly distracted by making comparisons to the book all the way along. (It may have helped that it’s been two years since I read it, to be honest.) That said, the book definitely adds to the story told in the film. If you don’t read Gone Girl before you see it, read it after.