Because of how closely tied both the book and movie are, and because I just found it easier to combine my reviews of both formats, I decided to make this From Page to Screen post different from previous ones by having only two sections: a single review, and then a comparison/contrast section.
One thing I want to note: there will be SPOILERS throughout for both the book and film. You have been warned! :)
You lose some of the suspense, however well created or intentioned to be, when you know the ending of a story.
I went into Gone Girl (2014) having already read the book, yet still highly anticipating watching what I had read unravel on screen. I held onto the promise that director David Fincher, actor Ben Affleck, and book author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn lead us all to believe: the movie’s ending would be different than the book’s.
And here’s the biggest spoiler I can write in this post: the difference was so little, the plot still kept all the same major points, that the simple “adjustments” made to the film were overshadowed by the blatant reminder that readers of Flynn’s thriller were watching exactly what we were suspecting to not witness: the same horrible ending that, while it works as a surprise factor, did not benefit the film, or work as well as Fincher or Flynn probably intended.
For those still interested in why I think this, let me break it down for you:
Those who didn’t read the book are going to be asking varying renditions of this question after they watch the ending: Why would Nick stay with this crazy psychopath even if she’s pregnant?
That question leads to more questions: How do we know she isn’t just making up her pregnancy? Why does Nick not try harder with Boney to prove Amy’s guilt?
No, Nick pastes on his fakest smile, nods, and later proclaims to his twin that he’s going along with it to save the child from his horrible mother. Honorable? Yes. Enough reason to not fight it, research it, try desperately to get out of it, yet somehow help the child in the process? No, and not even close.
This is where the book and movie separates, and while we realize that we aren’t interested in seeing a replica of the book on screen (This is a movie, after all; Entertain us, Mr. Fincher!), that if they’re going to keep a strikingly similar ending to a book, then they needed solid material throughout the film to support that ending, even if they wanted to change parts or leave out characters here and there.
Here are the two major reasons that the ending works well in the book, but not in the film:
- The book presents a detailed enough background on Nick, his past home life, and his drunk, cheating father who is known to regularly debase women (especially Nick’s mom) that Nick is faced with an enigma as he grows up: he doesn’t want to become his father, even though he occasionally recognizes little parts of his father in himself. This is critical to the plot because Nick doesn’t want to be his father; he wants to be a good husband (well, so we think?), but even more importantly, he wants to be a good father who wouldn’t abandon his child. This reason significantly alters Nick’s reasoning for staying with a psychopath: his fear of becoming his father outweighs his fear of his murderous, psychotic wife carrying his child.
- While it is complicated and somewhat understandably left out of the movie version, the second reason has more to do with why Nick didn’t question the pregnancy. Fincher dropped only one hint in the entire 2 1/2 hour film’s runtime as to why Nick didn’t question Amy when she presented him with the positive pregnancy test. It happened in the middle of the film when Nick and Margo were fighting, and out of the blue, Nick declares that he was the one who wanted children, and that he wanted them so much, he even went to a fertility clinic. What Fincher and Flynn leave out in the film version is that Amy was so meticulous in her scheming, that she stopped by the clinic, picked up Nick’s sperm, and kept it frozen in case she ever needed it to blackmail him. Of course, she does blackmail him at the end of both the book and film to stay with her because she is pregnant – and the child is most definitely his - and he’s fully aware that she had taken his frozen sperm and impregnated herself. But leaving this vital detail out of the film, yet expecting viewers not to wonder why Nick hasn’t questioned Amy more than “there needs to be a paternity test!” is just odd.
Alas, I’ll end my rant with this: I consider this is a major boo-boo in the film, despite how much I enjoyed it and thought it honored the source material while still making it it’s own. But let me get on with what I did enjoy now.
The casting, from what I’ve mentioned in multiple lead-up posts, was not only a sure thing to attract fans of the book, but also a more wide stream audience. After Affleck’s multiple successful directing credits, especially the most recent Academy Award winning-film Argo (2012), Gone Girl was certainly expecting to attract an audience. Attach the incredibly talented directing name “David Fincher” to most of the ads, and you have a double whammy for getting butts into theater seats. What paid off, however, was not just attracting theater goers, but stellar casting that fit the material as well as anyone could have hoped for.
Neil Patrick Harris, however, felt underused. Despite his creepy, extreme nature that made him a convincing Desi, he just didn’t have enough scenes (which just happens when you’re adapting a book to film) to make us wonder why Amy brutally killed him the way she did. Maybe Amy is just an insane murderer? Perhaps, and no one would be crazy for thinking that. The book, however, gives us more understanding as to why she lashed out: she was feeling trapped and controlled and unable to make decisions for herself, so she took matters into her own hands.
Tyler Perry acted as the comic relief of the film, with some one-liners that were only too true that you knew you were laughing at his sheer honesty instead of a silly joke. The stand-out performance for me came from actress Carrie Coon, who played Nick’s twin sister, Margo. She looked enough like Affleck that someone would have believed they were twins. Her chemistry with Affleck felt genuine, and she felt like one of the few characters you wanted to root for. She acted as Nick’s conscious, yet she stayed completely dedicated to her brother, even as his hidden sins came to light.
Critic Michael Phillips for The Chicago Tribune mentions that Fincher uses a lot of mustard lighting throughout the film, creating a pallet that he didn’t care for. I thought the lighting worked well and aided the suspense of the film. My biggest complaint deals with the raved-about score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While my seating location in the theater might have had something to do with this, during the opening scene, I was fighting to hear any dialogue over the overpowering and sometimes nonessential score. There were moments when it created or built the suspense, supported the scenes, and gave us a theme when certain characters were on screen. But sometimes it felt completely excessive, taking away from a scene rather than subtly reinforcing it. I was much more impressed with their score for The Social Network (2010).
Overall, I was a big fan of both the book and the movie. Gillian Flynn was successful as both the author and screenwriter for the two formats, bringing her book to life on film in an eerily similar way. Neither are for the faint of heart, both packed with pulpy fiction, dramatic dialogue, and (just in the movie) a murder scene most would die . . . to not see ever again.
I give the book Gone Girl
And I give the movie Gone Girl
and 1/2 ON SCREEN.
Compare/Contrast Gone Girl‘s Book and Film
Which did you hear of first, the book or the film? I heard about the movie first (when do I not?). I read the book right after I saw the trailer, and that prompted my excitement to see it on screen.
What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the book?
- Favorite – My favorite part of the book was how Flynn put it together. I loved that one chapter was from Nick’s perspective, and the next was a diary entry from Amy. Getting multiple perspective made it more interesting and suspenseful. The pace was fast, but not rushed.
- Least favorite – I just didn’t care for the ending, even given it’s surprising nature and “what the heck?” reaction. I’m a bigger fan of books where there’s justice, with evil losing and good winning. And while I appreciate flawed characters in a book, I felt like the two main characters fell short of being even a little redeemable. At times the language was over-the-top and unnecessary.
Do you think it was inspired by any other books? According to an interview Flynn had with The Guardian, she claimed the novel Mystic River to have inspired her to include a mystery in her book.
What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the movie?
- Favorite – I couldn’t have imagined a different casting holding down this movie. Ben Affleck knows exactly how to play both the guilty and innocent sides of Nick Dunne, and you both abhor and like him. It’s a great film to showcase actors.
- Least favorite – Without repeating myself too much, I’ll just say the score and the poor choice (in my opinion) of how they wrote the ending.
Do you think the movie was inspired by any other movies? I imagine any mysteries, especially murder mysteries, inspired the plot. David Fincher continues to grow as a director with his unique style of shooting scenes and guiding actors. I could see his latest movies such as The Social Network and his remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) inspiring his work.
Will the book, movie, or both forms, stand the test of time? That’s a tricky question, because both have their setbacks. Ultimately, I think the book will just because (of course) it came first. The film is memorable, yes, particularly due to stellar performances, but I think the book has a slight edge over the film.
It’s your turn now. Have you seen Gone Girl? If not, do you plan to see it? What do you think of the film compared to the book? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts.