Book Vs. Film: "Gone Girl"

Back in January, Entertainment Weekly ran a cover story on the (then) upcoming adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel Gone Girl. The article's author Stephen Lee quotes director David Fincher (The Social Network, Se7en) on the author-penned screenplay for the film—which stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy respectively—indicating that drastic deviations from the source material were taken. Lee writes:

...Flynn...wasn't just willing to kill her darlings but to slaughter them. 'Ben was so shocked by it,' Fincher says. 'He would say, 'This is a whole new third act! She literally threw that third act out and started from scratch.''

Pretty much everyone (myself included) took this to mean Gone Girl: The Movie would have a new ending, one where (SPOILERS!) Amy's crimes do not go unpunished, and where the accused husband Nick does not choose to stay "blissfully married" to his calculating, murderous, psycho-hose-beast wife (as opposed to, say, murdering her, or committing suicide, or dying at her hand). This news no doubt made several readers happy, as Flynn reports numerous people expressed frustration and even anger at this downbeat denouement.

Personally, I felt the novel's conclusion was a perfect fit for the narrative overall (I'll discuss this in depth a bit later), but I was also open-minded to change, so long as it worked. After all, Mr. Fincher and company successfully altered the ending of another popular novel, Fight Club. In Chuck Palahniuk's debut, (I feel I shouldn't have to warn you at this point, but nonetheless, SPOILERS!!!!) the bombs rigged to blow up the major financial buildings fail to go off, and Jack/Tyler wraps up his tale inside a mental institution waiting for his Project Mayhem denizens to quit giving him knowing looks (he's finished being a revolutionary); but in the film, the bombs do explode, and Jackyler's future seems uncertain (will he continue being a leader of disaffected men?). 

Though quite different, these two endings still manage to deliver the same basic message: everything's going to be alright. Given this, with Fincher in the director's chair and Flynn writing the screenplay, a "whole new third act!" for Gone Girl could definitely work, if handled properly.

But...it didn't quite work out that way. In the author's own words (from a recent Reddit AMA), "those reports have been greatly exaggerated!" She goes on to say:

Of course, the script has to be different from the book in some ways—you have to find a way to externalize all those internal thoughts and you have to do more with less room and you just don't have room for everything. But the mood, tone and spirit of the book are very much intact.

I'll add "the conclusion" to the end of that sentence as well. Minor tweaks aside, Nick still chooses Amy, and Amy chooses Nick.

This was a bit of a sideswipe for me, as I'd planned to discuss the differences between the two endings of Gone Girl and determine whether the new, cinematic conclusion worked better, worse, or the same as that of the novel. I can't exactly do that now, but I do have plenty to talk about. As hinted above, there were subtle changes made throughout the narrative, primarily concerning Nick's character, but also Amy's as well. Let's explore these alterations by diving into the source material first.

The Book

Let's go back to Flynn's own words on the adaptation process:

...you have to find a way to externalize all those internal thoughts and you have to do more with less room and you just don't have room for everything.

She is of course referring here to the first-person narratives, one from Nick telling his side of the story, and the other from Amy, countering and downright subverting Nick's account. Even though they are spatially quite far away from each other, this he-said, she-said storytelling approach comes off like a tug-of-war spat between a married couple well-past their honeymoon phase. 

Too, because first-person narratives offer intimacy with the characters' thoughts and feelings, we find ourselves alternately rooting for either Nick or Amy, depending on where we are in the novel; moreover, because of this intimacy, reading Gone Girl is a bit like reading case files from a psychologist's notebook. We see the struggles both husband and wife have with identity, how they've chosen masks (personas) to fill the empty voids of themselves, and how they've worn these masks for so long now, they don't really know who they are beneath the façade, their true selves. 

Frankly, in the most perverse way possible, Nick and Amy complete each other. Their month-long separation nearly destroys them—the fact that Amy orchestrated this separation whilst attempting to frame her husband for murder notwithstanding. Amy sums up the co-dependence of their relationship quite nicely, adding in a bit of psychoanalysis of her own:

Nick and I fit together. I am a little too much, and he is a little too little. I am a thornbush, bristling from the overattention of my parents, and he is a man of a million little fatherly stab wounds, and my thorns fit perfectly into them.

Once Amy is a "gone girl" no more—another role she plays with a method actor's commitment—Nick is apprehensive (obviously) about her return, but also weirdly delighted to see her. Take this passage toward the end of the book, when Nick cannot bring himself to walk away from his conniving, killer wife, convinced he's sticking around to gather up one damning shard of evidence to bring her down, but really afraid of what she might do to him if he actually leaves (and what he might become without her):

We pretend to be in love, and we do the things we like to do when we're in love, and it feels almost like love sometimes, because we are so perfectly putting ourselves through the paces. Reviving the muscle memory of early romance. When I forget—I can sometimes briefly forget who my wife is—I actually like hanging out with her. Or the her she is pretending to be. The fact is, my wife is a murderess who is sometimes really fun.

Lastly, when Amy reveals the final ace up her sleeve—pregnancy by her now distant husband via some of his semen she pilfered from a fertility clinic—Nick re-commits himself to their marriage, going so far as to all but abandon his twin sister and closest confident Go in order to please Amy. His thoughts on this?

Yes, I am finally a match for Amy...I am rising to my wife's level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I'm the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It's a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can't imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist.

We are one long frightening climax.

There is a bitterness and resignation to these words, and yet, I can't help feeling that Nick has put on yet another mask—that of the imprisoned, emasculated male, when in truth he's deeply excited to be back with Amy, to resume their fucked-up relationship. As Go puts it, the couple is addicted to one another. They can't live apart. Whether they'll eventually explode, as Go predicts, is anyone's guess, but it's clear at the very least that, while not a murderer, Nick is every bit as messed-up as Amy.

The Movie

Not so much in Fincher and Flynn's film adaptation, which takes Nick's lines about being the hero, "the one to root for" quite literally, stripping away all but two instances of the character's inner monologue (by contrast, the film retains Amy's diary entries, presented in voice over, though even this much of the character's interior thoughts aren't enough to truly grasp her essence, making her appear too cold, too inhuman). With Nick's first-person narrative gone, we also lose much of his complexity, his equally twisted and co-dependent nature. Manohla Dargis grasps this problematic depiction of Nick perfectly in her otherwise unfair review of the film for The New York Times:

Along with Mr. Affleck's supple, sympathetic performance, Amy's voice-over tips the scales so far in Nick's favor that it upends Ms. Flynn's attempt to recreate the even-steven dynamic from her book. Then again, the movie is on Nick's side from the start, making the case for him, from the way he services Amy sexually to the gentle way he treats their cat. He sometimes explodes, as when he throws a glass to the floor while talking to two cops...The Nick here, like so many noir heroes, is simply, too simply, a decent, deflated, ordinary sap with serious woman problems.

A key word in Dargis's statement is "noir"—because that's exactly what Fincher's film is, a classic film noir, complete with a chump (Nick) and a femme fatale (Amy). In many ways, Flynn's novel is a noir too, it's just that Nick has a bit of the femme fatale within his character, and Amy's iciness is balanced out with a bit of the chump. This duality is sorely missed on the big screen. 

Thus, when we reach the denouement, with Nick cast as very much the emasculated prisoner of his psycho wife's machinations, re-committing to the idyllic, media-invented version of their relationship, the whole thing comes off as just a bit anticlimactic, and therefore, the ending—same as in the novel, but much different in tone (or the opposite effect seen with Fight Club)—doesn't work quite as well here as it does in the novel.

Conclusion

Am I saying Gone Girl is a bad movie? Not at all. Fincher is of course a brilliant director, and Flynn shows herself just as adept at crafting a screenplay as she is a novel. The cinematography is gorgeous, as is the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Affleck is pretty good overall, despite having moments of glaringly being Ben Affleck, and Rosamund Pike's turn as the sadistic, calculating and less-than-human Amy was fantastic (also note Kim Dickens as Detective Boney and Carrie Coon as Go, whose performances prove Gone Girl isn't a woman-hating narrative; too, Neil Patrick Harris's turn as an obsessive sociopath was both surprising and effective). But if reading Flynn's novel is like reading a psychologist's case study, watching Fincher's film is akin to glancing over the synopsis: informative and engaging, sure, but you won't get the full picture that way.


Who thinks what here? Have you read the book and seen the movie? How do you think the adaptation stacked up? 

Image of Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Price: $9.69
Publisher: Broadway Books (2014)
Binding: Paperback, 422 pages

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Comments

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On October 9, 2014 - 10:19am

I've done both, and you're right--the film adaptation is a streamlined version of the book, though maintaining well the tone and character dynamic. Yes, Nick is given more space in the novel to be Amy's coniving equal, but they figured out ways in the movie to show he's not exactly just-a-victim here. He's his own form of lashing animal, though in more out of reaction to Amy's deeds. I'm glad they kept the endings similar. When she tells him that no other woman will ever do for him after this experience, you know that he knows she's right. 

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books October 10, 2014 - 10:13pm

The  comment about the cat is funny. Watching the film I thought, "Oh, they made it Nick's cat instead of Amy's." In the book there's a lot of talking about the cat as Amy's cat, but in the film she never mentions it, and Nick seems to have a relationship with the cat, even Go goes out of her way to pet it. I never took it to mean Nick was affectionate with Amy's cat. Just... it's not Amy's cat.

I thought the end worked, though. All you really need is Go's realization that he WANTS this. And I believe he did. In the book he attempts three different escape plans and they all fail before he decides to play Amy's game. In the film it's like - welp, okay! Sure! He's down. He goes from not even believing she's pregnant to buying  completely into her "I'm the cunt you married" speech and rolling right with it.

nathaniel parker's picture
nathaniel parker from Cincinnati is reading The Dark Tower ~ King October 10, 2014 - 11:10pm

I've only seen the movie and it felt like they were over-shooting just femme fatale and going straight for trying to make her out to be a female Hannibal Lecter.

Ryan Scott's picture
Ryan Scott October 12, 2014 - 4:14am

Random and nitpicky of me but since I majored in psychology, and they pound this into you in every psychology class, I just wanted to point out that psychologists don't do case studies psychiatrists do. Psychologists do experiments using the scientific method and factor analysis, they don't work with individual patients. Interesting comparison thought.

Maria Jesica's picture
Maria Jesica October 16, 2014 - 12:36am

I dont think the author piles implausibility more so than other authors. If Hannibal Lecter can escape from a high security prison and live a life of luxury in Europe...then Amy Dunn can fake a kidnapping and get away with killing her "captor". In the world of fiction, you have to suspend a bit of disbelief.

THK10f8's picture
THK10f8 October 18, 2014 - 8:29pm

I liked them both.  However, I think the movie was very light/weak on the moral ambiguity of Amy killing Desi, and what sociopath he was, and how that was arguably completely necessary if she was ever to be  free from him again.  I think the story is better when you can somewhat see it from Amy's point of view, which is very legitimate in many respects.  Nick is a scum bag.  The book gives that perspective much more than the movie does.

I also thought the movie was weak/light on how Amy's parents had competely fucked over their daughter by "plagarizing her childhood", and by being complete phonies that were completely into living their life and their daughter's as they "projected", and how that made Amy view herself and others in some respects as "fictional" characters, whose "stories" were hers to decide.  The book "explains" why/how Amy became who she came to be; the movie falls short on that.

Long and short:  great book and a great movie.