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Thoughts on Both the Book and Movie Versions of "Gone Girl"

(Spoilers ahead for Gone Girl.)

It's a rare day that I get to see a film adaptation of a book I've already read.  It's not that I don't read; just that I don't read fast enough to stay ahead of the curve.  (Plus, everybody just keeps adapting dystopian YA fiction.  What's the point of that?  You want to see a world fall into devastation, but only if it's shiny and polite?)

Gone Girl / Gone Girl is one of the few exceptions I can think of.  The last time I saw the film after reading the book was John Dies at the End, and before that, it was probably Big Trouble.  The latter was disappointing mainly because I saw it while reading Barry's follow-up, Tricky Business, which was much more entertaining.

Anyway.  It's a well-worn cliche to dismiss an adaptation by saying, "The book was better."  It's more accurate to say, "The book was different."  Sometimes those differences don't work at all.  Most of the time, they work perfectly, but you just didn't get the story you wanted.

In the case of Gone Girl, I'd say I was impressed by how loyal the movie ended up being.  In terms of structure, it's the exact same story - really the only structural change was in the amount of detail that Gillian Flynn cut relating to both Nick's suspicious behavior and Amy's plot.

The main thing that was different was the tone.  The book was much, much funnier.

Gone Girl was not a comedy, but Flynn was adept at wringing cruel humor out of the most miserable situations and characters.  Nick's and Amy's additional narration helped to build empathy for both of them even in the most disturbing parts of the story; by the end, Amy still seems sympathetic even after she's admitted to murdering an innocent man and framing multiple bystanders for horrible crimes.  It works so well that even the revelation about saving her vomit in the freezer seems more like, "Oh, that's just Amy doing her thing again" instead of "Wow, what a crazy person."

Where the tone is most strikingly different is in the presentation of Desi's character and in the final resolution.

Desi in the book is much more of a misogynist and snob.  He's still innocent, and it's still wrong that Amy kills him, but because he's so much more unlikable, it doesn't feel quite as tragic.  In fact, from Amy's perspective, it almost seems like self-defense since Desi more or less holds her prisoner.  (The tone in the book is so different, in fact, that my original guess at how the book would end was that Desi would snap and kill Amy, then dump her body in the river; later, she would wash ashore and Nick would end up getting convicted despite all of his efforts to prove his innocence while Desi walked away with his hands clean.  I'd never suspect that of Movie Desi.)

In the movie, Desi is pure pathos. He's not bitter or snobby; just private and wealthy.  He's not an idiot; he's just kind of silly and naive.  He comes across as a doomed fool and a sweetheart whose misplaced trust gets the better of him.  When he's murdered, it's a horror movie moment.  Consequently, Amy's crime is magnified and she appears much colder.  (I know it's hard to believe that Amy can still do virtually the same thing in the book and seem likable, but trust me, it works.  Flynn does a great job with Amy's voice.)

The ending, then, is where it really changes - which is incredible considering the specific events are no different.  In the book, you pick up on subtle clues that Amy is ultimately right about her relationship with Nick.  Despite her crimes and sociopathy, she does make Nick a better person.  And despite Nick's protests, he actually is attracted to her on some level.  You get a sense that Nick actually enjoys the game of trying to outsmart his wife - as much as he hates her and everything she's done to him, he can't help himself.  The final conclusion is that their marriage will work because it is based on hate, not in spite of it.  It's disturbingly hilarious.

(The final scene in the book captures this perfectly.  Amy relates the story of how Nick insulted her earlier that day - he says something to her like, "No matter how bad things are, I don't have to be you" - and Amy just says, "I don't have anything to add to this.  I just didn't want him to have the final word.")

The movie doesn't try to get this across.  It would be hard to add that kind of subtlety without making the movie another twenty minutes longer.  (And at two hours and thirty minutes, it's already long enough.)  The result is that the movie's ending is totally humorless - again, it's a horror movie.  The final image is Amy's cold, murderous glare looking straight at the audience, threatening the viewer.  There could be an Amy anywhere.... even in your own home!

I don't dislike the movie; it's just a slightly different genre.  The book is a thriller with some dark comedic moments about a couple that is strangely perfect for each other.  The movie is a thriller with nihilistic undertones about a psychopath and the victim she's ensnared.  As long as you know what you're getting, you'll probably enjoy either one.

My Rating - Book Version: 5 / 5

My Rating - Movie Version: 4 / 5

Other Things I Noticed in the Movie

  • The cops seem a lot more incompetent in the movie.  Maybe it's just that Book Amy was so good at lying about everything or maybe it's just that the movie didn't have time to spend on their investigation, but they're all a bunch of fucking idiots.  They couldn't bother to interrogate Amy more than two minutes because of "bad PR?"  Really?  In the aftermath of Ferguson you really think cops give a shit about PR?  Give me a damn break.  Not even white people can get away with that short an interview.
  • I thought for sure the scene in the casino was going to matter more in the movie.  It's the only time in Amy's scheme that she puts herself in front of the public before finally revealing herself to be alive - and in a place filled with surveillance cameras no less.  But the movie glosses over it.  Haircut or no, that's a huge risk for her.
  • Speaking of cameras, it was a bad idea to introduce them at Desi's home.  Just because Amy faked some other footage of herself being "assaulted" doesn't mean there wouldn't be footage of her walking willfully into the house.  It just adds more room for her scheme to fall apart, especially since we don't see her deleting any footage.
  • I'm disappointed they bothered to bring the Nancy Grace surrogate back for one of the final scenes if all they were going to do was have her continue to be a jerk and get away with it.  Would have loved for Amy to pull a Die Hard and punch her in the jaw or something.