Unlike television and movies, reading is a far more isolated event. Though technological innovations have altered this, there is still a general schedule as to when people will watch a TV episode or watch a film. A lot of this is driven by the desire to avoid spoilers, but there is also more of a sense of communal experience with these activities; you don’t want to be the person who missed out on something that everyone will be talking about the next day or week. During Breaking Bad’s final season, almost every Monday I had various conversations about what transpired the night before. This happens less often with books; because there is no set schedule for books and there are so many options to choose from, there is less of a shared experience. You may recommend a book you liked to someone else, but then you have to wait for however long it takes them to read said book before you can discuss it. There isn’t the same immediacy to the activity – you read at your own pace and choose whatever book you want and if you happen to stumble upon someone who has read the same thing recently, bully for you. I’m currently reading the second Game of Thrones book – which is taking me forever – yet unlike the movies I watch and television I consume, I doubt I’ll really talk about the experience with anyone else. Everyone I know has either read the book so long ago that they can’t remember what happened or isn’t reading the books. So once I finish, I’ll close the cover, ponder it for a bit and then move on to the next book.
Occasionally, however, a book comes along that everyone seems to be reading at the same time. Everywhere you go – the beach, airports, the bus or subway – people are devouring this book. It becomes something of a phenomenon and suddenly people everywhere are on the same page (ha!) with what everyone else is reading. On the one hand, I love when this happens because it does create the communal experience that is generally lacking from reading; on the other hand, if a book is appealing to a wide variety of people, that doesn’t always mean that it’s good. Sure, this happened with the Harry Potter books and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo series, but it also happened with the Twilight books as well as the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, the latter which actually made me dumber after reading and were not nearly as risqué as everyone made them out to be (though that’s a conversation for a blog that my mother doesn’t read). It’s kind of a crapshoot, then, on the quality of books that are able to unify readers – sometimes the books tell engrossing stories that all sorts of people recognize for their quality and other times these books appeal to the lowest common denominator and are popular, but not particularly good.
So when I first heard the scuttlebutt about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I was intrigued but skeptical. The masses had proven themselves easily influenced with the 50 Shades of Grey debacle and some of the people who were impressed with Gone Girl were not necessarily people whose tastes in literature I necessarily trust. Still, the lure of being part of something that everyone was talking about was enough to overcome my concerns and I finally broke down and decided to give Gone Girl a chance. I honestly don’t think that I put the book down after that; I was completely and totally engrossed in the book and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I was all in and was happily ignoring TV and movies in favor of my Kindle. The story was interesting, the characters were well written – and then I hit the moment. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know exactly what I mean – the moment when you realize that the story is about to go in a completely different direction that you never saw coming. The moment when you pause for a moment, say “holy sh*t” to yourself out loud, and then immediately pick the book back up to continue and see exactly where this all is going to end up. I’m tough to trick with plot twists and surprises – I figured out The Sixth Sense within the first ten minutes, much to the chagrin of my friends – but what happens in Gone Girl was so unexpected that I never even saw it coming. As soon as I finished the book, I immediately sought out everything else that Flynn had written and immersed myself in the dark world where she resides. Her books aren’t happy or uplifting, but they spin a good yarn and spend time in the dark underbelly of life that I find compelling. When I finished everything she had written I was actually mad that there weren’t more books to read.
Normally when I hear that a book that I’ve really enjoyed is going to adapted into a film, I don’t have a ton of confidence in the end result. The book is almost always better and usually some concessions have to be made when translating the story from the page to the big screen. The adaptions aren’t necessarily bad – though some of them are real stinkers – but there is just something slightly off about the movie version that prevents me from liking it as much as the source material. When I heard that Gone Girl was going to be turned into a movie – as I inevitably knew it would – I initially had these feelings. However, once I heard who was involved in the big screen adaption, these concerns were somewhat allayed; David Fincher is a director that I trust and who specializes in bringing these dark stories to life. He had done what I thought was an excellent job in capturing the tone of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with his adaption. Ben Affleck joining the cast also was a calming influence; he wasn’t necessarily who I pictured as Nick as I was reading the book, but once I heard his name he was the only person that I could think of for portraying the lead character. The addition of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack was really the icing on the cake; I went into Gone Girl with as much confidence as I’ve ever had in a movie adaptation. If this cast and crew couldn’t get it done, no one could.
This is not to say that I didn’t have some reservations. A key component to the story telling in Gone Girl is diary entries and I wasn’t sure if that would necessarily work on film. Reading these entries were one thing, but could they make them as compelling and important in a visual medium? The addition of Tyler Perry to the cast also raised some eyebrows – would his acting being restrained enough for a film that was this dark and serious? This is, after all, a man that grew his empire on playing Madea in various films that are not necessarily known for their subtly and nuance. Thankfully, my faith was completely rewarded; Gone Girl was one of the best book to film transitions that I’ve seen. My only real complaint was because I already knew the story and all its twists and turns that I wasn’t surprised this time around. It was still an enjoyable ride, but when you see the swerves coming, they are less likely to take your breath away. Because of that, I’m actually a little jealous of those who are going into the film blind having not read the book. They get to experience it all for the first time in a way that I couldn’t.
Gone Girl, at its heart, is a mystery, but it is also about marriage and trust. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) comes home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared. Finding evidence of a struggle and an unplanned departure, Nick reaches out the police (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) in help with locating his wife. Initially, Nick plays the part of a grieving husband that is desperate to get his wife back, but as the longer the investigation plays out and the more media scrutiny placed on the case, the façade of a happy Dunne marriage begins to crumble; Nick isn’t acting how the husband of a missing woman should be acting and the couple’s dirty laundry begins to bubble up to the surface. Did Nick have something to do with Amy’s disappearance? What exactly is he hiding?
Ben Affleck is absolutely perfect as Nick; he has a delicate tightrope to walk with his performance, as the viewer has to be both sympathetic and suspicious of Nick throughout the movie. Affleck manages to play both those aspects of the character very well, which is not altogether surprising; I love Affleck, but there is just something about him that gives the impression that if he isn’t careful he could morph into a real creep. He’s charming and charismatic, but there is the potential for smarmy too. His smile is both beguiling and off-putting; you aren’t sure if he is sincere or smug. That’s exactly what’s needed to portray Nick. You need to believe that Amy would fall in love with this guy at the same time that you suspect that he may have murdered her. Affleck completely pulls it off – one minute you feel terrible for the guy and the next you question everything that you think you know about him. I really couldn’t imagine anyone else in this role after seeing the movie.
Rosamund Pike may not be the household name that Affleck is, but her performance as Amy will change that quickly. Pike’s performance is also multi-faceted as we learn more about the truth of her marriage from her journal entries and flashbacks. In Gone Girl, nothing is quite as it seems and that applies to the victim as much as anyone else. Pike commits completely to the role and everything that comes with it; she keeps Amy a believable character throughout all that transpires, which is no small feat. Like Affleck, she can make you turn on a dime on how you feel about her character. Amy is the character that I thought would be the hardest to bring to life on the screen without turning her into a caricature, but Pike is deft enough to not only do it, but do it well. I was familiar with Pike before this movie, but I had no idea she was capable of this kind of performance. I suspect her agent’s phone will be ringing off the hook for the foreseeable future.
The supporting cast is also strong; my concerns about Tyler Perry, who portrays Nick’s lawyer, were unfounded. In the sea of craziness and emotion that is Gone Girl, Perry is the quiet eye of the storm. His performance was efficient and businesslike – exactly how a lawyer of his caliber would behave. Perry proved that there is more to him than simply playing a grandmother in comedies – he is capable of much quieter work and I hope he seeks more roles like this out. Neil Patrick Harris is great in everything he does and his role in Gone Girl is no exception. Dickens and Fugit are solid as the police tasked with investigating the case and play off each other nicely – Fugit’s character takes an immediate dislike to Nick, while Dickens’ character is more open to seeing where the evidence takes the case, regardless of Nick’s questionable behavior. Carrie Coon deserves special recognition for her portrayal of Go, Nick’s twin sister. I had forgotten how much I like that character in the book until Coon brought her to life. In a dark film, she is the one source of comedy and her relationship with Nick is equal parts devoted and disgusted. She’s great.
No one can cultivate a cinematic mood like Fincher and he does not disappoint with Gone Girl; he managed to trigger the same emotional reactions in me over the course of the movie that I had while reading the book. The film is beautifully shot and knows exactly how to use all the actors at its disposal. There’s a lot to keep track of in Gone Girl and a lot of shifting emotions and allegiances, but Fincher makes it all look easy. He is helped by the script which was penned by Gillian Flynn and, despite rumor to the contrary, is extremely loyal to the book. The tonal experience of watching the movie nicely parallels the experience of reading the book. So if you didn’t dig the book or the ending, you’re probably not going to be a fan of the movie either.
Some other thoughts:
- I was super psyched to see Casey Wilson, who was so great on Happy Endings, turn up as the Dunne’s neighbor. I’m always happy to see her.
- Gone Girl may have the greatest cat in cinematic history and I don’t say that just because he looks like my Pumpkin (though that certainly helped).
- Despite all the hoopla, I did not see Affleck’s full frontal scene. I guess I got distracted by the actual movie, since I know where it was supposed to happen and I missed it. I’m OK with that.
- Gone Girl is obviously an extreme case, but I’m thinking that if you just got married you may want to skip the film for a while. Its depiction of marriage is pretty depressing.
If you liked Gone Girl the book, you will not be disappointed by Gone Girl the movie. If you haven’t read the book, I think you’ll actually enjoy the movie even more; it was such a faithful adaptation that the element of surprise that was present during the reading of the book is completely gone in the movie. It was still a good film, but I think my overall experience was somewhat muted by knowing what was coming next. Still, I haven’t enjoyed a movie as much as Gone Girl in a while and though I knew the eventual destination it was still a ride worth taking. Affleck and Pike are great and lead a talented cast in bringing a book that I really enjoyed to life.
Gone Girl opened nationwide on Friday October 3rd.