When “Gone Girl,” a thriller by Gillian Flynn, became a rapid best-seller almost immediately after its 2012 publication, people knew a movie would shortly follow. Sure enough, just two years later, a film adaptation directed by David Fincher (of “Fight Club” and “Seven” fame) and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
The film has so far done as well as was expected, topping the box office in its opening week and bringing in $37.5 million domestically. The story’s twisted plot and questions about how well people in relationships know each other have audiences in both mediums riveted.
It’s about a former magazine writer named Nick, whose wife, Amy, has gone missing, presumed kidnapped or dead. There are a number of factors involved that make her disappearance raise a few suspicions, from the state of their relationship after their move from New York City to his hometown in Missouri, to Nick’s (thought-to-be) undercover affair with one of his college students. Nick has support from his twin sister, Margo, in uncovering secrets from Amy’s past in an attempt to find her kidnapper, but the police are still wary of him, all of which leads to a mystifying and gripping final half of the story.
… And if you want to know nothing else about said plot before reading the book/seeing the movie, just know that the book and movie go together pretty well and that the movie captures the book’s tone in ways only a movie can. If you love thrillers, pick up the book or go see the movie. As to how exactly the two plots measure up …
The movie mixes up the chronology of when everything happens. Most of this comes from speeding up time on the movie’s part: It takes Nick seven days to discover what’s inside the woodshed in the book, three or four in the movie. Amy waits about a week or two to make her escape from her former flame Desi Collings in the movie, when that detailed planning and preparation took a solid month in the book. It’s another five months until Amy unleashes the big news that she impregnated herself; in the movie, it’s not nearly so long.
This trend is prevalent in book adaptations: Authors have more leeway to play with longer periods of time because they don’t have to worry about characters aging too much like movie makers do. But in this case, I don’t see how sticking to the story’s timeline would have made the film harder to follow. In fact, speeding up the time frame separates it a little farther from reality — everything spirals out of control for Nick pretty quickly in the book, but it’s believable that the course Amy had set out for him would go that way, especially considering Nick’s bumbling attitude at the onset. The book’s first half is drawn out to establish the characters (which are translated just about perfectly to film, a huge nod to the incredible cast for that one) and to really make the audience question whether Nick was guilty of murdering his wife.
A lot of that mystery is taken away in the film version. The enormous transition in tone between Amy’s character she shows the audience in her (fake) diary and the one who picks up her end of events after Part 1 is totally jarring in the reading. There’s mystery in what Nick has found in his sister’s shed that doesn’t get answered for a whole chapter, as Amy takes over at the beginning of Part 2 with her reveal. The movie doesn’t have such a jarring transition — it’s a gradual pulling back of the curtain to showcase Amy’s vindictiveness and the brutal, cold, calculating methodology behind setting up her grand trap.
And yet the movie is just as good as the book. Fincher’s camera work and direction tells the story and the novel’s wariness of marriage expertly, and the final shot is simply haunting. The film also makes Nick more of a good guy throughout than the book does, which depending on your personal views can be better or worse. The ending of the movie paints Nick as more cool and ready for the rough battle ahead than his book self, which shows him more as a man who has been forced into becoming a manipulator and wary paragon of morals for his future child.
If you want a slightly more optimistic look at the main character’s fate and whether he’ll be able to handle it, go see the movie. If realism and borderline nihilism are more your things, choose the book. Really, though, either one is a thought-provoking and worthy use of your time.