*This article contains spoilers for both the film and novel versions of Gone Girl*
Book review by Ali Pelczar
When Amy Dunne disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, her husband Nick is left to follow the clues of her annual scavenger hunt as if she herself might be at the end. But there’s far more information missing than just Amy’s location.
Amy grew up with the fame of her parents’ Amazing Amy children’s book series, and now she’s back in the national spotlight. Her diary reveals the background of her relationship with Nick, showcasing her perfectionism and a side of Nick he doesn’t show in his own point-of-view chapters. Meanwhile Nick struggles to fend off pressure from the police, the media and Amy’s doting parents. He certainly isn’t perfect, but is he also a killer?
Gone Girl's plot is as clever as its characters, which is quite a high bar. You’ll be guessing at the motives of all the players for quite a while, as the full scope of its twists and turns unravels slowly. But you might also wonder who you’re supposed to be cheering for.
I was just past halfway through Gone Girl when I realized that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. Flawed characters should give a story humanity, but the cast of Gone Girl is unapologetically so. I became frustrated that I didn’t care how it ended, and this almost led me to give up on the novel. The more the plot twisted on itself and added to its carefully constructed knot of deception, the more I detached from the story.
Nick, narrating the story in real time, and Amy, present through her past diary entries, are both aware of their audience. Nick in particular will sometimes address the reader, and at those points in particular I wanted to push him aside and watch the story unfold for myself. He doesn’t so much try to justify his mistakes as pretend they are, in fact, not mistakes at all. Meanwhile, Amy’s diary paints her as annoyingly perfect, who tries too hard to be grown-up version of Amazing Amy.
The distinct perspectives of Nick and Amy are integral to the plot, and much of the story’s power derives from what they do and don’t tell the reader. But their narratives grow too focused on each other, leaving other characters – such as Nick’s sister Margo, perhaps the only character I liked throughout the novel and who deserved far more page space than she received – largely forgotten.
A saving point of Gone Girl, at least for me, is that it’s well written. The voices of Nick and Amy are unique, something not common in novels with multiple points of view, and stay consistent throughout. Gillian Flynn writes with a precision that stays true to the tone of a mystery where the reader is much an investigator as the detectives. I searched between the lines for clues, but was unable to discern anything more than suspicions until Flynn chooses to reveal something new.
For all I disliked the characters, I never found a plot point reliant on chance or unsupported by earlier events. I respect the plot’s complexity and Flynn’s ability to tie it all together so well. It could be somewhat shorter – at about 430 pages, it’s not a quick read – but I found that the slow pace added to the tension.
Yet the story becomes too proud of its own intricacy. Flynn continues to twist the plot past the point of being shocking. And though the tone is consistent, due to the unsympathetic characters its emotion is not necessarily what the reader will feel. I became less of an investigator and more of a forced observer.
My opinion is not the most popular, as evidenced by Gone Girl’s massive success. But had I read it ignorant of its fame, I would not have predicted its status as an enduring bestseller. Is it a complex, unpredictable mystery? Yes. It is well-written? Yes.
But is it an engaging story, with sympathetic characters to root for? No. And does it leave the reader with a satisfying ending? Certainly not. The conclusion unsettled me and left me scrambling for another book to cleanse its sour aftertaste.
Movie review by Malloy Moseley
Gone Girl, the book that engrossed readers when it released in 2012 promises suspense. The movie, directed by David Fincher, delivers.
This should come as no surprise to viewers and fans of the book, Gone Girl author and Medill alumnus Gillian Flynn (MSJ ’97) wrote the screenplay. Despite the fact that the film lacks some of the book’s richer details, the suspenseful pacing and unsettling tone remain much the same, and will keep viewers engaged throughout the lengthy run-time.
Fincher and Flynn are both masters in their respective crafts, and when the two collaborate, the end product feels like a satisfying meal – it is both delicious and substantive, and leaves the consumer with something to contemplate long after it is finished.
For the most part, the director succeeds in bringing the tension felt in Flynn’s novel to the screen. His use of a distinct color scheme (primarily blue and yellow, a hallmark of his work) in flashbacks helps to recreate the book’s dual narrative and establish a distinction between what is real and what is merely a façade. A clear strength with this film is the thoughtful aesthetic composition behind every shot – one in particular places Nick (Ben Affleck) behind wrought iron bars to create an image that makes the viewer question his innocence.
Flynn’s complex writing is another thrilling characteristic of this movie. Fans of the book will recognize certain lines of dialogue taken straight from the novel (e.g. Amy (Rosamund Pike)’s “cool girl” speech), and others that have been improved upon or otherwise brought to life by Affleck’s and Pike’s narrations.
This all helps to put one inside the minds of these two deeply flawed characters, and further add to the overall suspense. Every scene is underscored by Trent Reznor’s chilling soundtrack – at certain point one feels as though they can literally hear Nick’s heart beating – truly ominous and unnerving.
However, those who have read the book before seeing the movie and are anticipating the striking plot-twists that come frequently in the novel may find that they aren’t quite as shocked by these events in the film. Though Andie (Emily Ratajkowski)’s appearance does seem equally out of left-field, and other minor surprises hold up, what is most disappointing is how dulled the titular “Girl,” has been.
The dual-narrative style that guises Amy’s whereabouts and intentions in the novel serves almost the opposite end in the film. Though one might easily interpret the diary scenes as flashbacks, there is a disaffected and dreamlike quality to both the acting and the composition that adds a transparency to Amy’s lies. Lack of background on Nick and Amy’s relationship makes it all the more difficult to see either of these characters as human beings who are products of their circumstances. In the book, we see them fall in love (true fans of the novel will sorely miss the “just one olive” bit), deal with the stressors of familial pressure, face financial ruin in the wake of the recession and attempt to hold together a façade of happiness as it crumbled around them.
In the book, this is all told by the anti-heroes in their own words, giving the reader the chance to personally interpret what is fact and what is fabrication. Though not all of this complexity is lost on the film, the character’s flaws are more polished, making it easier to see Nick simply as the adulterous husband or Amy as simply a murderous sociopath (or a hero, for those that fall in that camp).
Despite a 145-minute run-time, minor character development is weak and many characters were simply cut from the film. Admittedly, having read the novel a year ago, some of these details (e.g., Desi’s mom) do seem a bit superfluous and logical to trim from an already lengthy film.
What most readers will notice is the changed ending. While the novel leaves off with Amy and Nick about to have a child after having individually written memoirs corroborating their side of the lies, the film takes the two back to Ellen Abbot and leaves them unhappily together. Those who were left unsatisfied with the novel’s original ending will doubtlessly leave chilled by Affleck’s closing narration, “what have we done to each other; what will we do?”
Overall, those who are fans of the novel will appreciate seeing it on the big screen, and may find that their allegiances to particular characters (this novel surely divides people into two camps: Amy-is-crazy or Amy-is-a-genius) have shifted. Regardless, one is sure to be swayed by the moving juxtaposition of word, visual and score, which come together for a winning combination.