A Review of the Box-Office Hit Starring Ben Affleck
Ryan Van Til | Crown Staff
David Fincher’s Gone Girl is not Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Yes, nearly three weeks have passed since the film’s release, but that has hardly affected its place at the box office – 2nd this past weekend. David Fincher’s thriller is still pulling in crowds and shows no sign of stopping.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the name, director David Fincher has a track record of elevating schlocky, pulpy novels (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), adding humanization, perfecting tone and, most importantly, injecting the story with his slow, dark style. “Mediocre” books became “good” movies.
What was different about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was that it was already a “good” book, acclaimed by both critics and audiences. The book tells the story of a wife, Amy, who goes missing on her fifth anniversary; a question looms ominously over the story: is her husband, Nick, responsible? Crammed with thought-provoking and relevant themes – such as the ugly side of marriage, commitment, and knowing another person – and reliant on journal entries to tell the story, it seemed an impossible book to film well. Furthermore, like a Fincher movie, the book was dark, full of twists and stylish in its own way.
Somehow, though, Fincher copied his success, once again elevating the source material. How? The explanation follows a three-act structure eerily close to that of the book.
Author Loses Story:
An almost instant bestseller, Gone Girl immediately caught the attention of film production houses. This is the step in which the author loses his or her story, or as some hardcore book fans might put it “sell their book to the devil”. After all, it is almost a cliché by now that the book “was better than the movie.”
Author Gillian Flynn sold rights to the movie for 1.5 million dollars, and that could have been the end of her involvement.
Filmmaker Meets Story:
Those who have read Gone Girl will find a bit of humour in the fact that David Fincher’s wife was the one who, upon reading it, recommended that he adapt it into a film.
David Fincher adapting a novel can either be an author’s dream come true or a nightmare. He’s the guy who said that Star Wars was actually about the robot “slaves” C3P0 and R2D2 trying to make sense of the over-complicated world at war around them, which scared Disney’s producers from asking him to direct the upcoming Star Wars sequels.
Fincher has a mind of his own when he takes on a project; he can miss the point of his source material and make his own movie (Alien 3) or bring out the best in the source material (the Social Network). Fortunately for Gillian Flynn, Fincher’s wife recommended he keep Flynn on as the screenwriter, foiling Fincher’s initial plans to make the characters less likable and re-write the third act.
Author Gets Story Back (or vice versa):
This is the part of the story that tells how the book became better. Gillian Flynn got her story back, but with an asterisk tacked on. This story had to be under 150 minutes – which posed a problem for a near 20 hour audiobook – and fit into Fincher’s darker, more serious mind. One of the book’s problems is that it is gluttonous in its overindulgence in long journal entries, laborious explanations of feminism, far too many characters, and an ending that overstays its welcome by spanning nearly the last quarter of the book.
This is where the world of Hollywood came to the rescue. At the end of the day, a film production company cares about the profitability of a film. So, market research – finding out what people want to see – and rewrites to cut down the movie and streamline it are necessary. It may seem heartless and inartistic, but it was just the medicine an oversized book like Gone Girl needed.
The film boasts a more consistent tone and atmosphere. This is something generally kept better in films than in books, but it’s very noticeable in this instance. The book often cut from horrifying events to awkward comedy, and from shocking revelations to humdrum scene setting. Fincher kept the film consistent, and somehow wrings fantastic performances out of the miscast Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris. The film’s unsettling soundtrack also fits perfectly with the story, sounding so foreign it seemed that only hell could produce such instruments.
The film also carries a sense of immediacy. While the book meandered over details, setting scenes, and establishing characters, the film movies along steadily and with purpose.
In fact, Gillian Flynn’s own clunky-at-times dialogue (“I’m the guy who wants to take you away from all this awesomeness,” Nick tells Amy after they first meet; the line doesn’t make sense in context, either) is the weakest point in the film.
Almost paradoxically, it is the money-centered Hollywood process that made a “good” story “great”. Gone Girl didn’t improve in spite of the Hollywood system; it improved because of the system.