Gone Girl

Gone Girl ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Gone Girl faces the unique predicament that only stories with the most dramatic plot twists suffer from: it cannot be told twice. That isn't to say it's impossible to love the story and enjoy getting lost in its fantasies over and over but rather that such a hard-hitting change of events will only shock one to their core once. I consider myself lucky knowing I read the book before the movie was even in production, and I went in completely blind, totally unaware there was a plot twist within the pages. The exact moment I turned to a new chapter and saw those fateful words - "I'm so much happier now that I'm dead" - is burnt into my memory. I believe my heart dropped, my cheeks burnt red, and I almost did not return to the book out of pure shock. It remains one of the most elegantly dramatic and unexpected plot twists I can remember, but unfortunately, that twist only comes once.

When I first watched this movie I knew the entire story, so no matter how fantastic the film, it was never going to hit me as hard as it hit so many. I don't fault it for that but it does mean the lack of shock caused me to hone in on the small details and, as much as I hate to admit it, compare the story to the book. I try so hard to separate the film from its inspiration but there are cases where the novel is so brilliant I need the film to exceed, or at the very least meet, my expectations. It's a personal problem and I hate that it happens but I cannot help myself. So I sat there, struggling to hear Rosamund Pike's beautiful but low voice over the engine of an old plane, making comparisons and criticisms I wished I could ignore.

I was determined to spend my second viewing ignoring the book entirely and only focusing on the film itself, which leads me to say that it is obviously very good. It seems like strange reassurance considering its high acclaim but I want to say those words plainly: as a film, in all its technical glory, it's very good. Performances are convincing, cinematography is stellar, everything is strong (although I personally dislike the editing, and there are moments that are difficult to hear). The story is well told and the ending is unconventional but makes a lasting impression. Obviously, the book is lengthy, and clocking in at over two hours and thirty minutes it's ridiculous to assume the film did not include enough from the book.

But did it miss the most important parts?

What strikes me the most about this film is its ending. I could accept that it is nothing more than the story of a woman, angered by her husband, seeking vengeance and becoming the villain of her own tale in the process, resulting in a finale that finally puts her in the position of power where her husband will never cheat on her again. But why? What's the point, why does she do this, and why doesn't everyone fight a little harder? She's a murderer, she's ruined several people's lives, and now Nick chooses to stay with her because of a child he assumes is his? It could be argued they couldn't fight harder: the lawyer gives up with a laugh, the sister cries but accepts, the police officer admits defeat, and Nick is trapped in a hell created by an evil wife. It's also possible it comes down entirely to the perception of a crime by the media: that justice is compromised by the opinion flashing on the headlines. But while the ending is powerful in its suggestion that marriage is a prison, it doesn't match a film that focuses almost entirely on power imbalance and media influence. The themes get muddled, though I'm worried the only reason I say that is because of what the story leaves behind in the pages.

The book gives us Amy's backstory, something painfully lacking in a film that has reduced such a complex and terrifying character to a simple sociopath who is bitter at an affair. We are told of the Hopes, of how Amy will never be as perfect as an unborn child, of how her whole life became a performance so that she could be seen as the woman she believed everyone wanted her to be: the quintessential Cool Girl. We understand it is not anger towards an affair but rather anger towards the establishment of marriage, her commitment to playing the part, her desperation to have a perfect exterior that no youthful, bouncy, desperate new Cool Girl can touch. We watch Nick and Amy fall back in love with one another during the disappearance. Nick is far more difficult to pity in the book than the film, not because of his actions but because of how he is written and how we can get into his thoughts. The misogyny he carries with him in a world built by the patriarchy, drilled into him by a women-hating father, is lacking in almost every scene and it makes Amy's ability to find power within a system working against her somewhat less earth-shattering. The film makes it seem Nick is trapped, and just isn't fighting it; the book suggests Nick makes the choice to stay (although admittedly, Amy is forceful in influencing his decision). But more than anything, the movie seems to be about the pressure of the media and the simple story of a psychopathic woman until the final twenty minutes, missing the entire middle commentary of how a "perfect marriage" is an unattainable fantasy, revealing the cracks of such an expectation, suggesting perhaps marriage is an outdated concept that imprisons people with societal pressure and the crushing burden of pride. The finale is faithful to the book, yes, but it lacks all the meaning Flynn poured into such beautifully written words.

I'm also unsure why, but something about Desi's role doesn't sit right with me. It feels out of place and we never really know if he's a good guy made out to be villainous by Amy's impact or if he really is a bad person who is worthy of such treatment by Amy, and she only returns to him because she is desperate for the love and attention Nick failed to give her. I remember his character being much clearer in the book, but here, he seems out of place and like a convenient escape rather that a well-developed and interesting impact on Amy's life and the birth of her hatred towards men and the establishment. He's just kind of... nifty.

There is also the unfortunate result of Amy's cult following, of people suggesting they will "gone girl" their own husbands, that she's an antihero of such. I hate this interpretation. She's a terrible person, a murderer, a villain, and nothing about her is redeemable in the film. Nick cheats on her. That's all he does. He stays in a loveless marriage for a little too long. He behaves strangely because the wife he is unsure about has gone missing. That doesn't make him evil or worthy of the death sentence: he's just confused, flawed, and unfortunately played by an actor many don't like as a person. I'm shocked by Amy's positive reaction from audiences and wonder if it's a consequence of the very thing she used to her advantage: she's a woman, beautiful by society's standards, intelligent beyond compare, and we're tempted to side with her because it appears she's taking down an institution built on oppressing her. Yet there is no excuse for her actions and Nick is certainly the victim of the film. I recall from the book that I never felt Nick was a victim but rather the constructor of his own prison, that the finale was a choice he made because he was a terrible person in love with another terrible person. I honestly don't mind that Amy is so evil or that she wins in the end - I love those kinds of stories - but I'm not a fan of the belief that she did what she had to do, that she is a hero against the establishment, that it's forgivable because she was married to a flawed person. I'm hesitant to mention this but I'm not sure how it's any different from seeing the Joker or Travis from Taxi Driver as an antihero. (Bailey Sarian voice: Get. Better. Idols.)

So, in the end, I admit this is a good movie, wonderfully made, and I understand the acclaim. I just think it's missing a lot of what the book had to offer and as a result, the themes and impact of their actions fails to resonate or even come across clearly. It's pretentious to compare a book to a movie, I know, but I can't help it, and I can't help but feel let down by this interpretation, even though I suspect I would have loved this if I had never read the book. Yet when I finished the book, I felt challenged in my worldview. When I finished the movie, I just felt bitter and sad.

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