Gone Girl Gave Me Nightmares

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel-turned-film Gone Girl left me unsettled, unsatisfied, and twisted up in my bed sheets―and I’m rather thrilled about that. Directed by David Fincher, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and featuring a standout cast, the film reaches into your gut, turns your stomach, and makes no apologies about it.

But then again, the book did that, too. So let’s start there.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read Gone Girl or seen the movie and would like to do so without its twisty insides being exposed to you, I’d close this blog post right now. I won’t expose the “big twist,” but I will be talking about the ending.

I can thank LitReactor for my exposure to Gone Girl. Heralding it as one of the novels of the year in 2012, my interest was piqued and I picked up a copy. I was not ready for the ride about to ensue. Flynn’s writing is both manicured and relatable, shocking and easy, and it takes hold of you like an addiction. I zoomed through the book like a tourist on a zip line. I remember one night when I kept telling myself, One more chapter and then I’ll go to bed. Of course, I repeated this over and over until I realized at 1:30 AM that work in the morning would be really rough if I didn’t quit. Immediately.

The story is akin to a modern sensationalist headline: On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, goes missing. In their suburban home in Missouri, there are signs of a struggle in the living room, a discreet smear of blood in the kitchen, and a husband who seems a little too relaxed, a little too glib about the whole thing. As Nick struggles with media appearances and his innate Midwestern upbringing (“be polite to everyone”), he quickly becomes a prime suspect. Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? And what would drive someone to murder their significant other?

What follows is a deliciously dark satire on the institution of marriage, the pervasiveness and detrimental nature of the media, an economy in decline, and the disastrous side effects of love gone stale. The book felt slimy when I finished it.

(Extra creep factor—Gillian Flynn wrote this book as a newlywed while pondering the meaning of marriage. Read the whole interview with The Guardian here. It’s fascinating. There are also some great comments by Flynn about her work being called misogynistic and her supposedly “negative” portrayals of women.)

When talks of a film adaptation started to circulate, I was cautiously excited. If they didn’t get everything just right, it would tank for me. I needed the film to be just as slimy and disconcerting as the book.

Oh, it is.

I think a large part of that has to do with Flynn acting as screenwriter. She wrote the novel. She adapted the novel. She was involved, and that’s important. I’ve never understood why films that books employ alternative writers to craft a script when the author is right there (although I’m sure this is a generalization—the author may be unavailable, too pricy, uncooperative, whatever, but still).

Flynn came up with the characters we so love to hate. She has the feel for their voices, their motives, their actions, so it’s only fitting she would bring them to life in the context of film. Her involvement was crucial. And it shows, because the dialogue is always a little off-kilter, a little wrong, and sometimes outright shocking. Well done, Flynn.

The way Flynn incorporated Amy’s diary entries in the larger story is also solid. While Nick’s present is crumbling, Nick and Amy’s “past” is exposed via Amy’s voiceovers, flashbacks, and handwritten diary entries. The cuts from the past to the present are unrelenting and tense; we shuttle back and forth frequently. They build beautiful suspense and any promise of momentum or rest is stopped cold, jolting the viewer, making us uncomfortable all the time.

Apart from the writing, the cast is on point, too, especially Ben Affleck (Nick) and Rosamund Pike (Amy).

For me, God love him, Affleck has always come across as a bit of a tool, which I know is completely unfair because I don’t know him personally. But, you know, that’s how he’s generally comes across to me in film (ironically, one of the major themes of the movie is perception via media―so the joke’s on me!). So when Affleck was cast as Nick, the unhappy, bumbling, awkward, perhaps a little sociopathic husband of Amy, I was sold. Because he’s not entirely likeable or unlikeable in my mind, he was perfect.

And, I have to say, Affleck surprised me with his performance. I had more sympathy for him in the film than I did in the book. I could see his Nick trying to be a good guy while secretly holding onto this voracious contempt for his wife. But hey, you gotta hold that back while under investigation for a possible kidnapping and murder, right?

And Rosamund Pike, holy hell. As poor little rich girl, cunning, conniving Amazing Amy, Pike is harrowing and subtle. She’s scary in the most terrifying way possible, because she’s calculated and cold. You see very little emotion on her face during the film, which had to be quite the feat given the high octane content. She’s a wall that’s been painted over, so there’s this beautiful façade, but what exactly is underneath? And do you really want to chip away at the paint to find out?

The way Pike delivered her lines was extremely impressive to me, too, because her cold and flippant approach reminded me of the actresses in old black and white movies. It’s simply a different acting style, closer to old school stage acting where the suspension of disbelief was greater, but it’s out of place in this modern film, which makes it perfect for Amy. She doesn’t fit. Her voice alone makes her untrustworthy, blockaded.

One of the only times we truly see some interesting behavior and emotion from Amy is during the third act of the film when Nick is being interviewed on TV and knows his wife is watching. The desperation, the satisfaction of hearing what she wants to hear, the recognition that perhaps her plan needs to take a new direction―Pike does it flawlessly albeit subtly.

There are other great performances in the film (Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, a stalkerish past love of Amy’s; Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, Nick’s slick defense lawyer; and Carrie Coon, Nick’s twin sister, responsible for most of the levity and humor of the film), but Affleck and Pike truly hold the film together.

And I’ll probably get a lot of flack for this, but I love the ending of the film. Seemingly identical to the opening, Nick’s voiceover and the image of Amy staring at him (you) is not redundant; rather, it makes you feel something completely different at the close of the two-and-half hour ride, something sinister, because you realize there’s just no escaping Amy. Maybe it’s dread…mixed with understanding?

And then the credits roll and you feel like you need a shower to get the lying, cheating, sensationalism, and blood off your skin.

Which is why I didn’t sleep well last night. I didn’t have any crazy graphic dreams; I just felt a little on edge. And that’s Gone Girl’s ultimate goal—to get under your skin and into your bed so that you don’t forget that people are unpredictable and love isn’t always what it seems.

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