Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a 2014 American psychological thriller film directed by David Fincher and stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay based on her 2012 novel of the same title. The movie starts with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) coming home to find his wife missing, and he quickly becomes the main suspect in her disappearance. The first part of the film switches between current events and flashbacks, told from the perspective of Nick’s wife, Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike), as she writes in her diary. Initially, viewers suspect that Nick has not killed his wife, but from Amy’s memories and the evidence given throughout the investigation, it becomes clear that he is responsible. When the diary entries, which span from their first meeting to their fifth wedding anniversary, reach present day, the viewer sees that Amy is alive. It is revealed that for the last year, she has been framing Nick for her murder as a result of his infidelity. This included making over five years’ worth of diary entries detailing the first two happy years of their marriage, all true, to Nick’s eventual abuse of his wife, which was a lie. While Nick attempts to prove his innocence against insurmountable odds, Amy eventually realizes that she wants to return home and make Nick the man she wants him to be. In this blog post, I will discuss Nick’s character and the differences between Amy’s diaries in the two mediums.

When watching the movie, though, Nick as a character is more likable, but the audience isn’t necessarily convinced that he didn’t kill his wife. Without Nick’s internal dialogue keying the reader into his shock and concern over the disappearance, the audience cannot rule out the idea of him being a murder. Even given that and the fact his actions during the investigation seem unusual, there is something naturally enduring about the character, which oddly makes the audience root for him more than in the book. This is strange because in the book, even with the knowledge of his innocence, it is impossible to want him to get a happy ending. The reader anticipates Nick’s triumph over his sociopathic wife. We do not want him to be falsely convicted of her “murder,” but that doesn’t mean we want him to be happy. In the film, the viewer feels bad for Nick and even wants him to win against Amy, but I think this is because we don’t know what he thinks when he acts strangely. In the books, his actions almost seem purposely bad, even when they are not. While in the movie, it is just Nick’s flaws, not knowing how to act in intense situations, and his inability to cope with being accused of killing his wife. Given that the book’s author wrote the screenplay, I don’t think this change in the audience’s reactions to Nick was necessarily intentional. Instead, it feels like a byproduct of the change in medium and what can be lost during that translation. 

A key part of both the book and the movie, as mentioned above, is Amy’s journal entries. Before the reader and the viewer find out most of the diary is actually fake, it is our key to understanding Nick and Amy’s relationship. Amy, who is presumed dead, is only seen in flashbacks for the first part of the story. In the books, the reader can see how Nick had some serious faults even from the very start of their relationship, which is only further developed by the chapters when Nick is the narrator. Nick didn’t always show up when he was supposed to, he didn’t remember important details or events in their relationship, and he could be distant and unconcerned with Amy to the point of being cruel. Most of what is described in Amy’s diary is false, but the parts about Nick’s character were, for the most part, true, just over-exaggerated to make him look even worse. Contrastly Amy seems like the perfect girl, understanding, helpful, and willing to move halfway across the country to take care of Nick’s sick parents. All of which she was, but it turned out to be an act to first make Nick like her and then to keep him in love with her, only it didn’t work because she couldn’t keep her act going and eventually didn’t want to. Most of her personal thoughts and feelings included in the diary were made up and created to make the reader sympathize with Amy and think she was a great wife. When the reader eventually gets Amy’s true thoughts in the present day, they are calculating and vengeful, which reveals that she believes she is owed good things because of who she is and how she acts. Amy also doesn’t understand why people do things if it doesn’t benefit them in any way, showing the fact she is a literal sociopath. She only hangs out with people if they can help her somehow, and her actions are always thoroughly thought out to make sure the end result makes her life better. The book makes the reader realize that half of the first part of the book was basically all a lie, setting up the reader to mistrust Amy and even Nick. 

When looking at the film, Amy states in the narration that most of the events she writes about in the first two years of their relationship are all true, including the fact he was a great husband. Nick had no immediately present flaws and was genuinely a good, even perfect guy she loved. Once she saw his faults, though, which didn’t live up to her expectations of him, she was the one who started to become distant. Nick liked the anniversary scavenger hunt Amy set up every year for him and could complete them, while in the book, he hated them for making him feel stupid. This is something that I felt was a major difference in the development of their relationship as seen through the diary, for the viewer, knowing that the first two years were nice sheds a better light on Nick than in the book. I found this change interesting because it makes the viewer trust in the “good” of the characters when they are both clearly not good in the conventional sense. 

Whether it is reading or watching, Gone Girl is the type of story that always keeps you on edge and unable to really see how it is going to end. A good part of that is due to the characters and how wonderfully Gillian Flynn writes them. She makes them truly exciting to follow and makes the audience have strong feelings towards the characters. I personally love the characters of Amy and Nick, don’t get me wrong, they are horrible to each other, and honestly, I kind of feel they deserve one another, but that is why they are such compelling characters. You can’t help but get involved with their story even though one is a sociopath and the other is just unlikable for the most part. I highly recommend reading the book and watching the film. As to which order you should do it in, an argument could be made for either way. For my next blog post, I will be looking at Jumanji, the 1995 fantasy adventure film based on the children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg.

Gone Girl | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX – YouTube

— Jo Spangler, Film blogger.

Jo Spangler’s Bio:

Jo Spangler

Jo Spangler is a junior at Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a writing tutor in the Lewis Writing Center and a Youth Enrichment Aide for the YMCA. In her free time, Jo enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and watching movies. She has been to 10 countries outside the United States, including England, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, she hopes to go into the publishing industry to help find new and exciting books for people to read.

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