NOTE: It is my full intention to drop NO SPOILERS in this post. Can one write a review but save the spoilers? Yes, but difficult. I’ll try to do that. What’s more, take this as an ‘op ed’ on a book-to-film phenom, and a small commentary on our contemporary media-driven culture.
Let me cut to the chase. To answer the question that a lot of you may have, no need to crack open my head: If you have already read the book, will that hinder you from fully enjoying the film?
The answer is yes. For a film that predicates on the twists and turns in the plot line, where suspense is built on keeping the audience in the dark, a person having read the book before seeing the movie has to be amnesiac to be surprised. As in my case, my suspense is more like “will Gillian Flynn throw us a curve ball here?” That’s why by the time the third act comes, with its slightly altered storyline, it then began to pique my curiosity more.
However, and this is a big However, Gone Girl is many things. Above all, it is pure Fincher entertainment. Following his Social Network (2010) and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Gone Girl is stylish, slick, absorbing and contemporary. It depicts adults behaving badly like a Hitchcock thriller. It is a modern film noir where, albeit not in black and white, the mostly dim, sepia tone, together with the numbing electronic pulses of the music combine to elicit mystery and suspense. A hyperbole of a marriage gone wrong, it is about the knowable and unknowable of ourselves and others, even those close to us. It is about violence in our thoughts and actions, and the fronts we put up to cover the deviance.
But then, don’t read too much into it. This is not a philosophical quest in finding who we are, albeit the question has been asked in the film, nor is it a diatribe on our social condition, the marriage institution, or domestic violence. This movie is simply as it is, pure entertainment.
For me, the most crucial issue it touches on has to do with our mass, popular culture, our media-driven, insatiable thirst for sensational headlines, or hashtags for that matter, and our crowd-sourcing way in forming opinion. Like a satire, it points to the influence of our TV personalities, the link between popularity and credibility, the follower and fan-based momentum.
A former Entertainment Weekly writer, Gillian Flynn’s third novel Gone Girl debuted in the New York Times Bestseller list in 2012 and has been there for 91 weeks. The two weeks before the film premieres, its sales has doubled.
The story seems straight forward enough. Amy Dunn, a New Yorker transplanted in Missouri after she follows her husband Nick to move back to his hometown as his mother is diagnosed with cancer. On their fifth anniversary, Amy is gone missing. Nick soon becomes the prime suspect in the case. Although a body has not been found, murder is on everyone’s mind. With this premise the story unfolds, and we are off to a ride of twists and turns all the way to the end.
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are convincing as the troubled couple. Affleck, who is not known as a superb character actor, is above his previous level here. Although I must say, having read the book could affect how we judge his performance. As for Rosamund Pike, I have no doubt this is her breakout role. Glad to see she finally get this golden opportunity after her supporting parts in An Education (2009), and in Pride and Prejudice (2005) playing Jane, the eldest Bennet sisters, overshadowed by Keira Knightly’s Lizzy.
However for me, I’m most impressed by Kim Dickens in her portrayal of the thinking detective Rhonda Boney perfectly, a role that usually falls upon a male star, like Columbo, or the doubting, persistent detective that looks at evidence and not dwell on prejudice. Her character is the one I like the best in the movie.
The production also benefits from supporting roles from Carrie Coon playing Nick’s twin sister Margo, Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s former boyfriend Desi Colling, Tyler Perry as defence lawyer Tanner Bolt, although more screen time and story could have been written for him.
If you have read the book, what’s in it for you in the movie? Several things. First off, watch for how the savvy former Entertainment Weekly writer Gillian Flynn transforms her novel into a screenplay, and how a talented director in turn crafts a stylish and absorbing film out of Flynn’s script, from mere words on the page. While you’re at it, watch how a cast of actors interpret their roles (with many cues from the director I’m sure) and make the characters come to life. How do they compare with your imagination while reading the book?
The director of photography plays a dominant role in styling the visual, the light and shadow, the overall tone. Together with the suspenseful, numbing and electrifying music and the smooth editing, the 149 minutes feel like 90. Likely awards nominations for several categories, in particular adapted screenplay, editing, and acting categories. But Best Picture? I have major reservations about that.
Treat this as a modern day Hitchkock movie, a contemporary Film Noir that’s slick and teasing. Fincher’s Girl With A Dragon Tattoo may be the warm-up task, a borrowed source. But here is an authentic American book-to-movie success story. The trend from this day on could well be authors writing more ‘ready-for-movie’ novels.
Now, to the media frenzy. The surge in Gone Girl sales and all the hype pushed the movie in this past opening weekend to the number one spot in box office sales, an impressive $38 million, doubled that of Ben Affleck’s own Best Picture Oscar Argo (2012).
The product may be good, but still a movie needs a strong marketing end. So, all the buzz are the generated effects from a successful marketing campaign, and a large fan base sure is a major asset. All indications point to the Gone Girl phenom could well send the movie to hit targets in profits and Oscar noms.
According to Variety, Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution at Fox, had said, “we did an excellent job of marketing the movie and making it a cultural event where people had to see it in order to be part of the conversation.”
“That’s a testament to the film becoming a zeitgeisty film,” he said.
Exactly. Nowadays, looks like there’s a more acute pressure for one to be part of the conversation at parties or the Friday social, and especially, on social media. And zeitgeist is just the right word to describe a phenom. I’ll be harsh to say it’s a ploy, but the fan-based momentum is just the right fuel to ignite a trend like a wildfire. But amidst the rave, judge for yourself the worth of the movie and decide if you want to be in this reality show or not.
This may be the very issue satirized in the film. View the production for what it’s worth, seek the evidence, and think for yourself how many ripples you’ll give it. Then decide if you ‘like’ it or not.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
Your comment is most welcome. By all means, share your opinion on the movie, the book, or my post. But while you’re at it, for the pleasure of those who have not read the book or seen the movie, please observe the NO SPOILER intention here.
Jan. 15, 2015: Rosamund Pike nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress
Dec. 11: 4 Golden Globes noms: Best Director David Fincher, Best Actress (Drama) Rosamund Pike, Best Screenplay Gillian Flynn, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross for Best Original Score
Dec. 10: Rosamund Pike gets SAG nom for Best Female Actor