The Gone Girl Phenom: A Reality Show in the Making?

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 amnesic 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.

Gone Girl Movie Still

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.


Awards Update:

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

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

34 thoughts on “The Gone Girl Phenom: A Reality Show in the Making?”

  1. An insightful review, one that leaves great room for thought and consideration. I have to say I am probably the only person on the planet who has had absolutely no desire to see this at all. Or at least wait till it’s on cable or DVD. But your review offers much to intrigue me and if I do decide to go, the producers should send you a thank you note!


    1. Jeanie,

      Yes, I’m leaving a lot of space for wanderings. And no, you’re not alone. I don’t think Hitchcock, or film noir for that matter, necessarily appeals to everyone. Again, it’s more the styling, the genre, and the intrigues that make this film stand out.


  2. I say this neither as a point of pride nor as a reason for regret: I haven’t heard a thing about “Gone Girl.” I don’t mean that I haven’t read it, or that I’ve read it but haven’t read a review, or that I haven’t seen it mentioned on social media. I mean, I’ve never heard of it. Period.

    The good news is — no spoilers from me! Whether it’s good or bad that I haven’t heard of it — well, that’s a matter of judgment, I suppose. What I will say is that I wondered, when I tossed my tv, mostly gave up social media, and so on, how long it would take for me to come up against a phenomenon that had entirely escaped me. Well, it just happened.:-)

    The best news, I think, is that I don’t feel like an 8th grader who’s not part of the cool crowd because I have no idea what’s in and what’s out. And now that you’ve tossed this pebble into my pool — well, maybe I’ll trace the ripples!


    1. Linda,

      You see, this time instead of observing the ripple effects, I’m being pro-active, coining the term even before it starts. But I’m sure that’s the ultimate goal marketers of the book / movie are heading to, esp. with Awards Season fast approaching. Anyway, I admire anyone who unplugs the TV and refuses to trend on social media. So, good for you for staying away from the crowd mentality. On the other hand, it is an amusing exercise to observe where our society is heading, how our popular culture is shaped and in turn shapes our world views. I remember you’d mentioned that you liked mystery stories. So, if you feel you have some time on your hands (which is rare I know), this may be something you could drive over to watch, or stay right in your home, to read. I think you just might like it. 😉


  3. I wish I had a date to go to this movie with. It’s not a movie I’d spend time going to with one of my friends, as we tend to do more “thinking” pictures when we manage to break free of the kids and domesticity.

    Thanks for your thoughtful appreciation of the way the book and film interact.


    1. Denise,

      Interesting that you don’t classify this as a ‘thinking’ picture. Have you read the book? Well, if you haven’t, there just might be some ‘thinking’ to do here. But I know what you mean, as I said in the post, this is not a film that explores anything existential, no Life of Pi, or like Ben Affleck’s previous film directed by Terrance Malick, To the Wonders. Need not seek anything deeper than the visceral and suspense. However, the directing is clever, a contemporary, psychological thriller.


  4. First of all, Arti, I think this post you’ve written was a masterwork of restraint and insight, much better than what Manohla Dargis wrote in her irritating New York Times review where she managed to drag her baggage into her skewed verdict and give away more than was necessary. As you know, I saw the film when it recently premiered at the New York Film Festival. Having not read the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My ignorance about the twists and turns in the plot was bliss. I was also struck by the timeliness of how well it nailed “our TV personalities, the link between popularity and credibility, the follower and fan-based momentum.” Well put. Come awards season, I fully expect Rosamund Pike will be a shoo-in for a Best Actress Academy Award nomination and Gillian Flynn for adapted screenplay. Depending on what the competition is like after all the major fall films open, I think it stands a strong shot for both Best Picture and Best Director nominations. It’s an easy film to recommend and its length is not a hindrance because it moves at such a fast clip.


    1. LA,

      O my, that’s high praise indeed. You see, Manohla Dargis is one of the few critics I ever read, albeit not in any regularity. As a matter of fact, I haven’t read much about this film except just some pertinent info. in order to write my post, trying to stay away from the crowd mentality I’m writing about here. And you’re in bliss, I know, esp. because you haven’t read the book. When I was watching the film, I knew those who had not read it must have enjoyed it way more. The element of surprise and shock is essential I feel for one to fully appreciate it. Also, Gillian Flynn is on a roll now, her other two books Dark Places and Sharp Objects have already been turned into movies, but not with her as screenwriter though.


  5. Arti – thank you for calling out Kim Dickens! I’ve long been a fan of her edgy television work (she was my favorite character in Deadwood) and she is clearly the only one worth routing for in this film. Pike, to me, was a revelation.

    And I think you hit the nail on the head: “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.”

    Glad to be conversing about it with you.


    1. David,

      All thanks to IMDb. I’m not much of a TV series viewer, so I’ve no idea who she is. But from the movie, I was drawn to KD’s performance as soon as she came on screen. It’s that impressive. I’m not much of a BA fan either, nor DF. So the whole movie I watch w/o much ‘fan-based’ emotion. Except I like Pike, have seen her previous works and feel she ought to be given something more prominent. And here she’s got it, good for her.

      Yes, I believe this is a marketing success. The movie is quite good and watchable, but w/o the marketing buzz, which started much earlier with the book two years ago, I don’t think it could have achieved the momentum it is enjoying now. But as I mentioned in the post, I’ve reservations that it deserves a Best Picture nom.


  6. My husband read the book when it first came out and really liked it. I’ve been meaning to read it but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I thought I’d read it before seeing the movie, but now maybe I shouldn’t? Will I want to read the book after I see the movie?


    1. Stefanie,

      It would be a perfect experiment: Don’t read the book. Then you two go to watch the movie and see if there’s any difference in enjoyment. Make sure your husband doesn’t spill the beans before you see the movie. Let me know the findings. 🙂


  7. My problem is that the book began as a very intriguing account of gender rancour, but then in order to sustain the twists above all else, became a story of crazy people. So I rather lost any respect I had for it. I’m not sure I want to see the movie do something similar, although I love Rosamund Pike and think she’s an amazing actress. I saw her first in the BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate and she was brilliant even back then.


    1. litlove,

      No kidding, crazy people … that’s why i said it’s a hyperbole of a marriage gone wrong. The twists and turns aim at shocking and being clever. Definitely helps that the author herself is a savvy entertainment insider for the book to movie venture. There are several such titles out in recent years (hope not signs of the times), the next one to come out is Before I Go To Sleep. But again, maybe not your cup of tea. 😉


  8. I don’t think I’ll be seeing the film, though I did listen to the audiobook maybe two years ago. In the last chapters, almost couldn’t listen for the assault of foul language in my ears. I also read Dark Places (ebook) recently and was reminded again of Flynn’s impressive ability to build suspense with her well-timed reveals.

    Read a review of the film recently that discussed Flynn’s making some fundamental changes needed in the translation to film. The reviewer was careful not to reveal spoilers, but I’d’ve liked to read more about what had to be moved and why.


    1. Nikkipolani,

      No, at first Flincher said it was a totally new third act, but later even Flynn denied that. Let’s just say it’s slightly altered. As for the foul language, I don’t recall many in the movie. There are more sinister things there than language.


  9. What a great exposition on the GG phenomenon! I haven’t read the book, but did see the movie this week- yes it’s all the buzz in Australia too. I was really quite enjoying it until a pivotal scene near the end (hard to keep to the no spoiler with this), but it was way too graphic, and it really lost it for me after that- it was a bridge too far, and I couldn’t come back. I was enjoying the twists and turns til then.

    I did my only little non spoiler post this week


    1. Louise,

      A bridge too far that you couldn’t come back… LOL, what a description of your experience. Thanks for the link to your review. Sure’s interesting to see how different viewers react to it. And, how different countries/cultures receive it.


  10. I haven’t read the book and like another commenter here had no intention to. When it comes to reading choices best-seller thrillers are not my bag. I suspect I’m one of the few who haven’t read any of the Stig Larsson (sp?) Girl with a dragon tattoo books. I’m happy to see thrillers as films but for my reading I tend to prefer different sorts of fare.

    Consequently I was reasonably surprised by the twist, and yet not really. I think if you’ve seen (read) thrillers, is it that surprising? That said, we two couples who saw it together all enjoyed it a lot. For me the acting was one of the main joys. I’d go see Rosamund Pike in just about anything. And I loved Affleck and the policewoman.

    I was intrigued by LitLove’s comment on the idea of it starting as “a very intriguing account of gender rancour”. That didn’t really come across in the film. It was more as you said Arti, about a particular marriage gone wrong – and of course about the media’s involvement in cases like this. There was nothing new in this media theme, but that’s not to say it wasn’t well done or interesting to watch.

    I like your likening it to a modern Hitchcock.

    Now, I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to ask this, that is I don’t think my question implies anything more than the notion that there are twists already has, but if you haven’t seen it and are nervous that my question might spoil something, stop reading here! Here’s the question: Several people have told me they found the film misogynistic. I didn’t really see it that way. Did you?


    1. In order to respond to the above comment, I’m afraid I’d have to flag this with a SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and are intending to in the days ahead, then you may want to stop reading this comment now.


      Thank you for asking this question. I’ve heard about this opinion, and am eager to address it. You’re most welcome to share your response to my comment here.
      This is how I’d answer your question.

      First, to be ‘qualified’ as misogynistic, the ‘victim’ has to be totally innocent. But here in this case, and I credit this to Flynn’s writing, it is a complex mess-up, no clear-cut good guy / bad guy, albeit we must say somebody definitely seems to have gotten the upper hand. But then again, before this whole scheme starts to mature, the other party has gotten the upper hand all along… uprooting the spouse, denying a baby, taking money from her parents’ trust fund, drinking too much, ignoring her needs, and controlling and serving his own ends, thus leading to the utter resentment and anger of the spouse, hence, the motive for the crime. Both sides are not blameless, although one side takes more drastic actions. Here is also a character foil, one is brute force, the other calculating horror.

      Second, we have to judge if it’s ‘misogynistic’ or not within the context of the genre. This is a fantasized, hyperbole of a crime thriller, which means somebody would have to be the culprit or ‘villain’. In any case, there’s a 50/50 chance of either one of the two sexes to be the evildoer. Remember the board game “Clue”? It’s the fairest of them all. Equal chances for both sexes: Professor Plum, Mr. Green, Colonel Mustered / Mrs. Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White. Politically correct… Yes?

      Thirdly, a previous film comes to mind. We wouldn’t call ‘Fatal Attraction’ misogynistic (or did they?). Rather, it’s more a cautionary tale on why men shouldn’t seek extra-marital affairs. The object lesson is on him, if he hadn’t fallen for this decorator, he would have kept his family intact and his pet rabbit safe. So, there’s a little ‘serve him right’ kind of lesson to be had.

      And lastly, being written by a female writer would also diminish the argument of misogynistic. No? What do you think?


  11. Hi Arti,

    I had no desire to watch this film but after reading your blog, I went to watch it today. I enjoyed the film and will definitely read the book just to compare the differences.



    1. Hi D,

      Could you guess the twist? You’ll probably enjoy the book. I have yet to read Gillian Flynn’s other works, but at Chapters, they have a box set of Flynn’s 3 novels… all ready for Christmas shoppers. 😉


  12. A friend and I watched the film tonight. I never would have watched it, had I known more about it. Or, perhaps having watched it, it’s more fair to say I’m sorry I watched it. I didn’t see it as especially entertaining. I found it deeply disturbing. I don’t watch films about violence or sociopaths by choice, and I got sucked into this one.

    If this is what passes for entertainment these days, I really do need to stay out of the theaters. Maybe I’m just too sensitive, but I find the popularity of S&M disturbing, whether it’s a film like this or the ubiquitous “Fifty Shades…” I’m not a prude. Sex in a film doesn’t bother me. But there was something about this one that really bothered me — perhaps because I’ve had to deal with sociopaths.

    In any event, I remembered that you had reviewed it, so when we were browsing netflix and I saw the title, I was the one who said, “Oh! Arti reviewed this one! Let’s watch!” LOL

    I will say that we almost went on to something else because of the slow start to the film. It seemed to drag, for almost too long. Then, once it began getting more interesting as a psychological thriller, and we were hooked, we began realizing the great irony: we weren’t going to turn off something we didn’t want to watch any more of! So — for plot twists and turns, and suspense? A+ For veracity? B+ For enjoyable viewing on New Year’s night? I guess a C-.


    1. Linda,

      LOL! So averaging the three criteria, Gone Girl could fetch a solid B from you. You’re definitely right about the suspense (if one hasn’t read the book), and the little bit of sensationalized veracity. As I mentioned in reply to some of the comments, Gone Girl the movie is not for everyone. You see, it’s for the A+ and B+ that we go see it, not the C– . I’m sorry to hear that you’ve started your New Year with the ‘wrong’ movie. 😉 Maybe you should have opted for a musical, like Annie (with your fave Beasts of the Southern Wild child star Hushpuppy Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie), or the fairy tales mash-up with Meryl Streep et al Into The Woods. But then again, you wouldn’t have gone to see them because Arti has not reviewed them. I’m grateful for your patronage. (Mind you, according to others’ reviews, you can skip Annie)

      Oh, and, one more you wouldn’t find here in Ripple Effects is, right, you’ve guessed it, 50 Shades of Grey.

      Hope tonight’s experience wouldn’t stop you from watching movies at all… esp. With the Awards Season at hand, there are many other good selections out there. Maybe you’d want to try: The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Wild, Big Eyes.


      1. No musicals, fantasy or little princesses for me, either. The next time, we’ll be better prepared. I’ve made a list of the ones you’ve reviewed that appealed, but whose titles I couldn’t remember last night at her house. Some won’t be available through Netflix, Amazon, and such, but many are. Now that we can watch at home with a glass of wine, we’re more likely to movie-view from time to time!


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