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 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.

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


Zero Dark Thirty and Argo

There are several reasons I link these two films together. Both are acclaimed productions which have already garnered awards. While both films have been nominated for Best Picture in the 2013 Academy Awards, both directors, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck have been snubbed in the Best Director category. The reason I do not want to speculate. But for one of them, I have a hunch.

These are very American films, depicting Americans in crisis and its aftermath. Argo is about getting Americans out of Iran during the 1979-80 hostage crisis in Tehran, Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30) about hunting and getting into Pakistan to take down Osama bin Laden. Both involve the intricate work of the CIA.

And, both have driven me to the edge of my seat, despite the fact that I know the ending of the event they portray. This is the power of visual storytelling. But for me, the similarities may well end here.

Ben Affleck

Argo rests on one man, Tony Mendez, a CIA officer who masterminded the rescue mission, information declassified only in recent years. Played by director Ben Affleck, Mendez is decorated with CIA’s Intelligence Star and received other accolades after that.

ZD30 rests on one woman, known only as Maya in the film. A young CIA officer who for ten years, dedicated her life to the searching for Osama bin Laden. She is relentless in her pursuit, fighting not only outward threats of physical dangers but bureaucracy within an alpha male work environment. Her identity remains hidden.

Jessica Chastain has once again shown how versatile an actor she is. I have seen her in some very different roles: The Debt, The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Help. Here in ZD30, she has convincingly portrayed a strong leading female character with finesse. Her performance not only carries the film but our emotion as well.

Jessica Chastain

And not only Maya, ZD30 has shown us there are other female CIA officers performing perilous duties. Her friend and colleague Jessica is one of them. Now, as I watched this Jessica on screen, I kept thinking she looked so familiar. Only when I watched the credits roll at the end did I find out, lo, that’s Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, 1995) or a bit closer, Myrtle Logue in The King’s Speech (2010).

Director Kathryn Bigelow has done an exceptional job in turning Mark Boal’s original screenplay into a tight and engrossing film. Both won Oscars for The Hurt Locker (2008), Bigelow being the first woman to win the Best Director award. At the beginning of the film, we are told it is based on firsthand accounts of actual events. Despite knowing the ending, I was still captivated every step of the way, following the intelligence gathering process, the narrowing down of leads and locations, the red tape. The film is an alchemy of facts and fiction, a creative fusion. But for the audience, there is no way to distinguish which is which.

That leads to the controversial issue, one that some in Washington and now the Academy have condemned, the issue of torture. And here’s my take. Isn’t it a bit simplistic to argue that since the film depicts scenes of torture of detainees to get leads and information, it means that the filmmakers condone or even promote torture?

While the U.S. Administration had denied using any torture tactics in the final capture of bin Laden does not mean the total absence of them over the ten year post 9/11 period, both known or later discovered. The photos from Abu Ghraib prison are still vivid in my mind. None of the scenes in the film can compare to those real life photos. Or, come to think of it, could Abu Ghraib have informed the screenwriting? This being not a documentary, but a dramatized fusion, can one separate facts and fiction so clearly?

Or take Argo, how much is true about the rescue mission? How much is dramatized? What proportion should we give credits to the mastermind Mendez and the CIA, and how much should we credit the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) for hiding the six American embassy staff in his home at his own risk? The same kind of simplistic accusation ZD30 is getting could also apply here: Does the fact that they all escaped Iran using false identity mean the filmmakers, or the Canadian government for that matter, promote deception and the forging of Canadian passports?

Unlike Argo, the ending is not celebratory in ZD30. Things are not as clean cut as planned. The final mission of assassination is messy, a helicopter is down and has to be destroyed on site. There are collateral damages. But the target is hit, mission accomplished. Nevertheless, there is no applause or celebration. The tone is sombre, which I think is most apt. The final scene with Maya alone on the large transport plane leaving Pakistan is the epitome of ambivalence. Jessica Chastain leaves us with a poignant expression. Is it justice, national security, or rather, personal vendetta that has been accomplished? The last line delivered by the pilot echoed in my mind after I’d left the theatre, dazed… Where do we want to go from here?

Zero Dark Thirty ~~~~ Ripples

Argo ~~~1/2 Ripples


CLICK HERE to read Kathryn Bigelow’s article on L.A.Times addressing the controversy of torture in the film Zero Dark Thirty. 

Golden Globes, Jan. 13, 2013: Argo won Best Picture, Drama, and Ben Affleck Best Director. Jessica Chastain won Best Actress, Drama, for Zero Dark Thirty.

Related posts on Ripple Effects:

History Made At The Oscars

The Hurt Locker