This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits, and strange behaviour have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?
When it became inevitable that the internet would spoil Gone Girl for me, I picked up the book, retreated from the world and devoured the story. I expected the story to be a fairly simple one with a twist in the tale that I thought I knew from the gifs I’d seen online. Instead, I was kept guessing the whole way through, trying to reconcile my beliefs with what the book really had to offer.
Gillian Flynn paints a chilling portrait of a marriage where there are no good guys and bad guys. There are only varying degrees of badness, ranging from Nick’s stance as misogynistic cheater to Amy’s level of high-functioning sociopath. Given these choices, do you root for the lesser of two evils? Or do you sit back and marvel at the cunning and determination of the greater? I seesawed between both, not entirely sure what I wanted the outcome to be.
In the movie, I think the choice is much simpler. A lot of Nick’s (Ben Affleck) darker thoughts and impulses are glossed over or removed to make Amy (Rosamund Pike) the clear villain. The line between reality and fantasy is much more clearly drawn, whereas the book sometimes makes you wonder whether Amy is telling outright lies or merely an exaggerated version of the truth.
Minor details from the book have been changed in order to keep the story focused entirely on Amy and Nick’s relationship. Ages of characters, certain events, and little adjustments to the timeline are all invoked to prevent veering away to explore more complicated side characters.
The police and Margo
While the book (and certainly Nick’s point of view) cast the police in a mediocre light, their investigative skills are given more credit in the film adaptation. The police follow the lead to the abandoned mall themselves (instead of Nick’s party), which eliminates the chance for anyone to protest their efforts in solving the case.
Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) may have been relegated to a smaller role but the extra time spent with Detective Rhonda Boney more than makes up for that. In Kim Dickens’s hands, Boney is far from bumbling or inadequate and her desire to solve the case—not just to pin it on Nick—comes across clear and earnest.
I was slightly disappointed when she seemed so comfortable with letting the case go once Amy returned, as I found her developing obsession in the book to be fascinating. Instead, the only one who cares deeply and seems in any way disappointed by Nick’s decision to stay with Amy is his sister, Margo. Carrie Coon manages to bestow Margo with a depth of emotion that I never felt in the book. Her character was, for me, one of the most compelling in the movie and I found her to be at times startlingly human.
Desi and Amy’s manipulations
Without Amy’s internal monologue, it’s sometimes hard to tell what is real and what isn’t. The movie leaves out the backstory of one of Amy’s more terrifying manipulations: her friendship with Hilary Handy. It’s clear that Amy is no stranger to hurting herself to further prove her allegations but she does seem to graduate through levels of intensity: throwing herself down the stairs and getting someone kicked out of school; lying about Desi’s suicide attempt; framing someone for rape; and eventually framing her husband for murder.
In the scheme of things, the way she framed Hilary for various things doesn’t seem important. It is, after all, something with minor consequences compared to the other events. But it does impress upon readers that Amy’s vengeance is not solely directed towards men. She will take on anyone she perceives to have wronged her in some small way.
Another incident that escapes mention is the relationship between Amy and Desi’s mother, Jacqueline. Once again, it’s a small thing (Amy once scratched up her own face and accused her boyfriend’s mother of doing it) but it does go towards her hatred of both genders.
In fact, Jacqueline, who knows what Amy is capable of and speaks out against her story, is removed from the story completely. In her absence, Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) is simply a creep but not a creepy mummy’s boy. Whether or not it was a fabrication on Amy’s part, I thought it added an interesting depth to his character and personal brand of crazy that he seemed so intent on having Amy in his life—a younger copy of his mother—and recreating the same kind of family life he had.
Amy’s parents (portrayed by David Clennon and Lisa Banes) are less present in the movie, less demanding of attention than they are in the books. They serve mostly as a contrast to Nick’s rigid, emotionless dealings with the media. In the book, their lives and the Amazing Amy arc is given a much more in-depth treatment, with Amy saying more than once that she doesn’t care how they feel after they commoditised her childhood with their weird form of public passive aggression, always making her feel like her best was not good enough.
I found Amy’s dynamic with her parents and a lot of her family backstory to be a key tool in understanding (at least partly) why Amy is the way she is. Without that information and Amy’s perception of it, she seems less like someone who has felt wronged her whole life and more like someone who has been driven crazy by her cheating spouse.
I think this may also be why her initial decision to kill herself seems more extreme and strange than it does in the books: the movie makes it all about Nick and not about how Amy has felt her entire life. Her desire to be in control, her hatred of people who see her imperfections—for me, that all stems from her relationship with her parents and the Amazing Amy books.
The diary, the treasure hunt and Nick’s feelings for Amy
A lot of Amy’s diary entries have been reworded and that, combined with the way Rosamund Pike narrates them, makes Diary Amy seem dull and flat. In the novel, Amy’s mere words give off a sense of cheerfulness and youth. As we know, Diary Amy is supposed to be likeable. In the movie, even when she’s supposed to be this enchanting creature, I can’t really find anything that draws me in except Rosamund Pike’s undeniable beauty.
The treasure hunt has been condensed, the clues rewritten to allow for a smoother and shorter journey to uncover Amy’s secret. In the movie there exist only three clues and one short letter to Nick (found in the woodshed). With the treasure hunt over relatively quickly and without the seemingly doting letters from Amy, Nick never seems like he’s beginning to fall in love with her again.
His constant teetering between love and hate for Amy is a key part of the book and its ending. However, the scene where Nick attempts to strangle Amy on the night of her return is absent, replaced by less life-threatening incident seven weeks later where he knocks Amy’s head against the wall.
In the movie, Nick doesn’t put up a physical fight when Amy returns to his life, and doesn’t attempt to get his revenge by writing a tell-all manuscript. With these omissions, the ending paints him as a poor, trapped victim—albeit one who is slowly coming to enjoy his own torture.
Gone Girl is a fairly accurate film adaptation. Some of the book’s more complicated elements have, understandably, been removed or altered to allow for the viewers’ easy understanding. Personally, I would have preferred to see the film maintain some of the less savoury aspects of Nick’s character instead of dismissing or minimising his thoughts and motivations to make it clear who the real bad guy is.
Though some important aspects of the novel and the characters’ basis for their actions have been lost in the transition from page to screen, the general plot remains intact. Gone Girl makes for an impressive story in both mediums, and I believe fans of the book will enjoy the adaptation as much as newcomers will.