Gone Girl (2014)


My advice: read the novel (reviewed elsewhere in this blog) before you see the movie. Gillian Flynn has written a classic novel of our day, a novel better than any other contemporary novel I can think of, its major competitor being Britisher Ian McEwan’s lacerating Solar.

Flynn has not said much publicly about her novel, an immensely popular book which has sold over eight million copies; however, she appeared a few days ago (10/5/14) on Charlie Rose, along with the principals of the movie version, Director David Fincher and lead actors Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, and said these things: “(I write about) what media is doing to society”; “(We live in) a media-saturated world”; “…media might as well be a third character” in Gone Girl (in addition to the main characters, Nick Dunne [Affleck] and Amy Dunne [Pike]).

Flynn, who wrote the screenplay for the movie version, has not been able to bring over to the film her brilliant novelistic satire of the “media-saturated world.” The frame of her highly satisfying savage novel is loosely fashioned on the Scott Peterson murder case of approximately a decade ago, a media circus, a schlockfest galore. The crime at the center of the novel Gone Girl is brilliantly novel–the perpetrator, one of the Dunnes, punishes the other spouse for tiring of their marriage by setting up that spouse to be devoured in a media piranha frenzy, the frame-up accomplished by a shrewd set of “clues” designed to bring into the life of the victim spouse the world of Nancy Grace, Barbara Walters, Drs Phil/Oz/Gupta/Drew/Besser/Stork, plus Maury, Giraldo, Van Sustern et al. Flynn paid her dues here by working at Entertainment Weekly, a schlock rag without peer featuring celebrity worship and tabloid schadenfreude.

The movies Network and Wag the Dog show that it is possible to satirize the media; yet you have to believe that Flynn’s problem in the movie is the intense predominant caution of Hollywood which makes those two satires rare indeed: said in public, “the customer is always right”; in private (thanks to H.L. Mencken) “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” This all means that in Hollywood you seldom beat up the media because the audience of the media (i.e., your audience) loves schlock. Some good writers have learned this lesson painfully.

It’s a different story in a novel (and usually in all senses). In the novel, the laughter Flynn inspires in her readers is wonderfully liberating and pleasing. Great satirists–Cervantes, Swift, Twain, Carroll–each have their own unique and special humor; Flynn’s is just the catharsis for these days.  At the same time, her novel, like other piercing satires, dawns as most serious: it dramatizes that ultimately the “media saturation” we experience now is a seriously corrupting force, one of the deepest issues of the time. But screenwriter Flynn manages only to bring to the movie some hints of the great satire in her novel. She quietly clues us, quietly because of the de facto censorship in Tinsletown.

I found five quiet clues which flash past quickly, clues for which Flynn wants us to be alert:  1) The attitude of police officer Jim Gilpin, partner of detective Rhonda Boney, and seldom seen. He is heavily influenced by the “media saturation.” He is a minor character but just the type whose intelligence you’ll never go broke underestimating. Watch his reactions. 2) The senior police official (unnamed) near the end of the movie who decides in a crowded official location that the crime case should be dropped. Flynn quietly makes you see why that police official so decides and why he shows irritation after detective Boney names a revealing inconsistency in the crime case itself which she has just noticed. 3) Watch for Noelle Hawthorne, a neighbor of the Dunnes and an “idiot” (so described by Amy Dunne) who is sure to be reading The National Enquirer in her leisure time. She is addicted to celebrity worship and tabloid prying. She is an archetype in the novel and one of a massive crowd of such personalities, a sure sign that Flynn doesn’t believe in “the wisdom of crowds” but the stupidity of crowds. 4) Look at the reactions of people in public places where TV screens are showing programs concerning the Dunnes. 5) Look for Nancy Grace and Barbara Walters, thinly disguised.

If you want to see more of how Flynn plants clues, here are two Google searches she hopes you’ll make as you read the novel: (i) Why does Amy refer to herself as “Madeleine Elster”? (ii) What does the name of the “celebrity lawyer” (played in the movie by Tyler Perry), “Tanner Bolt,” have to do with TV anchors Nancy Grace and Barbara Walters and their ilk? Google “Tanner Bolt.”

Flynn is a major talent dramatizing our times with great force. Gone Girl is a novel not to be missed. The movie is interesting as a case showing how difficult it is in today’s media circus to bring the News.