I was surprised how much I liked Gone Girl. I liked the film so much I went out and bought the book. I’ve been ever more surprised by how interesting I’ve found the contrast between the two. One interesting difference between the film and the book were the different ways in which Nick’s perceived obnoxiousness were narrated. The latter lacked the first person narration which was so prominent in the former and we missed something crucial as a consequence: Nick was concerned about his perpetual failure to translate internal conversation into external communication. In the book he describes how “I carry on an inner monologue, but the words often don’t reach my lips … She looks nice today, I’d think, but somehow it wouldn’t occur to me to say it out loud”. We see this tendency through the eyes of others in both the book and the film:
‘I still remember that very first night: Amy’s missing, you come in here, we park you in this very room for forty-five minutes, and you look bored. We watched you on surveillance, you practically fell asleep.’ [..]
‘I was trying to stay calm.’
‘You looked very, very calm,’ Boney said. ‘All along, you’ve acted … inappropriately. Unemotional, flippant.’
But in the film Nick’s awareness of this tendency can only be expressed in external speech. We don’t see that it’s something that concerns him, something he recognises as an issue and provokes anxiety in him. He only voices an awareness of his behaviour when challenged by others and the circumstances under which he raises it make his replies seem evasive and unreliable. This entails constraints and enablements for the narrative structure – both film and book play with ambiguity but the former does so on the basis of theunreadability of Nick while the latter does so on the basis of the unreliability of his narration. Unreadability induces doubt about what will happen (if we don’t understand his motives then how do we know what he’ll do next?) whereas unreliability induces doubt about what has happened (if the narrator is unreliable then how can we trust their account of the events thus far?) – each is grounded in a certain strategy of representing internal conversation. These can be seen even more emphatically in the case of Amy, as this interesting article from Think Progress makes clear:
Out of structural necessity, we begin our story on Nick’s side. We only know what he knows, and often even less. To reveal more of Amy’s inner life early on would render the big twist untwisted. But even in the scenes that are lifted from “her” chapters in the book feel like they’re being narrated by somebody else. When it is revealed, in the film, that Amy is alive, it doesn’t really feel like anything in Amy has changed. We never get that great, punchy shift in tone. We don’t get those stellar lines of Amy talking about the character of the diary in the third person: “I hope you liked Diary Amy. She was meant to be likeable. Meant for someone like you to like her. She’s easy to like. I’ve never understood why that’s considered a compliment—that just anyone could like you.” Real Amy has total disdain for Diary Amy and everyone who adores her. Everyone is the cops. Everyone is the reader. In the movie, everyone would be the viewer. But in the movie, you just don’t feel it. The voiceover of Diary Amy and the voiceover of Real, Sociopathic Amy sound exactly the same. The real Amy, the character who is the engine of this story, is as elusive to us as she is to Nick.
One of the more disturbing (and one of the saddest) elements of Amy’s story is gone, too: that her parents had been trying and failing to have a child over and over before they had her. Amy only arrived after a series of miscarriages and stillbirths; all these angels were named Hope, and she was haunted by those ghosts who possessed the perfection only afforded to those who die before they can live. Amy was so named because it was a popular girls’ name at the time, as if this would save her from notice by God. Amy’s original plan—depicted in the movie by her “Kill Self” post-its on the calendar—is to hide out just long enough to enjoy watching Nick’s life crumble. To observe the trial, to see him sentenced to life in prison, or maybe, as is legal in Missouri, the death penalty. And then she wants to kill herself. “To join the Hopes.” She is a woman with no will to live.
We see external traces of her inner life but Amy herself remains unknowable in the film. This leaves us with a sharp juxtaposition between Diary Amy and ‘real Amy’ which is absent from the book: it’s presented as a transition from fiction to reality, whereas the book itself is much more ambiguous.
Categories: Outflanking Platitudes