From book to screen, Gone Girl has undergone big changes – only, this time, the author was the one responsible.
The shocking ending to Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl was one of the reasons it lingered in readers’ minds, standing out from the hordes of thriller novels that wrap up all too easily. So, naturally, rumours that the film adaptation of the dark thriller, directed by David Fincher and set to be released October 3rd, will feature an entirely new ending, has ignited a conversation surrounding Hollywood’s need to tweak novels to create happy endings for the big screen.
With Gone Girl, the emotional complexity that made the ending work in the book simply wouldn’t translate to the big screen
In general, film viewers seek a resolution more than novel readers do – they need to see the bad guy punished or the romance rekindled. While this can be a cause for complaint when our favourite books are turned into films, in the case of Gone Girl, the emotional complexity that made the ending work in the book simply wouldn’t translate to the big screen. The novel, which remained #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for eight weeks, circles around the search for Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike in the movie), who goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary to husband Nick (played by Ben Affleck).
The psychological thriller switches between Nick’s first person narrative and past journal entries from Amy, both of which depict their marriage differently. Nick becomes the prime suspect, as the novel toys with the complexities of love, relationships and marriage, as well as how powerful the media representation can be in a trial. The book certainly doesn’t provide the satisfying ending that Hollywood tries to offer – a revenge plot fulfilled or successful punishment of the bad guy – which is one of the reasons fans loved it. But would a cinema audience agree?
I saw this exact situation unfold with the 2009 adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s 2004 novel, My Sister’s Keeper. I had read the book, and, sitting in the movie theatre, found myself watching a completely new ending (much less shocking and far less upsetting than the book’s), yet the people around me were still crying their eyes out. An audience like this couldn’t handle seeing Gone Girl’s original ending on the big screen. The novel has the potential to make a fantastic dark thriller, but considering the style of Fincher (known for Se7en and Fight Club), the novel’s conclusion would also seem incredibly anti-climatic on film.
The fact that Gillian Flynn is comfortable with Gone Girl’s new ending calls into question the importance of the original story
Fincher seems to have recognised this after adapting Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in 2011, which, despite positive reviews from critics, experienced a less than overwhelming box office response. “We may have been too beholden to the source material,” he told Entertainment Weekly. The magazine’s cover, shot by Fincher himself, shows Affleck holding Pike’s pale corpse, suggesting that Gone Girl will be the opposite. It is also both exciting and slightly unnerving that author Gillian Flynn herself has written the screenplay.
In December 2012, Flynn was quoted in Entertainment Weekly saying her book’s ending “was the only thing that made sense to me, that made sense to what was true to the book and true to the characters.” The fact that Flynn is now comfortable with a new ending, along with Fincher’s desire for a successful opening weekend at the box office, calls into question the importance of the original story. With our favourite books, we assume that to the author, the story was meant to be exactly as it was written. Finding out the author herself didn’t have a clear vision can slightly skew our love for it.
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Kind of like how J.K. Rowling said, if she could re-write the ending of Harry Potter, she’d put Harry and Hermione together. What about poor Ginny? Did she mean nothing to Rowling? Still, when authors have their books adapted into films they generally want to retain the story’s integrity, and in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Q&A on Wednesday, Flynn claimed that reports on the changes of the storyline have been “greatly exaggerated.” It’s possible she was referring to an interview Fincher did with Entertainment Weekly, where he claimed that Affleck “was so shocked by [the screenplay] he would say, ‘This is a whole new third act! She literally threw that third act out and started from scratch.’”
Flynn didn’t deny that Gone Girl’s story would end differently on-screen, referencing how in books, we’re able to get inside the characters’ minds more than you can with film. “Of course, the script has to be different from the book in some ways,” Flynn said. “You have to find a way to externalise all those internal thoughts and you have to do more with less room. But the mood, tone and spirit of the book are very much intact.” We won’t know until October whether Amy will meet a watery death, as the trailer suggests, or whether the changes will be slightly less drastic, but one thing is for sure – no matter the ending, Gone Girl is still definitely a story worth watching.
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All images: 20th Century Fox