In the beginning was the word.
Well…the book, actually.
Not a very good book.
But a very, very popular book.
A sensation, in fact.
I couldn’t wait to read it. I was familiar with Gillian Flynn’s work and was hoping that she would realize the promise of her early novels—that she would turn out to be the real thing.
Her first book, Dark Places, was dazzling—its opening, unforgettable.
“I have a meanness inside me, as real as an organ. Slit me at my belly, and it might slide out, dark and meaty, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders.”
Libby Day, the sole survivor of her family’s slaughter by her older brother Ben, grows up hard, selfish, friendless—a mass of sharp, lacerating edges. But in her effort to clear her brother of the crime, she not only puts herself at risk; she unearths her own buried humanity. And that, aside from the clean, hard style, the complex characterizations and the innovative structure, is the wonder of her story.
With Dark Places and its successor Sharp Objects (whose protagonist is a profoundly disturbed cutter), Flynn staked her claim to alienated, deeply dysfunctional characters in whom she ultimately uncovered some core of humanity.
The books were not perfect. They were marred by some artifice in the construction of their complex plots—an abuse of the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, but they were great reads with something important to say about the human condition.
Then came Gone Girl.
In it she took things a step further, and in doing so, stepped off a cliff, creating characters so dysfunctional, so utterly lacking in humanity that it’s impossible to care about them or even believe in them, fashioning a plot so complicated and contrived that it defies credibility, writing a novel so nihilistic that it is about, quite literally, nothing.
And the movie fashioned from this emptiness?
Slavishly faithful to the book.
The screenplay was, after all, written by Flynn herself.
A condensation of her novel, it is the perfect vehicle for David Fincher, her cold-hearted partner in crime, whose vision of life is summed up beautifully by Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a hat box.
His direction is brilliant…and icy.
Easy to admire.
Hard to enjoy.
The cinematography is practically a parody of the brilliant, brooding work of Gordon Willis in the Godfather films—so dark it’s virtually impossible to distinguish interior from exterior, day from night.
Ben Affleck, always more dynamic behind the camera than in front of it, so underplays his role he’s almost not there.
Rosamond Pike is simply not sensual or seductive enough to be credible in the part she’s called upon to play.
It is only Tyler Perry, quite different from his counterpart in the book, who manages to bring color and life to his character.
To those of you who buy the ending of both book and film, I want to say this: I can make you one heck of a deal on this bridge I’ve got for sale.
I finished Flynn’s novel and Fincher’s movie wondering what is going on in the world today—a world where people seem obsessed with charismatic gangsters, ruthless meth dealers, charming serial killers, amoral ad men, and assholes befriending assholes in stories about nothing.
It is a question I’ll try (and probably fail) to answer in my next post.