It’s no surprise that Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl will be reborn as a movie, due out in October of 2014. The source material is so morbidly cinematic, director David Fincher (who recently adapted Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) could hardly decline. However, readers are now learning of an alternate ending, conceived of and written by Flynn herself. Should it come as any surprise, given the disparity between literature and film?
All stories follow the same dramatic arc, whether the narrative takes the form of a book, a movie, or even a joke.
For example: a man walks into a restaurant (Situation) with a duck on his head (Conflict). The waiter brings him a menu and tries to mind his own business but finally he asks (Climax), “Say, how long has that been there?” To which the duck replies (Resolution), “For as long as I can remember!”
Without a Conflict, there’s no reason for the story to progress; without a Climax, there’s no reason for the initial Situation to change – whether the Resolution does, in fact, look somewhat or entirely different. In that sense, a movie and a novel will deliver the same results, via the same formula, to their audience.
But the similarities end there. Gone Girl is narrated by Nick and Amy Dunne, a husband and wife who … well, they’re removed, both physically and psychologically. Nick’s chapters are related from his perspective, as the mystery of his wife’s disappearance unspools. Amy’s chapters are related in journal entries, dating back to the eve of their first date, five years earlier. How could any director (even one as accomplished as Fincher) hope to translate journal entries to film? (Or have the gall to cast Ben Affleck as a native Missourian? But that’s another matter.)
At the same time, film renders images in lieu of words. Nick’s hangout and place of employment, The Bar, will no doubt benefit from a set designer’s keen eye; and Amy’s introduction to poaching catfish (standing waist-deep in a feeding scrum, and wrestling their squirming bodies onto the dock) will be revealed in the light of a full moon. A writer strives to project these images onto your mind’s eye. A cinematographer does the work for you.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that a new ending would be required. The same has been true of countless other adaptations – none more wholesale or widely celebrated than Adaptation. What began as a New Yorker article by Susan Orlean turned into … something that Charlie Kaufman wrote. The process of swapping media results in something lost and something gained. To the extent that the film version of Gone Girl bears any resemblance to the print version, or owes it any fealty, we ultimately have to ask ourselves: is the Resolution satisfying? Is it plausible, without being obvious? If so, everyone can go home happy (even Nick and Amy Dunne).