Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gone Girl, David Fincher, and How to Make a Decent Adaptation

Before I get into things in-depth, let's just clear the air here: Gone Girl is pretty fucked up. The book, the film, the whole damn premise of the story is some of the darkest, most messed up stuff I've ever heard. I'll do my best not to spoil anything for people who haven't seen/read it yet, but let's be honest, I probably will at some point. Just a heads up.

(Side note for anyone who has seen the film, I just saw that the movie was rated R for - among other things (cough cough Ben Affleck's penis) - a scene of bloody violence. A scene. Just one. I think we can all assume what it was.)

Touching less on the technical aspects of David Fincher  - Emily already beat me to that - I'd like to focus more on how he makes, as the Economist called it, a "perfect adaptation." Never one to shy away from adapting books, (3 of his last 4 feature films were based on short stories or novels; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and now Gone Girl) Fincher always seems to find a way to circumvent the pre-established audience and market for a certain book and create something that is uniquely his. The question I'm interested in answering is: how does a director give a film his/her own personal flourish while simultaneously staying true to the source material?

Fincher, probably talking about how creepy his films are.
There's been plenty of bad book adaptations. More bad than good, actually. The handful of really good ones - Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner, No Country for Old Men, to name a few - all have the same basic thing in common: they capture the essence of the source material, along with the plot. In one of the more informative articles I think I've ever found on the A.V. club, one of the contributing writers, Scott Tobias, brings up a really interesting point about adaptations. When talking about Gary Ross' film adaptation of the Hunger Games, he says that "Films content with merely illustrating books are more concerned with problem solving and translation than artistic expression." This is something I'd never considered before. A literal, direct-from-the-book adaptation is almost no fun at all: if you're going to just film everything right from the page, there's a sense of "well hey, what was the point?" If the audience already knows everything, it's basically just a rehashing of the book, just with less.

It's pretty safe to say that Fincher gets this. The very first thing he did right was to hire the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, to also pen the screenplay (her first). This assured not only that the story would be close to that of the novel - pleasing the already established fan base - but that the general tone (cold, dark) would be the same as well. Films are much less intimate than novels by nature. In many books - Gone Girl included - we can literally hear inside the characters heads. One of the many goals for adaptations is to find a believable substitute for these internal voices, and to show character's emotions and thoughts in a much more visual manner. Gone Girl succeeds at this on every level.

While it stuck surprisingly close to the book (Flynn only cut out a few minor, expendable characters and events to cut down on the already lengthy 2.5 hour runtime) I never found myself knowing what would happen next. Apart from the acting (a pretty great Ben Affleck and a really great Rosamund Pike) and the score (the always amazing dynamic duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gave the film a super weird, super dark tone throughout) I thought the film did a particularly nice job of depicting the various news shows breaking the story about Amy going missing. The 24 hour news cycle was a big part of Flynn's book, but it was only elevated here; the whole thing worked better on a more visual level.

Apart from a few underdeveloped areas (Amy's "cool girl" monologue - one of the best parts of the book - was more or less glossed over) I thought Fincher did an amazing job of taking a very dark, very complex subject matter and turning it into something that was not only visually stimulating but also really fucking creepy. The atmosphere, tone, and message all matched that of the book, all while giving me a whole new perspective on the story as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment