Apparently this has unwittingly turned into a movie-watching exercise this week. WARNING: Obviously, spoilers will abound.
Even though reading the book made me want to repeatedly punch things, I still watched the movie. I already had a copy of it, so what the hell? I wanted to see how they compared. I don’t know about anyone else, but I thought the movie was VASTLY better than the book. It came off so much better in almost every way.
The long, tedious chapters detailing their marital squabbles are condensed into a couple of short scenes. Win. Nick is played a lot more ambiguously and effectively in the movie than he is written in the book; reading from his point of view you get so much insight into his trains of thought – too much insight – and there’s a veneer of forced shadiness over everything he says. The author wants you to suspect Nick so she can shock you with the big twist, thus she has him say a required amount of suspicious things in his own internal monologue/narration, basically everything short of a giant neon sign stating “THIS GUY SOUNDS PRETTY DODGY”. It’s just all a bit too on the nose. Whereas in contrast, watching the film all you get by way of insight is seeing Nick’s reactions to events as they unfold. Taking cues from Nick’s slightly blase attitude, his surreptitious glances, and from the mounting pile of clues and inconsistencies with the case…that is a much more nuanced and believable way of creating suspicion than reading something that sounds like “Oops I just lied to the police again! Hope nobody suspects me LOL!” I feel like, had I watched the movie before reading the book, I would have grown to suspect Nick naturally before being swerved by the swerve. Reading the book, Nick appeared so guilty from the outset that it was immediately apparent that he didn’t do it, and I moved on from suspecting him to wondering what did actually happen.
That’s the main thing that kept me turning the pages over. I found the commentary on marriage tedious, but the mystery of Amy’s disappearance itself was interesting enough to where I was dying to know what happened. The twist itself is beautifully executed both in the book and on film. So much so that I can almost forgive all of the issues I had with the story from that point forward. Almost. She set it all up, and then at the perfect moment BAM, dropped the bomb. Shock and awe. I think my favourite part of the book was reading the first parts of Amy’s story, seeing exactly how she pulled off such a caper. Like I said, finding that out was my main motivation to keep reading, and it delivered in spades. If the story had ended with a bang soon after that, I’d have raved about it.
But alas, there was still another 200 odd pages to go. I found the second half of the book to be quite unnecessary and it made me increasingly unsatisfied as I read on. I thought her ultimate goal of suicide was an incredibly poignant topper to her lifelong tale of woe, and I wasn’t happy to see it tossed aside just because, well, there would be no villain for the rest of the piece (now that I think about it, if it had ended at the point where she was going to kill herself and she’d have followed through, that would have been awesome. Wow, that is a hell of a cheery sentence right there.). Then we spend so many pages following the trials and tribulations of this complete fucking psychopath as she tries desperately to…what exactly? We spend so many pages following Nick on his mission to track down his insanely psychotic wife so that…he can kill her for realsies? I no longer care about either of you getting whatever it is that you want. She kills another dude because she can and gets away with it, in fact gets away with the whole thing because…wait because why exactly? I guess because that whole “I will never be my father!” psychoanalysis had to have a point somewhere. And we end up with nothing even close to being resolved, just a laughably absurd truce, and the whole thing just reverts back to being an allegory of marriage and “Hey aren’t human beings just super fucked up?” Urgh. I don’t have a problem with unsatisfying endings on principle (I am pro-Sopranos finale, amongst other things) but this one wasn’t unsatisfying in a way that makes you think about it, that makes you marvel at the comment it makes, that makes you feel things. This was just unsatisfying in a way that made me regret spending so much time reading the damn book when I could have got some ironing done.
Argh. Rant over. I will state again that I thought the film was a lot better than the book. It left a lot more to the imagination, it came off more coherently as a story, and it was also a very well made and well acted film. Maybe it should have just been a screenplay all along (maybe with someone swooping in and lopping the final act clean off…). I didn’t feel like I wasted my time watching it, even after I was left so frustrated by the novel just days earlier. So kudos to the people who made the film – including Gillian Flynn. You turned me right around there.