Less than 15 minutes after walking out of director David Fincher’s masterful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl yesterday, I was on the phone with my best friend attempting to make sense of what I’d just seen. She’d seen the film 2 days earlier, and, unlike me, she’d actually read the book. We were still talking about the movie over an hour later, and even after ending our conversation I found myself struggling to fall asleep, my mind racing. I had expected Gone Girl to simply be a vaguely clever, black comedy satire of the Scott Peterson-Laci Peterson media circus from 2002. It was all of that and so much more, with an ending I can’t get out of my head.
Stop reading right now if you haven’t read the book and/or seen the movie
How the film ends
Amy (Rosamund Pike) spends the majority of Gone Girl framing her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) for her own murder as payback not just for his infidelity but also for turning out not to really be the amazing man she thought she’d married. Then he puts on the performance of a lifetime on a national talk show, apologizing for failing his wife but maintaining his innocence in her disappearance and begging her to come home. That version of him, although it was just an act, is the man that Amy wants to be with.
Of course, once she returns, explaining away her absence with a sob story centering around an ex-boyfriend-turned-stalker whom she was forced to murder in self-defense (poor, poor Neil Patrick Harris never saw that boxcutter coming), Nick wants nothing to do with her. He is too scared to even sleep in the same room with her, and actively plans with those who know the truth to expose her lies to the world. Then she traps him in their relationship, using a vial of his sperm to impregnate herself with his child thus ensuring he’d never abandon/betray her. He has no choice but to continue playing the game, appearing as the ever-doting husband by her side when they announce her pregnancy on live television. The film ends with a reprise of Nick’s opening voice-over about the horror of marriage being that you never know what your spouse is thinking (“What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”), at which point Amy turns to face him with a brilliantly mysterious look on her face:
Didn’t they change the ending from the book?
For months now, the scuttlebutt was that Gillian Flynn, in adapting her book into a script, had devised a new ending. Apparently, some thought it was a good idea to make a change because the book’s ending wasn’t universally adored.
How the book ends
Pretty much exactly the same as the film, with only surface level differences and the subtraction of one ultimately inconsequential character, i.e., the mother of the guy Amy killed. Plus, Amy knows about Nick’s plans to betray her in the book whereas in the film it more seems like she merely anticipates such a turn without any real certainty that it’s something he’s actively working at.
Why did we think the ending was going to be any different?
Vulture.com went to Flynn for answers:
We were never actually thinking about changing the ending. I can tell you how it happened: There was a quote from David that kind of got misunderstood, where Ben had said, “Oh my gosh, Gillian threw out the whole third act!” Well, I probably had. When I rewrite, when I find something’s not working, I’ll try to Frankenstein it and everything, “Ah! I’m going to rewrite it!” So I was streamlining the third act and figuring out what scenes to put in there, but I think people thought that meant I had thrown out the ending. And then that got picked up by all the aggregation sites, and pretty soon, it was [reported as] me who was saying it, and bragging about it. I did a Reddit thing where I tried to clarify, and then it was being reported, “Stepping back from her earlier comment that she had thrown out the ending, Gillian is now saying …” It was like, “Ugh!” They don’t even bother to check the original source.
It was fun watching it take on its own, weird life, and watching different people start weighing in on it. And also, they could have … I’m pretty accessible. They could have actually called and gotten me on the phone, or gotten someone, and I would have happily clarified it. But after a certain point, we were like, “It’s sort of fun to just let it have its own life.”
Yeah, but what does the ending actually mean?
If you’re still a bit confused, unsure what to make of the way the film ends then it doesn’t so much matter if it’s different or identical to the book. What, ultimately, is Gone Girl trying to say in that final moment? Here’s one interpretation, from WhatCulture:
The [final dreamy soliloquy with Nick and Amy] is the film’s real ace and where Fincher’s aims really lie. Although the movie is an incredibly extreme case, the sort of compromise and façades Nick and Amy are engaging in are, to an extent, universal. The questions Nick asks about his murderous wife are the same a regular husband asks about his loving partner and the desire to be the happiest couple out there is common motivation to overlook various ingrained issues. It’s not a condemnation of marriage or even love, but a show of how in the fog of a relationship glaring issues can be ignored in a bid to maintain the status quo.
Amy’s concentration of modern romance into an act of attaining the “Cool Girl” is an incredibly cynical outlook that serves as an embodiment of how many people fall in love with the idea of a person, rather than the person themselves. And while in Nick’s case he fell for a psychopath who is seemingly only capable of this sort of manipulation, it’s easy for two utterly unsuitable people to end up forging a life together.
What about you? Had you read the book, and did you expect the film’s ending to be different? What do you think the point of the ending really was, or did WhatCulture kind of nail it? Take to the comments.