An author doesn’t always get heavy input on an adaptation of his or her book, much less write the script, but Gillian Flynn, author of “Gone Girl,” got to do just that for David Fincher’s adaptation (2014).
I’ll admit that I don’t always read the book before I see the movie, but I figured I would try to squeeze it in this time since everyone seemed to rave about it. Because Flynn wrote the book and the screenplay, I couldn’t help but pay special attention to any details she changed in the story.
People often like to complain about how “the book is better than the movie” when an adaptation comes out, but I’ve come to understand that an adaptation is just another way of telling a story and has its own value. Screenwriters sometimes take liberties with the original text, but Flynn took a few herself with her own story.
I won’t go over every little detail Flynn changed, but I’ll highlight one. In the novel, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) attorney, Tanner Bolt, is white and married to a black woman. Flynn took time to emphasize this when Tanner called on his wife, Betsy, to help Nick prep for a TV interview:
“A gorgeous, six-foot tall black woman answered the door.
‘Hi, Nick. I’m Betsy Bolt.’
In my mind, Betsy Bolt was a diminutive blond Southern-belle white girl.
‘Don’t worry, everyone is surprised when they meet me.’ Betsy laughed, catching my look, shaking my hand.” (421)
In the movie, Betsy Bolt doesn’t make an appearance, and Tyler Perry — who is black — plays Tanner Bolt. This casting decision could have been made for a variety of reasons.
Race can be a touchy issue in film (“The Hunger Games” (2012), anyone?), so a deliberate change in a Bolt’s race is particularly interesting. Tanner and Betsy make a great power couple in the book, partly because Nick — a Missouri boy who didn’t grow up in a racially diverse community — sees them that way. The pair complete each other. Him with just the right amount of dignified authority, her with just the right amount of charm and level-headedness. They’re yin and yang. Black and white. They have a balanced marriage that counters Nick’s own troubled one with his missing wife, Amy. Flynn’s novel needs the healthy marriage to bring normalcy to Nick and Amy’s crazy story.
Perry’s Tanner is designed to combine book Tanner and Betsy’s personalities. He’s well dressed, refined and a public relations guru, the latter of which is not something all attorneys are capable. (As the daughter of a lawyer, I feel like it’s all right for me to say that.) Physically, the person cast as Tanner had to emulate both Tanner and Betsy. As a man, Perry brings masculinity to the authoritative Tanner. As a black person, Perry brings Betsy’s minority status that might otherwise be considered a hindrance.
Maybe a black woman wouldn’t seem effective enough on film to whip Nick into shape. He certainly does have a problem listening to women. Perry’s Tanner doesn’t hesitate to admonish Nick, and Nick doesn’t hesitate to take his commands in the movie. But maybe Flynn still wanted a minority to take control of a white man who is not used to a minority taking control.
Or maybe Perry’s casting was just for simplicity’s sake.
Regardless, “Gone Girl” is worth the time in print and on the screen.