Movie Review: Gone Girl

Image via Wikipedia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One thing you should know about me is that I am a total wuss when it comes to things that are even remotely scary. I never watch horror films, and I avoid most crime shows, because “CSI” gives me nightmares.

This is because I’m more frightened by scenarios that have real-life potential. I’m totally fine with White Walkers, Nazgul, and Dementors, but serial killers and kidnappers? No thanks!

So I surprised myself by going to “Gone Girl,” the adaptation of the bestselling thriller by Gillian Flynn. I hadn’t read the book (see reasons above), but I had heard enough about it to know that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. However, I figured that since the twist had been spoiled for me by the blogosphere, I could handle the suspense.

Holy moly, was I on the edge of my seat! I made the mistake of seeing this movie in theaters at 10pm, causing me to lose a lot of sleep. Be forewarned: your mind will be reeling from replaying scenes over and over–not to mention, it will make you doubt your trust in your loved ones and go to bed with one eye open!

For those few readers unaware of this story, it follows Amy Elliott-Dunne, who has gone missing on her fifth anniversary to her husband Nick. Nick is immediately suspected for her disappearance, especially after investigators discover her diary that describes his past aggression and violent attacks toward her.

Image via E! Online

Once the public hears that Amy was pregnant and Nick had been committing adultery with one of his students, all hell breaks loose and he is branded as a wife-killer. It’s up to his legal defense and his sister Margo to help him escape imprisonment and possibly the death penalty.

What I wasn’t aware of was how early the twist is revealed. I won’t spoil anything, but once the plot develops, it becomes an exhilarating new kind of story. Between the two unreliable narrators, it’s a race to the finish on who will be the more convincing.

As a former journalist and student of media studies, what I loved most about this film was its spotlight on the importance of public perception during high-profile court cases. One only has to look at the cases of O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and even Darren Wilson to understand that how people view you is infinitely more vital than your verdict.

And the media holds all the power…

Whether you’re guilty, innocent, or awaiting judgment like Bill Cosby, your reputation is everything. Nick Dunne was fighting not only for his life, but also for his name. It’s intriguing to theorize how “Gone Girl” would have been different if Nick and Amy swapped genders or if they were people of color. Privilege is often the greatest ally you can have to protecting your perception.

If you’re looking for a movie that will keep you up at night thinking, then “Gone Girl” is for you. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are absolutely fantastic in this Oscar-worthy film directed by David Fincher (the genius behind “Fight Club” and “The Social Network”) and written by author Gillian Flynn herself; Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry are excellent at playing their parts as well.

I may not have planned to see this movie, but I’m so glad that I did!

Can a Book Ever Make a Reader’s Life Worse?

“I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over. . . I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all,” read Mark David Chapman at his 1981 sentencing hearing.

Last week I stressed the importance of reading and lamented how people aren’t doing enough of it. With all of its mental and emotional benefits, you can gain so much from reading that it’s difficult to imagine any downsides.

The New York Times did just that in its piece, “Can a Book Ever Change a Reader’s Life for the Worse?” Writer Leslie Jamison discussed this question by referencing Mark David Chapman’s obsession with The Catcher in the Rye as his motive to assassinate John Lennon, and other murderers who were inspired by literature.

Jamison also revealed that one reader relapsed back into addiction after finishing her novel The Gin Closet about a woman’s struggle with alcoholism. This reader sent Jamison a note filled with blame:

“I picked up this book at a thrift store for 10 cents. That’s right and it was the worst 10 cents I ever spent. So depressing and it placed me in a horrible place. Back to drinking and taking drugs. Even tried to slit my wrists. A terrible dark story about nothing worthwhile. No inspiration or hope anywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself. No good will ever come of this book.”

I can’t imagine the guilt that Jamison must have felt after receiving this letter. Although the addict alone is the cause of her relapse, words are certainly powerful enough to persuade someone to behave or believe a certain way.

I think all media is capable of this power, not just literature. Criminals have also imitated movies, television shows, and video games, so it would be naive to say that books don’t possess the same capability to influence.

However, blaming media for the actions of others is wrong, because those who are mentally sound know the difference between fact and fiction. Books can enhance the dark recesses of our minds, but I think that the direction of influence is important.

I believe that people like Mark David Chapman who possess dangerous urges are drawn to stories that amplify them. Books don’t cause murders; murderers find solace in certain books and will often use them as excuses for acts that they know are wrongful.

The Collector by John Fowles: the inspiration for many crimes, most notoriously for the murders conducted by Leonard Lake, Charles Ng, Christopher Wilder, and Robert Berdella.

As for Jamison’s relapsed reader, there is nothing wrong in recognizing one’s own limitations. People suffering from addiction, depression, eating disorders, or other mental illnesses can often find comfort in reading the stories of others, but many won’t–and that’s okay.

Because I have a vivid imagination and a tendency to suffer chronic nightmares, I avoid horror stories like the plague because I know that they would make my life worse. Even crime dramas like “C.S.I.” trigger me, so I’ve discovered that it’s best just to steer clear of them.

That’s not the fault of horror or crime stories, and I would never suggest censorship to make my life easier. Sure, it’s difficult in October when movie trailers for the latest slasher flick pop up during commercial breaks, but plenty of other people love them. Just because we can’t handle something does not mean we abolish it for everyone else.

So can a book make your life worse? Yes, but only if you let it.

Audiobook Review: Something About You

Image via JulieJames.com

Rating: 4 out of 5

It’s certainly been an eventful week, as I moved the last of my stuff into my new apartment and celebrated a close friend’s bachelorette party this weekend. It’s about to get even busier too, since I officially start my new job tomorrow (Thus, Masterpiece Monday may be postponed until I get the hang of my new schedule, or re-formatted to a different day entirely. I’ll keep you posted about my plans.)

With all the traveling that I’ve been doing the past few weeks, I’ve been able to finish another audiobook. This one was called Something About You by Julie James. I’ve read James before, so I had no doubts that this would be a fun read.

The novel features the relationship between Cameron Lynde, an Assistant U.S. Attorney from Chicago, and Jack Pallas, an FBI agent. The two met under tense circumstances, when Cameron was pressured to not press charges against a crime lord which Jack tried to take down.

Three years later, fate brings them together when Cameron witnesses a murder and Jack is assigned to the homicide case. Their icy dislike for one another soon melts into some electric sexual tension, especially when Cameron’s life is at risk and Jack becomes her personal security.

James has a background in law and lives in Chicago, so all the legalese felt natural. With four other novels under her belt, she’s quickly becoming a bestselling name in the world of romance. I also enjoyed Just the Sexiest Man Alive and Practice Makes Perfect, and her two other titles in her FBI/U.S. Attorney series on currently on my to-read list.

It was my first time listening to a romance novel, which was entirely different compared to the humorous memoirs of Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Chelsea Handler that I listened to earlier this year. Something About You is pretty steamy, so hearing the love scenes out loud amplified the experience.

A bad narrator can completely ruin an audiobook, but luckily Karen White did an excellent job given the circumstances. Although I would prefer a man to read male characters so that the dialogue sounds more realistic, I was engrossed nonetheless. Let’s just say on one road trip I missed my exit because I was so engaged with the story.

So whether you’re an amateur or veteran when it comes to romance novels, try listening to an audiobook version of one. The genre’s already great for escapism, and Something About You is a fun, sexy read to get sucked into. Just make sure that if you’re listening to it in your car, pay attention to the road!

Masterpiece Monday: The Trial

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

It took me almost a month, but I’m finally done with Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925). Unfortunately, it did not enthrall me like his short stories, but at least I can cross it off my 5 Classics I Really Want to Read list.

The story follows Josef K (referred to mainly as “K.”), a bank official who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a crime unknown to both him and the reader. For an entire year, K. must seek legal advice from lawyers, relatives, love interests, and fellow accused men.

All this effort proves worthless, however, since K. is captured the night before he turns 31. Dragged to a quarry outside of town, he’s placed on a butcher block. Aware that he is supposed to grab the two men’s knife as they pass it back and forth to commit suicide, he refuses and lets them stab him in the heart–in his words, “Like a dog!”

It was not the subject matter which made me dislike The Trial. Kafka’s morbidity is intriguing, and his prose is engaging. Like many existentialists, Kafka’s life was so influential on his work, and therefore extremely fascinating to literary critics.

Born to a middle-class, German-speaking, Jewish family in Prague, Kafka suffered from alienation and self-loathing. His relationship with his father was strained, and his five siblings all died prematurely, his two brothers when Kafka was a child, and his three sisters during the Holocaust after Kafka had died of tuberculosis.

Much of Kafka’s personal life has been left to interpretation, with theories ranging from schizophrenia, anorexia, and homosexuality. A deeply private and troubled man, Kafka never intended to gain fame from his writing. In fact, he explicitly told his closest friend, Max Brod, to burn all his work after his death.

As much as I empathize with Kafka’s wishes, I am glad Brod ignored them. Otherwise, we would have no record of one of the greatest writers of all time. While I don’t consider The Trial Kafka’s best work, I appreciated its reference to another of his stories, “Before the Law.”

Kafka’s own legal background inspired his occupation with the machinations of the government and justice system. If he was not a man without a niche, struggling to find his place in the world, his insights would not be nearly as powerful. It’s simply amazing to think that this novel foreshadows the horror that is to befall Europe in World War II. Although his life could never be described as peaceful, I’m actually glad it ended when it did, rather than witness the tragedy that would take the rest of his family.

Favorite Quote: “Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of my case I wanted to finish it, and at the end of it I wanted to begin it again?”