Search Results - Gone Girl archive

Gone Girl: The Archive

Before we get back into books, let me do an archive for my “Gone Girl” pieces. Around the movie came out I did some “Meddler” posts where I attempted to fix some plot holes in the book and movie:

Later I did a post about using different voices, and used a still from the movie to illustrate it, but didn’t really examine the book or movie at the time:

Finally, I did an Annotation Project breakdown of the first ten pages, followed by some follow-up posts, including two more in-depth pieces about different voices:


Negative Example Posts: The Archive

Hey guys, I’m going through old posts as I think about the next book, and something occurs to me: A few of you have asked for me to do some “how not to” checklists on bad movies, but I’ve done a lot of deep-dives into bad movies over the years that have never gotten spotlighted in the sidebar, so I figured I’d devote a post to archiving those. (I have a bit more to say on “Educated”, and I need to do my end of the year round-up, but I haven’t figured out what I’m doing next, so I’ll just do this for today.)

Green Lantern and John Carter:


Pacific Rim:

Bridge of Spies:

Edge of Tomorrow

What's the Matter with Superheroes?

What's the Matter with Hollywood in 2013 (Man of Steel, The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness, etc.)


Gone Girl


The Meddler: The Archive

This was a series I did where I would take a movie or book, break down all my problems with it, and then pitched my rewrite of all or part of it. I just had a blast re-reading these.  I put a tremendous amount of work into these.

New Oscar Podcast

Hey guys, there’s a new Narrative Breakdown podcast up about 2014 movies just ahead of tomorrow’s Oscar ceremony. We start with Selma, and I say the pretty much the same things I said here on the blog, but after that we cover…
  • Nightcrawler
  • Whiplash
  • Snowpiercer
  • Boyhood
…and most of my thoughts on those movies go far beyond what I said on the blog, so check it out. We also discuss Edge of Tomorrow, which I’ll discuss here on the blog next week, so you’ll get a preview of that.

I think that this is the best one we’ve done. I’m working on my presentation skills so I pictured Tyler Perry from Gone Girl throwing a peanut at me every time I was about to revert to my verbal tics, and that helped!

I, Too, Have Thoughts About Serial…

Some have requested that I share my thoughts on “Serial”, the smash-hit podcast that re-examines the conviction of a man named Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend when they were high school seniors, 15 years ago.  Well soon back to Do the Right Thing (which is now tragically timely)...
I’m obsessed with true-crime stories in general and false-conviction stories in particular, devouring every detail in cases such as the recent exoneration of Ricky Jackson. As a result, I’ve become convinced that false-convictions are far more common than most people think, and there are probably tens of thousands of wrongly-convicted people in America’s prisons, especially dark-skinned men.

That said, I’ve now listened to every second of “Serial”, and I’ve never seriously doubted for even one of those seconds that Adnan Syed is guilty.

Here’s the thing: This series is clearly not aimed at a typical true-crime audience, and it seems to me that its success is somewhat predicated on that unfamiliarity. The production values and philosophical tone peg this as true-crime for listeners who thought they were too sophisticated for true crime, which gives the show a fresh perspective and makes it a good listening experience, but also gives it license to be frustratingly naive. Koenig is a veteran reporter, and I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, but it’s a little odd that she herself adopts such a credulous persona here. On one level, this is a smart narrative choice that makes her into a compelling hero, but it can lead to some eye-rolling.

The problem is that many of the supposedly exculpatory aspects that Koenig dwells upon would be seen as non-issues for an audience familiar with this sort of case. Here are four big ones:
  • #1: She keeps focusing on the fact that, while Syed had some motivation, he didn’t have enough. Wouldn’t he have just shrugged off the break-up?
...But who has a good motivation to kill an 18 year old honors student? Nobody. There’s no good reason to do it. But it keeps happening. Most not-for-profit murders don’t make good sense to anyone but the murderer. We have her diary saying that she doesn’t know why he can’t just get over the break-up. That’s more proof-of-motive than you usually find in such cases.
    • #2: She focuses on the fact that there are dozens of discrepancies in the various accounts, and the main witness’s story changes somewhat each he tells it.
    ...But this is always true. There has never once been a murder case without baffling discrepancies and inconsistencies in honest testimony. The only time this doesn’t happen is when everybody “gets their story straight” beforehand. What we call “memories” are a crude compromise between our actual sensory input at the time and the shifting self-narratives we craft in our heads. This whole series shows why it’s almost impossible to convict a millionaire (like O.J. or Robert Blake) of a crime, no matter how obvious their guilt is: because any case, even if it’s “open and shut”, starts to seem improbable if you have enough time and enough money to pick apart every inconsistency.
      • #3: She focuses on the fact that Syed is a nice, charming guy on the phone.
      ...Again, this is very common. Have you noticed that pre-recorded messages that keeps reminding her that she’s talking to an inmate? There’s a reason for that. Many, many prisoners are nice and charming, and you have to keep reminding yourself who you’re talking to. If he’s guilty of doing what Jay says he did (killing with several days’ premeditation), it would be weird if he didn’t have that affect: Listening to him talk, he sounds as if he could be a innocent, affable guy or, just as likely, he could be a charming psychopath. They’re hard to tell apart. Psychopaths, because they have no core self, are very good at becoming the charming person who you want them to be.
        • #4 She focuses on the fact that there’s little physical evidence.
        ...This is also very common. For the most part, cases with physical evidence don’t go to trial. If you’re nailed, then you’re nailed. If there’s a trial, it’s almost always a “he said / he said” case like this. This is why it sucks to be a prosecutor, defense attorney, or juror. The overwhelming pressure to make a plea deal creates a situation in which every jury decision is a pure judgment call. To a certain extent, Koenig is falling prey to the “CSI effect”: she shouldn’t be so surprised that there’s no smoking gun evidence introduced at trial.
          On one level, I shouldn’t be surprised at all by the popularity of the show: it combines the excellent radio journalism of “This American Life” with the compulsive thrills of the true-crime genre. But I still find it a little odd, for a few reasons:

          I always listen to “This American Life”, and the pilot for this show ran as a regular episode of that show, so I listened to it at the time, and enjoyed it, but I decided at the time not to make the jump over to the Serial podcast, because it seemed as there wasn’t going to be enough meat to the story. After all, Koenig had already made clear from the outset that no new big piece of exculpatory or condemnatory evidence would come out, and no new trial would be triggered, so it sounded like the whole 12 hours would be circling over the same ground already covered by the pilot. Now that I’ve gone back and listened to the whole thing, I find that it is well worth listening to, but my original opinion hasn’t changed. This isn’t really a “serial” in that it has no cliff-hangers and really no plot progression, just an ever closer-examination of the same evidence.

          In addition to the lack of “Ah-ha” or “Gotcha” moment, there are other reasons that, of all the true crime stories out there, this one doesn’t seem like a particularly good candidate for a 12-part series:
          • Too many trial participants refused to be recorded (the detectives, the prosecution, the key witness, etc) or died (the defense attorney), so we’re still getting a very incomplete picture, even after all this investment.
          • Of the people who are on tape, there’s a distinct lack of “real characters”. Simply put, nobody is “giving good tape”. There are no weirdos or slicksters or dim-bulbs or tough guys that might make you say “Wow, I could just listen to this guy talk forever.” The case is just kind of dreary. There’s not a lot of personality here.
          • There’s no outrage factor. There are so many hundreds of “Innocence Project” cases with outrageous abuses by the cops or prosecution and/or infuriating incompetence by the defense. There’s not really any of that here, from what we’ve heard so far. This is just a very typical case, no matter how life-shattering it was for the victim and the accused. There’s some value in re-examining a more typical court conviction but 12 hours is pushing it, especially when there are so many more fascinating and/or infuriating cases out there.
          The most baffling thing is that this show has proven to be more popular than “This American Life” itself, which has been producing superlative downloads every week for almost twenty years, including many, many true crime stories even more compelling than this one. If you discovered this show independent of TAL, then do yourself a big favor and dive into the TAL archives. They do a lot of stuff other than true-crime, but here are ten of their best true-crime episodes that you can start out with:
          1. #210: “Perfect Evidence”, on DNA exonerations and false confessions.
          2. #356: “The Prosecutor”
          3. #385: “Pro Se”
          4. #387: “Arms Trader” (This is a good example of an crime episode with just as much ambiguity but lots of huge plot twists, wild personalities, and the cheerful participation of the both the defense and the prosecution, led by a merciless young go-getter named Christopher Christie)
          5. #405: “Inside Job”
          6. #414: “Right to Remain Silent” (with amazing secret recordings by a whistleblower cop)
          7. #419: “Petty Tyrant”
          8. #487 and 488: “Harper High School”, Parts one and two
          9. #507: “Confessions”
          10. #536 “The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segarra”
          Anyway, that’s my two cents. Feel free to let me know in the comments if I come across as merciless as Chris Christie...