Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction

Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.

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This episode: DARK PLACES

Book by Gillian Flynn

Movie screenplay and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner


The Book:

            As a novel writer, it might sound biased to say that there is nothing negative I can say about it. Gillian Flynn is the master of creating utterly flawed characters (both inside and out). She gives them terrible circumstances and lets the inevitable disaster play out. Libby Day, the main character, is the embodiment of Broken. Her childhood was impossible, made worse by the slaughter of her family and subsequent conviction of her brother, Ben, and she grew into a hateful woman desperate for her next payday. She’s stunted at the beginning of the novel, but somehow, through the pursuit of the truth in her family’s murder, she evolves. Not necessarily into something better, but something approaching better.


The Movie:

            I’ve always wondered what reasons screenwriters have for changing seemingly innocuous details in a novel’s narrative. Murders in October rather than January, a story about a horse named Yellow rather than a porcelain bunny on the toilet, a dead aunt… A good chunk of the details in Dark Places are changed, as is wont to happen in adaptations, but most of them seem manipulated for taste, rather than to suit the story. Character relationships are changed, too, and while some (like Patty’s relationship to her loan officer) suit the story better, others (like Lyle’s overall character and his relationship to Libby) do more harm than good.


The Battle:

            “There’s a meanness in me, real as an organ.”

            So begins both the novel and movie versions of Dark Places, but only in the novel is that meanness portrayed with any believability. Libby’s private thoughts give the reader unique insight into that meanness, and how much it drives her actions. The film tries to compensate with voice-overs of lines from the novel, but they only distract. Casting choice didn’t help, especially in the case of Libby Day. We lose her childishness in the movie, which is an important element to her character.


            Casting for Patty Day and Ben Day, however, are spot on. In both mediums, Patty is my favorite character. She has, arguably, the biggest burden thrust upon her, and does the most to rectify it. She’s uncomplicated, but any change in her character and her character wouldn’t have carried the necessary weight.


            In the case of Lyle, his character in the movie version takes on too much of Libby’s responsibility from the book. It stunts the narrative and overshadows Libby’s evolution.


            Both the movie and the book show how easily lives can be ruined. With a word. A single act. But the continuity provided by the film—and the ability of the medium to leap from one scene to the other without the words needed to orient a reader in time and place—make for stunning visuals that can’t be drawn from the written word.


            The winner here is the novel, though not by the landslide as I originally anticipated. The Dark Places movie holds its own and for that it deserves to be watched. 

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