The story of Nick and Amy Dunne is about to be immortalized in the upcoming Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike film Gone Girl — as much as a film can capture the convoluted tale the novel spins, anyway. From the Gone Girl soundtrack that's available for streaming online to the numerous trailers that been released, we've all been forewarned of the feels we'll get from the haunting, terrifying, intriguing case of Amy Dunne's disappearance. However, is art imitating life here? Gillian Flynn, the author of the novel, made good use of the media and their rush to convict a seemingly guilty man for Nick's particular case, but is Gone Girl based on a true story? Yes and no.
As with any author, Flynn based aspects of the Gone Girl story on real-life details. In an interview with USA Today , she says that she and Nick, for example, were both pop culture writers for many years before getting laid off from the company they had given their lives to. She and Amy were both sadistic youngsters, something Flynn admits in an autobiographical essay titled "I Was Not a Nice Little Girl". And, of course, the intense media scrutiny surrounding Amy's disappearance, and the fact that Nick was convicted in the public eye long before there was ever enough evidence to arrest him, is taken from numerous real cases over the years. Aside from those personal touches, however, the plot of Gone Girl is wholly original. Well, mostly.
Although Flynn claims that she didn't do much research on procedurals, when asked if Gone Girl was based on a real case she did tell Entertainment Weekly in 2012 that, "One could point to Scott and Laci Peterson — they were certainly a good-looking couple... It could be any number of those types of cases, but that was what kind of interested me: the selection and the packaging of a tragedy. In a way, I reverse-engineered some of it. What’s going to amp up the media’s interest in this, and what’s going to make it believable that the media’s going to descend on this?"
Scott Peterson is a convicted murder who was arrested in 2003 on suspicion of his involvement in the disappearance of his wife, Laci Peterson. Many of the details of the Peterson case resemble the details of the Dunne case. Spoilers ahead. Like Gone Girl, Laci Peterson was reported missing from her home in 2002 and, like Amy, she was said to be pregnant at the time. Like Gone Girl, the story was the subject of intense media scrutiny. Like Gone Girl, Scott Peterson was initially above suspicion due in part to the support of Laci's family and friends. And, like Gone Girl, it was later revealed that Scott was having an affair and he lost his support from Laci's family as a result. Like Gone Girl, even now, Scott maintains his innocence — though unlike Gone Girl he is currently on death row in California.
According to another interview that Flynn did with The Sacramento Bee , the Peterson case might be similar, but it's not her direct inspiration. "He has got that vibe. [Nick Dunne] is certainly not Scott Peterson specifically. The idea [is] that we are consumers of tragedy now, that we cast our heroes and our villains and we become very invested in them. And certainly Scott Peterson was one of those cases." Flynn certainly has a point considering that Scott’s court case had to be moved to a different place due to the sheer amount of hatred and vitriol he was receiving from people in his own neighborhood, much like Nick who finds himself even under suspicion from his own twin sister with whom he has always been very close.
Considering the fact that Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder of his unborn son, it would be a bit insensitive for Flynn to have based Nick on him and clear him of the conviction in the end. However, the idea that she was basing her novel around is certainly an interesting one to explore. Scott Peterson was convicted long before the judge ever sentenced him and what happens in a situation like that when the person in question didn’t really do it? Ultimately, Gone Girl isn't based on a true story as much as it based on a true idea that persists in our day and age: public opinion can be as damning in a court case as the evidence itself. Just ask O.J. Simpson, who is still considered guilty of the murder for which he was actually acquitted.
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