David Fincher’s latest offering, Gone Girl, attempts to explore the touchy-but-often-untouched topic of marriage as a modern institution and it does so as a crime thriller. Gone Girl is Fincher operating at peak directorial capacity as it is brutal, uncompromising and won’t be leaving you head-space any time soon. Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name (and the screenplay is penned by Flynn herself), it concerns a man called Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who, when returning home from a bar on the day of his five year anniversary, discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. The police investigation and news media covering the event soon turn their gaze towards Nick, branding him as a ‘sociopath’ and accusing him of murdering his wife.
Like Fincher’s – arguable – masterpiece Zodiac this is a crime thriller without the most crucial aspect: the crime. It is a film with an absent centre. The true absent centre isn’t just Amy’s lack of screen time but when she is on screen – firstly through flashback – she is somehow etheral, an effervescent presence that is never truly ‘in’ scenes, but a peripheral figure that float above them. She is ‘Gone’ in the sense of her disappearance and subsequent voice-over and flashback based existence but when she appears on screen she appears internally ‘gone’ and not quite there and a lot of this is due to Pike’s mesmerising performance. The varied use of flashbacks and ‘real’ time adds to this sense of Amy being there but also simultaneously not being there existing purely as memory, something which later in the film is revealed to be not the most reliable source of information.
It’s not quite at Zodiac‘s level, but that is no bad thing.
At it’s heart, Gone Girl is a satirical and biting commentary on modern marriage and almost every aspect revolves around that. Even the media, which may seem secondary to the plot exemplifies what Americans conceive of as the ‘ideal marriage’. However, we are shown that is no such thing. Additionally, the media storm surrounding Amy’s disappearance shows that the public want one thing: A good story. In public life, a good story is power and we are controlled by good stories (I’m sure you can think of numerous examples of crimes happening to white, middle class women and girls and their subsequent reportage). The media knows this, and in their world truth is rarely a good enough story. We want closure, motivations and neatness but in the real world, we rarely get what we want
Looking back, the plot seems completely ridiculous and over the top but it hardly ever feels so silly even when Fincher is throwing twist after twist at you. Maybe this will trouble and perhaps alienate some viewers, but for me it was all part of the fun that Fincher was obviously having.
To reflect the ambivalence and coldness of Amy and Nick’s ‘true’ marriage, almost every set (especially the Dunne household) is almost capricious and culpable in its cleanliness. It’s too clean and so sterile that it’s emasculating. This also highlights the procedural nature of the police investigation and the overall tone of the movie. I’d argue one of Fincher’s greatest attributes is, in a macro sense, his ability to convey and sustain an appropriate tone. Fight Club wouldn’t work without it’s eccentric pacing and often bubbly tone, Seven and Zodiac‘s sepulchral power derives from their uncompromising and suffocating tone, and so on. As a movie, Gone Girl feels cold to the touch as there is a very noticeable distance between Nick, other characters and us.
Speaking of which, Affleck is understated and superb as the under-fire Nick. He is our protagonist, our hero. We see his faults but recognise that, at heart, he is a good guy. Yet under Affleck’s supervision he remains suitably distanced to make us have a flicker of doubt in our minds. I shall not give much away regarding spoilers, but let’s just say that Rosamund Pike is phenomenal. I mentioned some of her attributes above and she is certainly an awards contender here.
I’ll steer away from spoilers, but the ending is particularly socially questionable – or socially empowering. It could provide ammunition for MRAs which is in no way a good thing. Which ever way you read it, it either lives up to stereotypes and folklore about women or appropriates said stereotypes in an attempt to expose them as myths. This is another discussion for another time though.
Regardless, this is one of the most interesting and thoughtful films of the year and despite is long running time never feels strained or unnecessary. David Fincher, Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck all at their best.