No major plot spoilers are revealed in this review.
David Fincher’s Gone Girl echoes the infamous director’s dark repertoire to a tee: a troubling, yet incorruptible, insight into the ebb and flow of a modern marriage. Gillian Flynn’s novel, which inspired the film, was well-received by both critics and the public for its thematic density and unsettling spin on how marriage influences the way our inner cognitions and impulses manifest. Some worried, however, whether these tropes would transfer to the screen. Holders of high expectations, be warned: the thrilling, wise, and psychological world of Gone Girl is teeming with surprise.
Rosamund Pike plays Amy Dunne, the blonde ice queen who disappears for days without a trace. It’s hard to imagine Pike in another role, as she evokes in viewers many of the questions that Amy’s character should raise: why don’t we have everything we want, how far can we go to get everything we want, and is it our right to see these self-centric desires through? Amy remains at the center of the film, but her character’s unsettling nuances are revealed to the audience at a painstakingly slow pace via dubbed journal entries where she describes her quotidian life as the girlfriend, fiance, and wife of Nick Dunne.
Nick (Ben Affleck), the blasé, disinterested, somewhat vacant central character, works as a creative writing teacher in a fictional town in Missouri, where the couple relocated after losing ambiguous writing careers in New York City. Like Amy, Nick’s opaque disposition is eventually revealed with such subtlety that it almost seems to tap you on the shoulder from behind. The dramatic irony and sardonic twists that characterize much of the plot development in Gone Girl add a touch of chilling, dark humor. After a few of these surprising developments, viewers start to realize that Amy and Nick are as a much a mystery to each other as they are to the audience.
In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami’s main character asks, after bickering with his own wife, if anyone can ever get to fully know another person, regardless of how hard they try. Nick probes this idea in one of the first scenes, when he vocalizes some of the deep-seated questions of marriage and takes an ominous turn: “I imagine cracking open [Amy’s] head, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers.” This inquisition serves as an unattainable light at the end of the tunnel on which the events of the film are centered.
When Nick discovers that Amy is missing, an investigation ensues. Most concerned are Amy’s parents, the authors of a series of picture books called Amazing Amy inspired by their daughter. Amazing Amy is an idealized form of Amy herself: an immortalized figure who transcends perfection and who causes Amy Dunne to self-impose standards of achievement for herself. The series undoubtedly serves as the pedestal Amy’s self-centered perspective stems from throughout the film.
Upon Amy’s disappearance, a national media firestorm descends on the town. At its most obvious, Gone Girl captures the media’s insatiable hunger for a tragic disappearance of a beautiful, blonde, white woman. The film captures that media’s utterly self-serving intentions; While Nick and Amy’s immediate friends and relatives are deeply worried about Amy, newscasters unapologetically manipulate the kidnapping story du jour. The film’s newscasters (Tyler Perry, Missi Pyle) become developed characters that are as developed—if not more so—than the protagonists themselves.
The plot is erratic—throughout this media mania, Fincher intersperses scenes showing Nick and Amy’s romantic early stages, characterized by witty flirtation, audacious sex, and a multitude of inside jokes. The ominous, dark voiceovers that Pike and Affleck employ during these scenes, which verges on camp, is the only edge that reminds viewers that a dissonance between the two “lovers” exists.
The sinister quality reflected in the film’s acting trickles down from Affleck and Pike to each member of the supporting cast. Though the characters are not nearly as mysterious as Nick and Amy, they act as foils to the poles of morality in Nick and Amy’s behaviors, namely Nick’s twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi (Neil Patrick Harris).
Reminiscent of neo-noir romance and edgy Hitchcock darkness—with a hefty dose of postmodern anxiety—Gone Girl is both thrilling and meditative. But the film does not try to achieve the same effect as a crime film; it is decisively unreal and satirical. David Fincher reconciles genre film and art as the sleek (and sexy) story takes form. The initial conflict of Amy’s disappearance seems like a regurgitated plot point, and a little dull around the edges, but it sharpens later in the film as both Amy and Nick shed their perceived roles as consolable victims, and the psychological arousing in which each is involved starts to play out.
That being said, Fincher may go a little bit far in distending the pressure and drama of the story. What many readers appreciate about Gone Girl most is its singular wit that emanates from the script and is inherent to the novel, but which seems to be overshadowed by Fincher’s direction.
As Gone Girl defies one expectation after another, the deceiving nature of appearances becomes clear, predominantly in Nick and Amy’s turbulent marriage. The disturbing potential of marriage, as unveiled in the film, reminds us of how vulnerable one becomes living in someone else’s world.Header image via 20th Century Fox.