Published on October 11th, 2014 | by Dan Gvozden0
GONE GIRL – REVIEW (with spoilers)
“They’re so hard to read, I wonder how dark it gets in there.” This musing is the opening line of David Fincher’s adaptation of bestseller Gone Girl, both book and script written by Gillian Flynn. An image of Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) golden hair floats before us, obscuring her face. As she turns, her indecipherable expression is laid bare. Gone Girl‘s protagonist, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), expresses that perhaps the only way to find out what is going on in his wife’s head is to bash it open and unspool her brains.
This brief prelude does well to establish one of the core themes of Gone Girl, that even in marriage one can never truly understand what is going on in the mind of one’s spouse. Much of the first half of the film is spent establishing and dissecting Nick and Amy’s marriage and in a way that will keep audiences constantly guessing at the truth. Character-based procedurals are nothing new for Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) and Gone Girl injects new elements into his formula, a broken timeline and an unreliable narrator, that keep the film fresh and allow it to transcend genre trappings.
Much of the early success of Gone Girl can be attributed to the wonderful casting choices and performances of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, whose cool voice perfectly matches the film’s visual tone. Affleck stands out as the perfect choice for the mysterious and socially aloof Nick, a character who coasts through life on the back of his winning smile. Affleck’s own public persona has been criticized as being smug and his performances as cold, as if he were holding something back. This plays perfectly into the characterization and the audience’s perceptions of Nick as untrustworthy protagonist.
Fincher enhances this effect in his flashbacks by subtly romanticizing his style with softer transitional effects and idealized performances by the actors. It creates an unsettling juxtaposition, between the flashbacks and present search for Amy, that is eventually paid off wonderfully in a reveal that these sequences were just overly romanticized concoctions from Amy’s misleading diary. By playing this freely with style and narrative, Fincher frees Gone Girl from its procedural trappings and allows for it to play fast and loosely with its storytelling and genre. Later, Fincher returns to the gothic pulpiness of his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but this time with more substance to back up the thrills.
Flynn and Fincher’s compelling narrative also comments on the roles assumed in a relationship and how our public and private personas have grown increasingly connected. Early on, both Nick and Amy comment on how they don’t want to become like another particularly annoying couple they’ve encountered. Both are aware of the personas they will have to put on to sustain their marriage. Amy’s actions of revenge towards Nick aren’t only motivated by her knowledge of his duplicity but by his unwillingness to continue being the person he was when they starting dating.
It is interesting to see Nick slowly come to a realization about how linked his public persona and private life have become intertwined, as all of his actions are slowly picked apart by the tabloid press. Casting Ben Affleck in this role makes the discovery process even more intriguing, especially after how the tabloids treated his relationship with Jennifer Lopez. One cannot forget that in Affleck’s Oscar acceptance speech he shocked the nation by publicly stating this his “marriage is hard work.” It was an unusual statement from an industry that works hard to project a specific image, just as do the characters in Gone Girl.
Gone Girl spends a great deal of time satirizing our media by perfectly replicating its actions, specifically Nancy Grace. However the film’s best commentary on America’s culture and press occurs at a rally to organize the search for Amy when one young women expresses she thinks Nick is really “cute” while another finds him “so creepy.” Soon Amy and Nick learn to manipulate the media and their public personas to send messages to each other, like coded love notes told through television signal.
Gone Girl ends with Nick making the shocking decision that he will stay with Amy, despite horrible crimes she has executed, while the audience surrogate Margo (Carrie Coon) pleads for him to reconsider. This is where Gone Girl hopes to make its most potent commentary about modern marriage and how it is two people choosing to act in certain ways towards each other. There is an idea that some people will stick with the comfort of inertia in a relationship, looking the other way when things start going wrong, that is made akin to covering up a murder. It is incredibly difficult to accept such a pessimistic worldview, even in a world as dark as the one Fincher creates here.
This is in large part because of how Fincher’s film, it seems unintentionally, presents Amy and Nick as uneven in their crimes and characterizations. The film asserts that they are equally terrible partners and as such are fit to end up together. However, Amy is presented so psychotically that the film creates empathy for Affleck’s Nick. He’s the everyday villain and she’s the evil, fictional version.
Throughout Gone Girl audiences are told that Amy has falsely claimed rape several times and faked pregnancies. She uses sex as a weapon, literally and figuratively, and intentionally manipulates the public’s sympathies to earn favor. Amy is the ultimate male fantasy of the “girl who cried rape,” an almost non-existent real-world persona, and it is a characterization that results in all sympathy going towards Nick, despite his actions. The film asserts that Amy deserved her abuses, just for being so psychotic, while acquitting Nick of his own deceptions.
By setting up the characters this way, the film creates an expectation that its end will bring Amy before justice of some kind. To see Nick further place himself in her control, despite all the work he has done to expose her, is wholly disappointing and unbelievable. It works well as a disparaging statement, but isn’t supported by the content and characterization of the film.
Gone Girl is perhaps Fincher’s most devastatingly cynical film. By the end, every single character has given up on their quest for truth. This ideology is disconcerting but also in sharp contrast with Fincher’s masterpiece Zodiac, where characters are willing to sacrifice their lives in the quest for the truth. This cynicism fails Gone Girl’s ending, counter to the film’s previous characterizations, despite Fincher’s remarkable artistry.
Gone Girl is a film with something to say and it is said incredibly artfully. Fincher has directed several wonderful performances, crafted beautiful images, and strung them together on the back of an incredibly engaging script that addresses a multitude of topics. I just have an incredibly hard time accepting its cynicism and what I perceive to be two unbalanced characterizations.