Posted by : Patrick | October 2, 2014
At face value, David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014, 20th Century Fox) is a masterful and highly entertaining mystery, the story of a woman’s disappearance, a community’s active interest, and a husband who may or may not have been involved. Standard pulp crime fiction stuff, but on an expert level that will not disappoint filmgoers of the Weekend Movie Night persuasion. For those willing to look a little closer however, there is a fascinating portrayal of modern marriage, the facades we maintain, and the arbitrary nature of our perception of others, helping make this one of the most unsettling movies I’ve seen in quite a while.
The plot starts out in uncomplicated fashion, with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) coming home on his anniversary to discover signs of a break-in and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. He calls the police and the investigation begins. Director Fincher handles these procedural scenes with his usual meticulousness (see Zodiac), with clinical camera compositions and crisp sounds that put people like me in cinematic bliss. Kim Dickens’ detective is a great foil to Nick, his suspiciously unconcerned behavior signaling red flags left and right, echoed and encouraged by her partner and supported by a very implicating diary. And it’s hard not to agree with her, at least in part. He smiles at rallies, poses for selfies with groupie volunteers and maintains a calm, polite demeanor throughout. Affleck is wonderful at this, keeping us guessing as to whether this man is clueless or soulless. We see his point of view on certain things, but it’s just hard to believe him with all the evidence mounting. What’s really true? We’re so used to knowing our main characters right off the bat that it’s uncomfortable to not have a good bead on this one.
This is one of the things Gone Girl does best: discombobulation. The movie is based on the novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), and many will enter already knowing how things turn out (though the author says there will be some deviation), but this film is best seen with as little story knowledge as possible. I won’t discuss the plot in detail as it takes many turns, especially around halfway through, that are unusually jarring. It has a structure that I can only compare to the similarly unnerving Psycho. Years of film experiences have you thinking it’s going one way only to have it shoot off in another. I was consistently thrown off; this movie didn’t play by the rules. In a sea of formula, Gone Girl stands out as a refreshing break, a guessing game that for once actually kept me guessing, with characters whose true motivations were masked. I only knew what they were telling me, but how reliable are the sources?
The bottom line is that the movie takes dead aim at what we think we know about each other. Best friends, twin siblings, husbands and wives; even the closest relationships might be only surface based. Unless you’re in someone else’s mind, you never really know. We become what we must to please who we like and get what we want, but who really gets us? And who would want to? Out in the world judgements are dealt swiftly, with the court of public opinion being played like a fiddle by a merciless, cynical media, and our own friends and family willing to turn on us in response to a single scrap of dubious information. Relationships are fickle, manufactured, held together by string. Maybe it’s better to fake it.
So is that what all you happy couples have been doing for years? Putting on a good face? By all accounts, marriage can change people, and after seeing this movie I’m not sure I want anything to do with it. The movie felt like a tug of war, a he said/she said with me as the awkward dinner guest in the middle of a spousal battle being pulled at by both sides. No one imagines it like that when they start out. We always hear that it’s hard work, but there’s still this idea that life will be perfect after you find your soul mate. Whatever. Gone Girl serves as a blunt warning about men and women’s expectations for each other, and in that sense maybe it really is the perfect date movie. Just don’t be surprised by your sweetheart’s wary sideways glances afterwards.
Gone Girl shook me. Many like myself will see this almost as a horror movie, some as commentary, but regardless it’s endlessly compelling. Deliberate pacing felt slow at times, but methodical, and in truth if it kept going I would’ve kept watching. Its devious nature disturbed me both in content and in form right up until the tonally perfect end, the way only the best movies can. People seem one way, the world seems one way, but they could both could easily be another. Maybe I’m just not seeing it, even though I’m trying; maybe I’m just not looking close enough and it will run me over. But maybe I’m also putting up my own false front. Maybe I need to in order to survive, to make the best of life. How could anyone tell? By the time any clues appear it will already be too late.