Gone Girl Review: Plunge Into The Dark Abyss Of Marriage
Posted on October 7, 2014
Gone Girl begins at dawn, amidst the obscure, muted-blue light of daybreak. This mid-western town is still, innocent, asleep. The ambiguity of this diffuse light, the mysterious, otherworldliness of twilight, cultivates Gone Girl’s intrigue. There are wisps of a crime documentary here, the setting of context through location snapshots, glimpses of buildings and places that are abandoned, lonely, static. It’s the quiet before the storm. Out from this silence David Fincher (the director of Seven, Fight Club and The Social Network) builds his film with a furious, kinetic energy, unafraid to shock and confront, dragging us with him, until we too are active participants in his cutting satire.
Gone Girl begins life as a noir-esque thriller, essentially a kidnap saga. Our ‘gone girl’ Amy (Rosamund Pike) speaks to us through her diary. Amy’s voiceover charts the rapid decline of a marriage from powerful attraction to fear, while husband Nick (Ben Affleck) casually shows detectives around the sumptuous home he shares with her – now a crime scene – and courts public favour. Fincher’s film is stylish, seductive, even sexy, but these are not the reasons Gone Girl will endure.
What’s most gripping about Fincher’s Gone Girl are not the twists and turns, of which there are many, but its unflinching attempt to jab and cut its way into the dark, bleeding heart of modern marriage. This is solid writing from Gillian Flynn, adapting her own book, poking at the foul, soiled and malignant in long-term relationships. Partners know the very worst parts of each other and in Gone Girl this becomes a kind of perverse attraction.
“Jabs and cuts its way into the dark, bleeding heart of modern marriage”
There’s also a much more delicate and contentious question about societal pressures, particularly those placed on women, at work in this twisted tale. Amy’s life runs parallel with that of Amazing Amy – her parent’s best-selling fictional creation and the perfect woman society demands. Fincher is fearless here as Amy takes down the sexy, sympathetic ‘cool girl’ as a fabrication, a pretence to please men, in such vivid language that will make you instantly recoil before ultimately cleaving to her genuine, unvarnished feelings. Amy’s thoughts are harsh, abrasive, shocking, but they spark a crucial debate – a debate society and the movies needs to have.
Both Nick and Amy, then, are embellished versions of themselves with airs and graces designed to ensnare the opposite sex. Disrobed of their costumes it is their marriage that pays the ultimate price. Affleck and Pike are unmissable here. Awards season nominations would not be amiss, their subtle, chilly chemistry creating its own ambiguity. Nick’s musings that he would like to ‘crack open’ Amy’s head to get at the thoughts inside is no less vivid than Amy’s ‘cool girl’ tirade. Fincher’s entire film serves to equate wedlock to mystery, ambiguity, even death. The essence of Gone Girl is this tangled psychology of marriage.
That neither Nick nor Amy can be entirely trusted is something Fincher toys with from the beginning, drowning out Amy’s recollections of implausibly witty flirtations with disconcerting score. Is Amy donning rose-tinted spectacles, are her memories embellished, romanticised? Are they a dreamy sweetener like the dusting of sugar Nick wipes from her mouth before he kisses her passionately for the first time? Was it ever this good? Do her memories even matter?
(Un)reliability and its consequence, ambiguity, is the fuel that propels Gone Girl. At the outset, Affleck’s Nick is cool, matter-of-fact, noticeably unworried. Affleck’s is a performance designed for speculation. Why does Nick behave this way? Who is he? And has he done it?
“Gone Girl reveals something much darker and more profound than simply whodunit”
The result of all these unanswered questions is speculation. Fincher makes a cutting satire of media news coverage and our innate fascination with the macabre. Nick’s green errors – like smiling in front of Amy’s ‘Missing’ poster – are catnip to those behind the cameras and the public turn on him without second thought. Lives are carved up, unceremoniously dissected by chat show hosts and media junkies, only to be put back together again by those expert at massaging public perceptions. Yet even as we watch this nightmarish satire unfold before us, we cannot escape our own flash judgements, our own ill-advised speculation about who might be responsible for this terrible crime. Fincher’s brilliance here is unrivalled. The appeal of his whole film is built on our willingness to speculate, our enjoyment of it, only to draw attention to the negative consequences of such speculation in an age where ignorant opinions have an instant audience. Even Gone Girl’s trailer entices prospective audiences with a did-he, didn’t-he premise on which to conjecture.
The genius of Gone Girl lies in Fincher’s dexterity with the language of film, his ability to turn ambiguity, mystery, to his advantage and reveal something much darker and more profound than simply whodunit. Gone Girl’s satire is witty, often funny, but Fincher’s film is also firmly rooted in the state of the times. Even Nick and Amy have experienced the economic crash and suffered as a consequence. It’s this ‘here and now’, this near perfect encapsulation of twenty-first century relationships and societal pressures, that will keep audiences returning to Gone Girl time and time again. The dangers of snap judgements in the age of Twitter and the twenty-four hour news channel, along with the pressure to massage public perception of our own lives, works almost as a companion piece to Fincher’s The Social Network. Rather than asking whodunit, perhaps the most pertinent question Gone Girl asks is, who are we?
VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ 5/5
Running Time: 149 minutes
UK Release Date: 2 October 2014
Images: © TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises