Love is blind. So is hatred. There’s no denying the beauty of romance. But when the flowers begin to die and the moon rises high in the night, slowly we start to see the ugly side of love: the lies, the selfishness, the need to control. Thing is, sometimes we want to remain blind to these things, so we dress it up to maintain the fiction of our lives. Director David Fincher understands this perhaps even better than most relationship counselors do. Gone Girl is a frighteningly accurate depiction of a love that’s self-sustaining in its self-destruction, a film that captures what it means for two people to truly deserve each other, where both are out to tear each other’s throats. It’s a film about marriage.
Nick Dunne loves his wife. Or so he says in the public eye. In a more intimate moment, he talks of bashing her head in so he can find out what’s really going on in that brain of hers. She turns up missing afterwards, on the day of their anniversary no less – a day that he admits he was going to ask her for a divorce. As it turns out, he’s been having an affair with a bright young college student. Hate the guy yet? Everyone else does.
Amy Dunne is terrified of her husband. Or at least she claims in her diary. In it, she illustrates a love that blossomed in months and quickly turned into a battlefield for the next few years. She talks of abuse, torment, and neglect. She buys a gun in fear of her safety, believing he could kill her at any moment.
Did Nick kill his wife? Perhaps the more obvious questions is, does it really matter? The pieces align perfectly, so there’s no point in searching for the truth. Besides, it’s always easier to believe in a tragic love story than a twisted fairy tale.
Like the book, the film emphasizes the importance of narrative and how an audience’s perception can influence the outcome. Thus, Nick was doomed from the get go. Aside from the thriller element and an undeniably Hitchcockian vibe, the film is a brutal characterization of the media. TV show host Ellen Abbot is an obvious play on Nancy Grace, whose relentless assault on Nick proves just how hungry the media is for a villain. It also shows how the public is apt to believe what they see on TV. Nick witnesses it for himself as Ellen makes an outrageous claim that he and his twin sister Margo are possibly engaging in incest, and viewers everywhere eat it all up. Therein lies the sad realization of our culture: no one cares about the truth, but rather their version of it that matches the headlines.
With Gone Girl, director David Fincher has crafted his very own suburban noir. Nick is the masculine anti-hero while Amy is the duplicitous femme fatale. Fincher is a master of the genre, transcending the tropes and finding clever ways to execute a scene. Almost every character in the film is framed in an enclosed space. Using mostly static shots, Fincher creates an eerie environment where characters are trapped in their circumstances. Nick himself feels the walls closing in as he discovers a holy grail of evidence in his sister’s tool-shed. The same thing happens as neighbors and paparazzis chase after him at his wife’s vigil, forcing him to retreat into the back of a cop car. It’s the only handheld shot of the film, but it literally shows how he’s being implicated in his wife’s murder.
Whereas most films get lost in the translation of adapting a bestseller, Fincher’s got a vice-like grip on the material. He’s a veteran of book-to-film adaptations, having directed movies like Fight Club and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to stellar results. And he makes one hell of a film with Gone Girl. It’s easily his most accessible film in years, but I’m hard-pressed to say so because it’s also a cold film about courtship. Gone Girl isn’t afraid to show the inherent selfishness of relationships and how we compromise ourselves to suit the other person’s needs. It’s a hard truth, and only a filmmaker like David Fincher is brave enough to say so.
Fincher brings out the best from his lead performers. Ben Affleck is as open and vulnerable as we’ve ever seen him. Shooting this film must’ve been more like reliving an all-too-familiar nightmare as over a decade ago, he too was portrayed unfairly in the spotlight. But the real star of the film is Rosamund Pike. Her portrayal of Amy is so terrifyingly precise that it’s downright creepy. Pike embodies every aspect of Amy and taps into the frightening psychology of the character. She’s a woman who can make your dreams come true, or turn them into your worst nightmare. In essence, she’s the perfect wife.
Tyler Perry is another standout performer. Here, he brings a nuanced layer of charm and charisma. Rather than exploding on screen as he’s done numerous times in his own films, he displays a unique restraint that’s crucial to both the story and the performance. The guy is every bit as memorable as Nick and Amy, and that’s impressive despite coming in halfway through the film. Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are equally effective as supporting players, but the unfortunate weak link in the bunch is Neil Patrick Harris. He isn’t quite the possessive psychopath that Desi Collings was in the books. I was hoping for something a little more sinister. Instead, he mainly exists to define Amy’s true sociopathic self. Nevertheless, Neil Patrick Harris is far more chilling than you’d expect, and that’s enough to partially serve the story, if not the character completely.
Gone Girl isn’t Fincher’s best, but it surely is one of the best film adaptations to come out in recent years. Of course, it helps to have the author adapt her own work to maintain the artistic vision. And Fincher nails it, every beat, every frame, every move. Once again, he demonstrates his precision on atmosphere and storytelling. What’s disguised as a thriller is actually a bleak observation on love and marriage. In other words, it’s the perfect date movie.