Marriage is a contract. We select one person we love and trust, and pledge to continue loving and trusting them until our dying breath. We give them equal stake in all our assets. We promise to be with them and them only. We will eat, sleep, and travel with this person. Their friends become our friends. Our friends become their friends. Their interests become our interests, and vice versa. Words like “we” and “us” replace “I” and “me.” They will have more influence over us than any other person we have ever known — our parents, our best friends, our siblings — even if we have known this person for only a couple of years. We refer to that person as a “partner.”
And, when you think about it… isn’t that a pretty fucking insane agreement to enter into?
(I’ll attempt not to spoil specific plot points, but if you really want to go into this movie cold, you may want to discontinue reading.)
Gone Girl is the latest thriller from David Fincher, who is treading in similar waters to his Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in some ways. And in other ways? Not at all. (Though there actually is a rather crucial similarity between the central mysteries in Gone Girl and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, when you think about it.) When all is said and done, Gone Girl might have more in common with Fincher’s Fight Club in some rather crucial, twisty ways, and also in tone. Gone Girl is, in the end, a critique of our modern way of life, and of marriage in particular. Just as Fight Club had some intriguing and ultimately satirical ideas about masculinity, Gone Girl has plenty to say about the ways men and women relate to each other, in particular once they become lawfully wedded (for better or worse, ’til death do ’em part).
Yes, it is nearly impossible to have a meaningful discussion of Gone Girl‘s themes without massively spoiling the big twist from Gillian Flynn’s uber-popular page-turner. Suffice to say, for the moment, that Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a husband whose wife has up and vanished, an event that quickly begins to uncover just how toxic that marriage was. Nick turns to his supportive twin sister Margo (played by The Leftovers‘ fantastic Carrie Coon) as the world begins to turn on him, as the world tends to do when a dashing husband seems too cavalier in the wake of a tragedy involving his pretty wife. That wife is Amy, portrayed by Rosamund Pike in, I would argue, her first role that demands the world take notice of her. As in the novel, we alternate between seeing how Nick copes with cops and the mystery surrounding his wife’s disappearance, and flashbacks from Amy’s diary chronicling their early romance.
Gone Girl features a number of compelling performances, from Kim Dickens as the competent but confounded Detective Boney, the lead investigator in Amy’s disappearance (and Patrick Fugit as her more cynical right-hand man), to Lola Kirke and Boyd Holbrook as a couple of trashy rednecks whose connection to the plot I shall keep secret, to Emily Ratajkowksi as one of Nick’s sexy students. The media itself is another character in the story, from the sharky celebrity defense attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) to the Nancy Grace-esque Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) to the ruthless Sharon Scheiber (Sela Ward). There’s also Casey Wilson as Noelle Hawthorne, a woman who claims to be Amy’s best friend, and Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, a preppy rich guy from Amy’s past who just might be her soul mate.Amy is a star long before her disappearance makes her the topic du jour on the nightly news; her parents pilfered her childhood in the children’s book series Amazing Amy, which saw Amy constantly one-upped by an illustrated version of herself. As she tells it, Amy and Nick meet cute at a party with banter so rapid-fire the lines seem to crash into each other, enhanced by a disorienting (but very intentional) approach to the editing that comes off like Aaron Sorkin on speed. (Yes, even more speed than Sorkin is usually on.) It’s one of many masterful filmmaking touches in Gone Girl meant to throw everything off-kilter, because unlike most such scenes, we’re not supposed to fall in love with Nick or Amy in this moment. We’re supposed to feel… unsettled. Because there’s something off in this relationship… isn’t there? Is one of these people not who they claim to be? Are they both hiding something? Reasons to distrust Nick pile up as the investigation ensues, and though he claims to be cooperating with the police, he certainly isn’t divulging everything. If Nick and Amy both seem too clever for their own good when first they meet, that’s not an accident.
(And this is the part where I delve into slightly more spoilery material, though I’ll still be somewhat vague about it.)
If you were determined to, I suppose you could make an argument that Gone Girl is misogynistic. Never mind that both the book and screenplay were written by the same woman, and the movie features a number of women in significant roles — there are more influential females in this movie than in any other comparable thriller I can think of. The lead investigator is a woman, and you could argue that the film is from her point-of-view, at least in the first half — she’s the one investigating Nick’s involvement in Amy’s disappearance and also reading Amy’s diary. Additionally, Margo is one of the film’s most likable characters, and one of the more likable screen characters in general recently. (I wouldn’t mind a Nick-and-Margo spinoff a la The Skeleton Twins.) Sure, a lot of the women in this movie come off as bitches — especially those associated with the media — but the men don’t come out looking so great either. There’s one man who is particularly creepy in the way he wants to own and dominate his woman — things don’t turn out too well for him, and it’s hard to feel that bad about it. Gone Girl isn’t any more misogynistic than The Silence Of The Lambs is anti-male. It’s a cool and complicated feminist twist on the kind of story we’ve seen a thousand times, and a lot of it is actually intended to be darkly funny.The book Gone Girl has the advantage of taking us into Nick and Amy’s heads, which the movie can only do in a more limited fashion. That’s how the novel’s Amy wins us over — at least partially — with a rant about “cool girls” that is so dead on, it feels like it should have been made in something less pulpy and beach read-y. Fincher’s version tries to replicate this “cool girl” moment, but does so at a moment that contains such a multitude of new information that I’m afraid Amy’s astute observations about gender roles get lost amidst the plot twists. A lot of Nick’s inner maleness is also lost in translation from book to screen. (The book’s Nick is sort of a douche, while the movie’s Nick is more of a Ben Affleck, which may or may not also be synonymous with “douche” to you.) The gender politics are still present in the film adaptation, however muted, as the film ultimately becomes about the contract of marriage, and how we have somehow decided as a society to put on a game face outwardly and let the disappointments and deceit eat away at us privately, behind closed (and sometimes locked) doors.
I could delve deeper into Gone Girl, because there’s a lot going on here, and I don’t just mean the twists and turns at the most basic plot level. The film starts as a mystery, takes a turn into feminist-tinged character study, plunges into some psychological horror, and the final act is a black comedy. There’s at least one very bloody moment that’s seriously fucked up, and seriously memorable, pushing the envelope in a way that is just barely palatable for the mainstream, as Fincher tends to do. It’s reminiscent of the rape scene in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — a scene invented by Steig Larsson, not the filmmaker, as this one was invented by Gillian Flynn — but Fincher doesn’t flinch. He portrays such disturbing moments as graphically as he should, without watering them down as many other mainstream filmmakers would. (The word “cunt” is also applied more liberally than you’d usually see in a studio movie. It’s kind of like they’re itching for a fight with the feminists.)Gone Girl is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the novel, though it suffers a bit from skimping on the characters’ inner monologues. Ben Affleck is fine in it, though I think another actor might have brought more to the role, so that in the climactic showdown, the involved parties felt more evenly matched (as they are in the book). Nick Dunne needs to be a charming everyman in one sense, but there should also be something potentially dangerous about him, and that’s a quality Affleck lacks. Rosamund Pike, on the other hand, is pretty delicious as Amy, and will likely find her profile boosted a thousandfold from this. Fincher is an ideal auteur for this material, enhancing certain sequences of the book that never quite jumped off the page, such as all that business at the lake house. The second half of this movie is probably superior to the second half of the book, except I wish we’d gotten more from Nick and Affleck.
Gone Girl isn’t exactly a satire, but it does mock the American media and the institution of marriage. It flips the sensational stories about missing and murdered wives on their heads, taking that to the most outer edge of extreme “what if…?” scenarios. Those who are usually victims are, instead, villains, and the usual suspect is instead a victim but not so innocent after all. The media swings back and forth like a pendulum; it can be manipulated like a puppet (Punch and Judy, perhaps), just as any person can if they don’t watch out. And you have to love the idea that women, who are nearly always victims in these sorts of stories (fictional and not), are calling the shots here. Media tales of marriages gone murderous are aimed, mostly, at those very same suburban wives, watching at home while the kids are at school. Who better to exploit the media than one of those very same wives? We’re supposed to feel sorry for Amy Dunne, and everyone knows it, because these stories are meant to be predictable. It’s always the husband, right? Husband = killer. Wife = victim. That story has been playing out over and over again on the news for such a long time.
Going to the movies is a contract. We sit in the dark and tell Mr. Fincher, or whoever, that he can play with us for a couple of hours. We challenge him to make us laugh, cry, gasp, sweat, and think — some combination of those things — and he attempts to deliver. Surprise is a tall order at the multiplex these days, but Gone Girl should astonish anyone who hasn’t read the book (and those of us that have will delight in the way it pulls the rug out from under the people around us).
In a way, Gone Girl seems like Fincher’s answer to a body of work that has otherwise been pretty masculine (with a few exceptions). The blonde doesn’t end up with her head in a box at the end of this movie. (And yet her head is very important.) It’s like Vertigo with even more vertigo. This is a film about, of all things, a woman’s mind, and isn’t that pretty novel? Amy is a powerful character, one with the strength to manipulate an entire genre, and she’s able to do it because we don’t expect much from her. We’ve been trained not to. There are many people who underestimate the titular, supposedly absent female in Gone Girl, and most of them will end up regretting it.
It’s dangerous and potentially deadly to get bored in a marriage — to give in to mediocrity. To settle. There’s a character in Gone Girl who won’t tolerate such a thing; who is determined as hell to wake us all up out of our American stupor. Anyone who walks into Gone Girl expecting familiar story beats is in for quite a surprise, because this is not a movie that will lie down so easily. It has the feisty spirit of the character who turns out to be the killer, and a similar desire to fuck with us. Why? Because it can. Because it’s easy. Because it’s smarter than we are. It knows what we’re expecting — it saw it on the news, as we have. It will toy with us and get away with it, because we won’t see it coming, because we haven’t seen it done that way before, and therefore the possibility never entered our minds. We’re not prepared for a story like this.