Watching David Fincher’s Gone Girl yields the sensation of free falling from the edge of space. Everyone has their version the dream of plummeting towards the ground at maximum velocity only to wake in a jolt just milliseconds before colliding with the Earth. In this film, that jolt never comes. We begin our descent carefully only to lose control almost immediately, and for nearly two-and-a-half hours, it never stops.
David Cronenberg recently described A History of Violence as being his rendition of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage. My first instinct was to say the same of Fincher in relation to his film, but the longer I watched, the more a crucial difference revealed itself: Gone Girl doesn’t approach the intimacy of either of those films. It’s not about that. What instead unfolds is a kind of landscape painting of the paranoia that beats at the heart of every relationship, the slithering reality that no matter how intensely you love, care, and try, you are by the very nature of your existence sealed off from the person to whom you’ve lain yourself bare. The most you’ll ever see or know is only that which they allow, and it’s almost always plagued by artificiality. It’s not that people in love are blind to this fact; it’s that they hardly ever come to terms with it before it’s too late.
In the case of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunn (Rosamund Pike), the “too late” surfaces in the form of Amy’s mysterious disappearance. Nick walks into a bar he owns with his sister Margo creatively named “The Bar” (“meta”, as a character says early in the film) looking drained and disheveled. He tells Margo everything’s fine, but they’ve shared too much for too long for her not to see through it immediately. In fact, the longer Amy is missing, the more transparent Nick seems not just to Margo but to an entire community that appears to know more about Amy Dunn than Nick does. The two have been married for 5 years, yet when interrogated about his wife’s disappearance, he can’t seem to recall any of her interests, her friends, her daily occupations, or even her blood type. Is there anything he does know? As suspicion builds and evidence snowballs, the world begins to turn on Nick Dunn, and eventually, so do we.
One of the great pleasures of the movies is that of being completely knocked backwards by the twists and turns of the stories they tell, so of the plot, I’m satisfied in saying that’s all I can reveal. What can be said is that unless you’ve read the source novel, it doesn’t matter what you suspect this movie might be; you’re wrong. There is a moment approximately an hour into the picture when the entire shape of the narrative seems to change right before your eyes, and from that point forward, you are at the film’s mercy. In an age where things like plot, story structure, and discipline are met with derision in favor of laziness masquerading as naturalism and subtly, the beauty of David Fincher’s method is in watching him spin the threads of labyrinthine plots so precisely that they become inseparable from the film’s dramatic evocations. He blends the initial terror of psychological dissection with the eventual black comedy so seamlessly that you hardly ever take the time to appreciate just how much you’re laughing. I can’t tell you why it’s funny – that would spoil the first of many surprises– but I’ll tell you that it’s not the laughter that’s of value; it’s the cumulative sinking that grows with each one. At times, it is easy to become distracted by the high-gloss, infinitesimally scrutinizing nature of Fincher’s filmmaking, but beneath the 6K imagery is a filmmaker impassioned by in ideas, relationships, and the exoskeletal haunts that scuttle about the crevices of the human mind.
I am aware that I’ve gone an entire review without actually having discussed the movie in any significant way, yet it’s so good in so many subtle ways that to pick it apart so clinically seems cruel, not just to the film, but to you as readers and potential viewers. Here are the fundamentals: Ben Affleck gives as magnetic a performance as he’s ever given, and it’s clear that his experience as a director have made him a better actor; Rosamund Pike provides an award-worthy performance that seems to lie even as it convinces; Gillian Flynn’s screenplay simultaneously flirts with and inverts a variety of genre tropes to craft something truly captivating and original (the novel was also written by Flynn, so she’s ultimately ; Fincher does as described before and does it as brilliantly as ever; and the partnership of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross may very well be on their way to another Oscar nomination.
If none of that is enough to convince you to shell out your money and see the film as soon as you can, then consider this: in an interview with Empire, David Fincher claimed that he wanted to “…make a date movie that results in at least 15 million divorces.” That seems like a typically acidic piece of humor from Fincher, but after seeing Gone Girl myself, it strikes me as particularly hollow. The film, to my surprise, isn’t even slightly cynical about the concept marriage. It’s jet black in every regard, but at no point does it strictly dismiss the beauty and intimacy that comes with a relationship. It’s a movie that shatters the fantasy of marriage but not the reality of it. “It can work,” it seems to suggest above the deceit, only to wince at the quiet utterance of, “… temper your expectations.” That is because Fincher is not, as many have framed him, a lightless pessimist determined to poison hope’s well. He explores what he sees as being the truth, and while it often forces the audiences to reach into places they’d rather keep sealed, he also an artist capable of providing immense consolation. At 20, I can’t claim to know anything valuable about sustaining a healthy marriage, but in the coming weeks, I envision the film seeding far more solutions than Fincher might realize. Or perhaps that’s simply what I have to tell myself.