Movie Review: Gone Girl

When I think of my wife, I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains, trying to get answers: What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?

The somber, contemplative voice of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) speaks these words as he slowly runs his fingers through his wife’s hair. As the dreadful soliloquy comes to its inexorable end, the woman shifts her gaze upward. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) cracks a chilling smile.

Thus begins Gone Girl, David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel of the same name. What follows is no less disturbing, a glacial two-hour-and-twenty-five minute luge down a winding track of lies and infidelity. Trust is the theme in these parts, and by the time the film hits the half-hour mark, trust should be in short supply.

We first follow Nick Dunne, a seemingly average, suburban middle-aged man living in New Carthage, Missouri. In the late hours of the morning, he stops by a bar — operated by his twin sister Margo — and orders a suspiciously early bourbon. It is his fifth anniversary, he reveals, and is decidedly unenthusiastic about the whole thing. Brooding over his glass he enumerates his grievances. Their marriage is not a happy one at present; Amy is controlling, manipulative, always making him feel as if he has somehow failed to live up to her very high expectations. The typical things people say about their spouses five years into a marriage.

But that’s the rub. You don’t know it yet, but therein lay the seeds of doubt which will blossom into full-blown incredulity as the story slides towards ineluctable catastrophe.

Nick Dunne returns to his McMansion in the suburbs following the morning’s libations. He calls out to Amy, but receives no reply. Walking into their living room, he finds a glass table turned over and shattered. He calls the police.

Who took her? Where is she? Is she still alive? These are the questions typical of the “disappearing wife” trope, but questions Gone Girl indulges only in passing as we are escorted through the sickening anatomy of a crime scene by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her skeptical assistant Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit). Interspersed between questioning, investigation and Nick’s curiously half-hearted efforts to solicit aid from the people of New Carthage are excerpts from Amy’s diary, describing in great detail the circumstances of the Dunnes’ relationship, from their happy courtship in New York City, through the slow dissolution of their relationship following the loss of their jobs during the 2008 recession and their reluctant relocation to Missouri, to the final, pivotal moments where we begin to question whether or not Nick Dunne is really the man he presents himself to be.

That’s the genius of Gillian Flynn’s script. If you look at just the bare elements, Gone Girl is a story about marriage. Not a rosy, romantic story where boy meets girl, proves himself worthy of her affection, and the two live happily ever after, but a true story. A story without an objective narrative.

Because that is what marriage is really like.

I will practice believing my husband loves me but I could be wrong.

I have been Nick Dunne, out of work and so dejected by lack of prospect that the mere act of waking up in the morning seemed a Sisyphean effort. My wife has been Amy Dunne coming home to find her unemployed husband sitting on the couch, playing video games. I have been the shiftless, layabout deadbeat. She has been the unsympathetic nag. We have experienced the same events in such wildly different ways that if we were to recall them one would wonder which of us were telling the “truth”. But if there is a truth, it often eludes us. All we have are our own perceptions and interpretations to guide us, and those imperfect recollections are what shapes audience’s relationship to Nick and Amy Dunne.

All of the secondary and tertiary themes fall into place around our distrust of the narrators and often tease at our sympathies, shifting them in vastly contradictory directions as the minutes tick by. We pull for the police, and then question their competence. We want to believe in the essential goodness of the New Carthage common folk, only to later see them as an impassioned mob, whipped into a fury by cable news anchor Ellen Abbot (Missy Pyle) — a not-too-subtle jab at HLNtv’s Nancy Grace — who assumes Dunne’s guilt without him ever being charged with a crime. And as we are led to believe Abbot’s foil, the criminal defense attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), is little more than a smug, ignominious defender of misogynists and wife-killers, we come to find him an honest counterpoint to Abbot’s sensationalist speculation. Gone Girl is quite literally a perfect narrative in this respect. Everything has its place, everything propels the story forward in some way. Not a second is wasted.

You two are the most fucked up people I’ve ever met, and I deal with fucked up people for a living.

That is not to say, however, that Gone Girl is a perfect film. It is a story of such graphic extremity that it often descends into the absurd. This should not be a problem for those whose belief is easily suspended, but those whose minds are intractably grounded in reality may find the story more laughable than engaging.

Narrative aside, Gone Girl is very much a David Fincher movie, replete with Fincher atmosphere and imagery. The cold color and the huge, wide open sets evoke memories of Fincher’s more recent productions: ZodiacThe Social Network, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The film also mark’s Fincher’s third collaboration with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor (and producer/collaborator Atticus Ross), whose sparse, droning score goes mostly unnoticed, gradually rising from the depths until the tension of a scene absolutely demands the distorted leads and pounding synthetic drums for which the now-middle-aged industrial rock icon is known. Gone Girl is movie only Fincher could have done right, and only Reznor could have scored.

I would just feel safer with a gun.

Overall, I hold a very positive opinion of the film, but some may disagree with me. Despite being an entirely tangential criticism, it would be remiss not to discuss the film’s content in light of recent attention paid to the issue of domestic violence. Though it cannot be discussed here without dropping a few major spoilers, I think it prudent to at least note that some may see the film as a big, shiny, Hollywood-produced endorsement of MRA talking points. Doubtlessly, some MRA goons who go to see Gone Girl may walk away feeling somewhat more convicted, but those would cases of people reading too deeply into a story. Gone Girl isn’t about domestic violence, or how men are treated by their wives or by women more generally. Gillian Flynn’s story is about dishonesty, about unrealistic expectations and the inevitable failure to meet them. The basic narrative, like all narratives, is simply a retelling of an older narrative, twisted in some way to (appropriately) defy our expectations.

Suffice it to say, Gone Girl is a very good film. It may not be Fincher’s best — even he would have to admit Seven is tough to top — but it is a strong contender for second-best (or third, depending on whether or not you liked Fight Club… but I’m not allowed to talk about that).

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