Gone Girl is a film that’s incredibly hard to write about. Not because I’m torn about it’s quality, but because the less I say the more effective the film will be.
This is one of the finest thrillers ever. But Gone Girl is not content to be just a wodunit (or, more specifically, a whowilldoit). It also wants to be a satire against news as reality TV and how the traditional institution of marriage is unraveling at the seams. Gone Girl even has a lot to say about gender politics and the continued existence of conservatism. But ultimately, Gone Girl is an exploration of how humans relate to each other and, despite all the discussion of love, maybe it’s impossible to two people to really be compatible.
That’s a lot for one movie whose ad campaign has painted it as a vague story about a man named Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who is searching for his missing wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). I have not read Gillian Flynn’s novel – though people tell me the film is very similar, Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay) said that she wrote a different ending to make sure no one has the surprise ruined. But it’s difficult for me to imagine the material being as effective outside of film. So much of why it works depends on the construction of the story and the shots of the outside media that are reporting on Nick and immediately declaring Nick to be guilty of murder long before any body is found.
Sound familiar? That familiarity is what was so engaging for me. I felt as though I had already seen Gone Girl as I was watching it. I even almost recognized the attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry…yes, Tyler Perry). He was eager to appear on TV long before he was ever hired by anyone, which has become the second career of almost every attorney in the nation. And the appropriately loathsome Ellen Abbott character, who is a cross between the crazed Nancy Grace and the insufferable Rachel Maddow, perfectly leading the witch hunt against Nick.
But let’s go back to how the film is constructed. I can really only talk about the first act or I will completely ruin the experience for everyone. But that gives us enough to work with. The film goes back and forth between the beginning of the relationship and the current situation when Nick finds his wife missing. We see their first meet, which ends with them covered in sugar. We see them unemployed, moving back to Missouri, and the growing distance between the couple. And we see Nick start an affair with with the breathtaking Andi (Emily Ratajowski). And we see Amy worried that Nick may just kill her to get rid of her.
I’m not praising those moments, which are recounted by Amy via her diary. They are stilted, unrealistic, and convenient for the plot. But (minor spoilers) that’s the point. It’s kind of like Double Indemnity, where Walter Neff is desperately trying to make sense of what happened to him as he narrates his own story. Nick barely seems aware of his relationship with Amy, which makes him look worse to the public. It makes the second act twist that much worse. By the third act, Nick is no longer in control of his life.
If I want to compare it to any other film in David Fincher’s filmography, it is 1997’s under appreciated The Game. Like that film, Gone Girl boils down to the story of a man who is being hurt by forces he never fully understands. Even by the end, he is not sure if what is happening to him is real. It’s certainly well outside of his control.
But at least Nick Van Orton volunteered to play “the game.” Nick Dunne was only seeking what everyone wants – a strong relationship with a person they love. Gone Girl views our normal way of life as a prison. There have been many comedies about marriage and its effect on people. Usually, it comes across as a visit from the Cheap Laughs from Next Door. Gone Girl makes the audience fill that same entrapment. What’s worse is (possible spoilers) there might not be any escape.
Gone Girl is nothing short of amazing. The film works well as a thriller, but there’s so much more going on that it’s almost impossible to articulate it in one review. Those who are looking for a traditional film noir that will remind them of the classics of the genre will be perfectly satisfied. Those people will be completely satisfied. But those looking for more will find it and will find a lot of it. Fincher has somehow managed to create his own populist framework as an expression for big ideas. Gone Girl fits nicely into that canon. I wish films as good as Gone Girl were released every weekend.