It’s been awhile since anything really interesting and review-worthy has released (or it might be due to the fact that I’ve since moved to Connecticut and started law school). As a fan of Gillian Flynn’s psychologically turbulent thriller, I knew “Gone Girl” would be a must-see…and who better to direct than David Fincher, the grandmaster of contemporary noir cinema?
At first blush, “Gone Girl” is the story of struggling writer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) abruptly disappears on the morning of their fifth anniversary. Raised as a child of privilege – and as the inspiration for “Amazing Amy,” a series of children’s books written by her parents – Amy has clearly grown apart from her husband, numbed by their drab suburban existence (at least, that’s how it is in Nick’s telling). Without revealing too much, the film unfolds in nonlinear fashion, deploying unreliable-narrator twists along the way. What emerges is a tangled web of half-truth, infidelity, alienation, and betrayal – one which rips away the veneer of contemporary civility to expose a viciously Nietzschean tension between husband and wife.
Fincher has clearly brought his A-game to this project – and it would be hard to imagine a better synthesis of director and subject matter. Backed by a buzzing, insidiously ambient electronic score (composed by longtime Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), Fincher conjures up a menace-drenched masterpiece. The sense of impending doom that suffuses his entire filmography is certainly present here, at once both repellent and hypnotic. Additionally, Affleck and Pike are perfect in their parts – one couldn’t ask for a better Nick/Amy. And perhaps most impressively of all, the black comedy of the original novel isn’t lost in the translation to screen. “Gone Girl” isn’t totally downbeat, despite its gothic subject matter.
At its misshapen heart, “Gone Girl” is a stark indictment of humans’ desire to remake one another to suit their idealized fantasies. Some commentators have treated it as an indictment of marriage itself, but this is too narrow a view: marriage is but one of the spheres which these broken protagonists decide to weaponize. Tensions between family and career, wealth and fulfillment, and masculine and feminine expectations are all factors bearing on the tragedy that unfolds onscreen. And what a tragedy it is – baroque in the best of ways, kept from melodrama by the steady hand of its director and cast.
“Gone Girl” is a dark, brutal, emotionally twisted drama that’s obviously not for all audiences (there’s sexual content and a memorably grisly scene of violence). It’s also a wrenching study of social power dynamics, and a brilliantly crafted piece of neo-noir that raises questions of identity, projection, and manipulation.
I can’t recall the last time I saw a movie where the audience was stunned into absolute silence as the lights came up. That pretty much says it all.
A grim, but thoroughly compelling, mystery-thriller that ranks with Fincher’s best work.
Normalized Score: 7.9
(An important addendum: one of the film’s most trauma-inducing visuals is the sight of Neil Patrick Harris – the legendary Barney Stinson – wearing a blazer over a polo shirt. I was appalled.)