You sit in a cafe, having your usual morning coffee; there you stumble upon a radiating beauty, a woman perfect under your eyes that curiosity and lust completely take over your mind. She sits near you, at first unaware of your feelings for her; then with a stroke of luck, eye contact was held, attraction became a two way street. You turn your body towards her and speak; what started off as a friendly chat, became something more; histories are being shared, emotions are covered, you find yourself more attracted to her than you ever imagine. What you have found is perfection; or so you thought.
Gone Girl was first seen at a theatre with only a few amounts of people, mostly middle-aged couples and the occasional young pairings that were either film enthusiasts or blind adventurers. Expectations were no doubt found as I approached it, as this was David Fincher; but my adoration for the director at the time was not as gradual as it is now. Once it was over, I was stunned, at first not by the overall quality of the film, but of the final frame that left me in shivers and terrors. I could not help but feel differently for a couple of moments with the people that surrounded me as I left the theatre; it acted as a reminder of the facade that we all create for ourselves when we find ourselves public, possibly hiding aspects of ourselves either for their own or for our benefit. Rarely has a film left me in a state of melodrama, to actually feel that paranoid about the society that populates around me; I truly thought I was more cynical than that. Great films tend to leave a mark on us, a collection of emotions and memories that would define that particular experience, unable to fade away even as time has passed. I still remember my feelings towards Gone Girl when I was in and left that theatre; it is certainly a special film that reminds us the eternal power of cinema.
The film opens with a face; a face of sadness, disappointment, and frustration. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), frustrated with the life she has lived, the things she had to endure to give her husband the life that he wanted; the idea of fabricating and manipulating every aspect of oneself for someone else’s convenience.
Gone Girl features a storyline that constantly bounces back and forth between its two central characters; Amy and her husband Nick Dunne. Nick’s story begins with a visit to the bar, which he owns and runs with his sister, where we learn about his difficult marriage; it is Nick and Amy’s fifth anniversary and every year, Amy sets up a game for him to play, a treasure hunt that would lead to subsequent clues that tests his understanding of her and their marriage. Nick heads back home where he finds the house empty and the front door open; the living room shows broken and tumbled furniture, suggesting a break in and a struggle between two people. Not long does he realise that he his wife is gone.
Whilst exploring Nick’s side of the story, the film’s first half constantly cuts back to diary entries from Amy that provides the audience background details of their meeting and early days of marriage from her perspective. In doing this, Fincher and Gillian Flynn (who is also the author of the novel) have remained faithful to the source, which precise timing and emotional effect of each juxtaposition help build up the tension of the story and manipulate our sympathies and suspicion. In this first half, we are constantly on our toes, thinking and developing theories in regards to Amy’s disappearance; but even through constant active thought, under our noses we are being manipulated by Fincher and Flynn to believe in a certain way, as more details about the characters are being fleshed out, one cannot help but draw their suspicion towards a particular person; then at the precise moment when our theories have almost become solidified by all the accumulated facts, the film pounces on us, with a turn that would shatter all of our emotions, and changing the film’s overall tone for the next hour or so.
Since reading the novel, my perceptions of the film haven’t truly changed; I still find myself drawn and swept by Fincher’s direction with every viewing, but having read the novel has allowed me to see the characters with much more texture, allowing me to find a better understanding behind their motivations, but still staying intact with the film’s overall themes; it does not add anything new for audiences to explore when reading the novel. I am so glad that Flynn had decided to handle the film’s screenplay; she knows the characters better than any other, and manages to implement changes or omissions in the film that actually allows the mystery of it all and the emotional effect to be elevated.
Flynn had complete trust in Fincher, never needing to over-narrate, allowing actions to speak louder than words. At the early stages of the film, Nick Dunne is seen as the film’s prime suspect due to his inappropriate behaviour and poor decision-making; the novel allows the audiences to immerse into Nick’s mind, hearing his thought process during the entire situation, and through that, it was much harder to be suspicious of him, but we do remain curious on what he could think of to get out of it. In the film, Fincher keeps his audiences distant enough from Nick that our identification and empathy mainly goes towards Amy, as she is the only who provides us any insight on her psychological and emotional processes.
Nick Dunne is a person who is simply trying to do the right thing given the situation, his actions are driven by the common impulsive drive of men; outside pressure and his inner-drive to seem innocent has led to him making decision that are inappropriate, be it a smile for the press or a picture with a female local; these are decisions that are no doubt incriminating but if one is able to see past it, what you would find is a man acting out of desperation rather than unguarded guilt; forcing him to create a facade that attempts to project honesty and faith. His actions become blown up through modern media and networking which act to play with the emotions of its audience, to see him in a certain way in order to elevate a sense of drama. Audiences are more likely to be in tune with their emotional side rather than their intellectual, and the film acts as a sort of reflection on ourselves; to judge on ourselves before we judge others, especially when all of the facts have yet to be laid down. Gone Girl is a mirror to modern society’s flaws; the craving to break down the barriers of privacy and find the most intimate of details. It is sad to see that we live in a world where domestic disturbance have become available for the world to see and judge.
As I have stated earlier, we live in a world where public opinion holds a larger weight than the truth; it only matters how the society sees you, if you are fit to live among them; because of this, the police have relied on the public to drive their cases, go with your gut rather than go with your head. Among all of these lazy law officers is a shining beacon of hope and justice; a person that still believes in diving in deep into the case to find out the inner truth; in Gone Girl this is Detective Rhonda Boney. Boney comes off as a cross of Clarice Sterling from Silence of the Lambs with Detective Somerset from Se7en; she has a firm and tough exterior, with a driven and intuitive mind that demands comprehension in her answers. She does not settle for the clues laid out in front of her, as she understands the complexity of people, that there is always more to them than what they project. Boney may not be a central piece of the film but she does play a large role in emphasising the film’s themes.
After the film’s big reveal, the film shifts its Hitchcock-ian tone of mystery and suspense, and moves on to becoming a Fatal Attraction type of story where it is man vs women, husband vs wife. This half of the film begins to shine a light on the ideas behind marriage; the difficulties, the constant need for control, the importance and flaws of compromise. Amy felt she was oppressed in her marriage, forced to submit to the desires of her husband; playing the stereotype that men crave and easily pin down. Men fear complexity and for them to ensure they live in a household where things are simplistic and advantageous, they use their inherent attribute, their strength and will, towards their spouses, which they would eventually succumb to due to social stigma and their deeply-rooted love for their partner. This isn’t to say that my statement is a fact, but rather a stereotype; a stereotype that Flynn projects in her novel in order to connect with the audience’s fundamental emotions. Amy is no doubt a complex individual, but Flynn does creates her in such a way that we are still able to find some appeal towards her drives and motivations; it is simply her thought process and judgement that makes her a complicated figure.
I found myself gripped during the latter half of the film, just as much I was with the former; Fincher and Flynn keeps you on your toes, unable to anticipate on each player’s moves, especially since Amy found herself in unfortunate incidents later on, which forces her to improvise. It shows the two characters in a much evolved and lethal state; where a sense of respect for one another has been omitted from their relationship. It is an intellectual and emotional battle with high stakes; the winner would show a sense of dominance over the relationship, and I guess in its own minor way, the fulfilment of their egos. Once the final moves of the game have been played, one of them does so with such penetrative grace that it leaves you emotionally pierced and drained for the victim, but also left with a sense of rush after seeing such a competitive match. There were multiple moments throughout the film where I was filled with goose bumps and sweat, due to my inability to contain my immediate reactions.
The film’s photography is breathtaking, taking in familiar Fincher components and using them in such a way to highlight its deeply-rooted ideas and the inner shadings of his characters. Many scenes show its characters with shadows overwhelming their eyes, something that Fincher has displayed with almost all of his films; he does this to keep his characters from being too exposed, leaving a layer of mystery towards them that forces audiences to be engaged actively in connecting with the character. Jeff Cronenweth’s photography captures the tone and atmosphere beautifully, similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we are constantly left in a state of discomfort but this time over-lapping it is the sense of suspicion. We still feel distant towards the atmosphere but curiosity and doubt constantly draws us back in. The audience in the first half of the film, like the camera, is always judging its characters, constantly attempting to define them based on what we learn and see. Cronenweth and Fincher is clearly a match made in heaven, a combination of style and substance found in the craft of photography and imagery; there is rarely ever a moment in the film where the image isn’t attempting to convey anything substantial.
Another favourite collaboration of mine, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on a Fincher film, have delivered once again a perfect collection of musical compositions that precisely captures the gloomy subject and brings out and highlights the shadowy layers of its character’s personalities. Many of the film’s terrors are felt because the score makes them apparent and places the audiences in positions that they simply cannot get themselves away from; think of it like being where Lisbeth was during the sexual assault scene in her guardian’s bedroom. A collection of images, sounds, and emotions that would stay with us for a long time.
The performances from the cast were wonderful, led by the dominating performance by Rosamund Pike. Pike completely loses herself in the role of Amy Dunne; she demonstrates such commitment and intensity in shaping her role; gaining and losing weight, to demonstrate a sense of coldness and threat that would leave those around her frightened, but intelligent enough that she can masquerade her true nature for personal advantage. There isn’t much point going in too much details of the character as it needs to be seen to be convinced. Ben Affleck was also spectacular in the role, as a man who attempts to clear himself from his notorious reputation and at the latter stages, tries to match wits with his conniving wife, even with such physical distance from one another. The supporting cast were also impressive with Carrie Coon as Nick’s sister Margo and Kim Dickens as Detective Boney; pushing for strong female characters that never at a point get lost in their fitting stereotypes. Tyler Perry as Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt, and Neil Patrick Harris as Desi, was also a revelation; breaking down their personal stereotypes, shocking and impressing audiences during the process.
The film ends, recalling the image at the start, Amy’s face staring back at Nick, but this time with a smirk and penetrating look that leaves us frightened, not just for Nick but also for ourselves. Who was this person he married? Does she really exist? Could this woman next to me really be capable of inflicting such harm to another human being? Gone Girl is an amazing film because it challenges us mentally and emotionally, brick upon brick of themes that runs in the veins of its story, world, and characters (I apologise for the mixing of metaphors). Fincher finds himself in familiar ground, telling a dark and brooding tale of our painful realities, but still manages to surprise his audiences by bringing something completely fresh and engaging.