Gone Girl: The devil you know, the marriage you don’t


Gone Girl is the perfect, thrilling antidote to your favorite romantic comedy’s cheery, pre-marriage optimism. This is the autopsy of a marriage, still fresh with the smell of murder and deceit. The set-up is deceptively simple enough. Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears from her home. Her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) is left as the number one suspect. Their situation is pre-made for media consumption—the husband who kills his wife, how dreadfully typical—but as the film’s weathered detective notes, the simplest story is often not the accurate one. Twists and turns will abound and shock, and oh do they sting in the best and worst ways.

Helpful in maintaining this air of mystery is splitting the autopsy between two eyewitnesses, which are Nick and Amy, naturally. Each take their turn to document the relationship. In the present day, Nick navigates the ensuing media frenzy and suspicions of the local police while unraveling the mystery of Amy’s absence. In the recent past, Amy and her diary entries note her dazzling courtship with Nick and their later descent into mutual misery. We soon learn to distrust Nick and Amy, as we should. Gone Girl itself is split into two as well. After the twist (you’ll know what I mean), the latter half of the film switches gears to a more plot-driven, wicked section. This makes for fun viewing, but difficulty writing a review. Any more plot details risk spoiling the malicious pleasures of each twist that Fincher will spring on you, so I’ll restrain myself.

Suffice it to say, Fincher is pre-occupied with the demons embedded in marriage—fear, distrust, deception and control. Amy’s recollected courtship scenes have a perverse idealism that makes the incoming realities of marriage all the more awful to digest. At his most vicious, Fincher does not need to create the evils in their marriage, but merely flip on the proper light switch. He materializes the invisible and visible violences behind coupledom; this is at turns repulsive and frightening, but never boring. Expect a nagging sense of unease and paranoia when you leave the theater. Perhaps watch Dolphin Tale 2 instead with your Friday night date rather than risk forecasting a bleak future shared together, fighting for control.

Fincher’s concern with the politics of marriage invariably swings to contemporary gender politics. The story twists a knife right into the bloody heart of our fears, but offers no easy allegiances to the police, to Nick or to Amy for processing our dread. Gender becomes just another scalpel in the toolkit for domination and coercion by men and women alike. One particular aspect—it will go unnamed for the sake of spoilers—has troubling implications that may read misogynist, but perhaps is more symptomatic of Gone Girl’s general fear of everyone’s reprehensibility. Fincher is playing a game with us. Do we read Amy as a twisted feminist icon or merely a woman gone amiss? The debate is up to you. Both Nick and Amy will learn how to play their gender to play a different kind of game—the media. The media’s inability to represent private lives with accuracy, willfully or not, adds another dash of fear to the toxic brew.

Nick’s consistent dread stems at how his private marriage has morphed into public spectacle wounds him. This forces him to court the media, in spite of its savage tabloidism. Such pain at the disappearance of comforting boundaries—private and public, love and hate—permeates Gone Girl. There is a charged, telling shot early on. In their early, diary-recollected courtship, Amy and Nick saunter down an alley laced with sugar in the air. The sugar frosts Amy’s face into the gray visage of a corpse. Nick streaks the gray off Amy’s lips before they kiss. In Fincher’s universe, death and romance are sewn together. And it is a very natural alliance.

The film offers a case-study in clinical, analytical precision. The editing and cinematography operate like a well-oiled, brutal machine. The technical virtuosity tugs you along through the disturbing ride, keeping your eyes glued even as you are repulsed. The performances are spot-on in an almost uncanny way, particularly the ferocity and control at display in Pike’s eerie performance. Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris also offer interesting performances that go refreshingly against their typecasting. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor add a haunting score to the picture. Their previous collaborations with Fincher on The Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were ferocious and dark, as needed. Gone Girl picks up the same edge in those films, but stirs in moments of odd elegance through the score and editing. It only makes the aforementioned knives drive in deeper. Fincher’s ultimate goal is to shock. Amy, Nick and their surrounding cast will be driven to the brink. And you will be driven to the brink too. It’s a dark, pulpy and fascinating ride bursting with cynicism and tension. Just watch it. Don’t be scared of strangers when you leave your seat; be scared of your partner.