“Gone Girl” ***** (out of 5)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, and Casey Wilson
Written by: Gillian Flynn (screenplay), based on her novel
Directed by: David Fincher
The taste of love is sweet; when hearts like ours meet. I fell for you like a child; oh, but the fire went wild.
– Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire”
Let’s be honest- “love” is a specific and occasionally exhilarating form of psychosis. After all, the emotions and actions of an individual in love exhibit many of the same qualities as a person diagnosed with a mental illness. The ups, the downs, the joys, the sorrows, the praise, the harsh words, the intimacy, the lack thereof- it can be a whirlwind from which some are left literally or figuratively scarred for life. From the viciously stated opening line to the equally bold coda, Gone Girl is a masterpiece portraiture of a relationship gone awry, perfectly capturing that inherent madness of loving, then possibly hating someone with your entire soul. David Fincher, like he is wont to do, elevated potentially sordid and flaky material into a dark, intelligent, ‘mad’ film. The result is the year’s best thus far.
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as Nick and Amy Dunne, a pair that initially appears to be the perfect couple. He’s the handsome guy with the acerbic wit, and she’s the quasi-famous trust fund baby, anxious to live a quieter life. The first act of the film juxtaposes scenes from their happy past with increasingly disturbing scenes from their ‘present’, and catches us up with a particular morning- the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. Nick arrives at a bar to see his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), and has a morning drink. We get the hint that he’s not enthralled with the marriage, and he returns home to find that Amy is gone, and there appears to have been a break-in. Nick, for all intents and purposes, is calm, cool, and collective about the situation, as it rapidly becomes a city-wide, then nationwide search for Amy. The preponderance of evidence, neatly woven with the narrative from Amy’s diary, gently suggests that Nick may be involved- or is he?
An ongoing discussion of the plot following that last line would reveal far too much about the film, so allow me to focus instead on what this film says about men, women, their interactions, their relationships, and in essence, gender roles. While watching this, I felt a connection with the two leads (having understood the madness myself a time or two), and how their words perfectly framed the dissolve of their union. Nick spits out his truths like “I’m so sick of being picked apart by women”, displaying his gargantuan insecurity whilst simultaneously proving their point. Amy ‘s diary contains sharp revelations such as “I forged the man of my dreams” and “What did he expect- unconditional love?” whilst expressing confusion and frustration about why Nick wasn’t the man he used to be. I was transfixed by this fictional couple, and how their relationship ran the gamut of love’s emotions, resulting in what you might call the ‘anti-love story’. As opposed to living happily ever after, Gone Girl appears more interested in the possibility that it’s not possible. Nick and Amy created idealized images of themselves in their heads and to each other. Over time, the pressure of upholding those images led them to a place of deep resentment, springing forth undesirable behaviors, and ultimately, well, you’ll have to watch. Fincher and Flynn may or may not have meant to have all of those issues come through in the film, but I certainly interpreted it that way. Sometimes, I wonder how men and women actually get together at all, considering the vast differences in presentation and interpretation the two sides have. I believe this is a film that understands that, on a primitive level.
Gone Girl isn’t all about Nick & Amy, however. Fincher, again as he is wont to do, goes to an uncomfortable, dark place in order to resolve this story, and as is typical with his films, I was happy to plunge alongside him. There are a number of unexpected and harsh occurrences in the film’s third act, laced with a biting satire of today’s media frenzy surrounding any sort of story that attracts viewers. A man suspected of killing his wife is such a story, and I love how Flynn and Fincher ape the sadistically pointless cable news shows (looking directly at you, Nancy Grace) and their insatiable quest to suck the life out of journalism. I also love how Affleck is able to embrace a character that is nearly a mirror image of himself, distinctive chin and all. Naturally, there’s also a part of this film that deals with an actual investigation, which is handled with intelligence and wit, mostly thanks to the relentless curiosity of Kim Dickens’ homicide detective.
Aside from Dickens, there are standout performances throughout. Relative newcomer Carrie Coon is flawless as Nick’s twin sister, and even Tyler Perry shines. Perry’s casting is an especially smart choice, for when he shakes his head in disbelief at the sensational nature of the happenings around him, the audience, aware of his existing sensational nature, buys the words even more. I’ll reserve a grand heap of praise for both Affleck (whose skill as an actor I’ve doubted many times before) and Pike, for they deserve it- both have never been better. Affleck is at once both chill and possibly menacing, a difficult balance to achieve. Pike is asked to pull off an incredibly varied range of performances, and aside from an interesting take on an American accent, is flawless. Their portrayals are both daring enough to seriously merit awards consideration, if not a complete lock for Pike.
I admit to a modicum of bias toward this film, as Fincher creates films with a distinct visual style that I’m drawn to in a ‘fanboy’ sort of way. On the other hand, independent of my preferences, there is a menacing, psychological genius to this movie like none before it. Oh sure, there are the films of Adrian Lyne, or The War of the Roses, and I’m sure a plethora of other pictures that I haven’t begun to understand that tackle the madness of love, but I haven’t seen anything as bold or ego-piercing as Gone Girl. Fincher’s work continues to take chances, and he varies his subjects ever so slightly. He may just be the best working director. This latest effort is the best film of the year at this point, leaving the audience exhausted from their own whirlwind of emotions. It is almost as if we’re the ones that had to experience the Dunne relationship- for I was left just as charmed, then roused, then complacent, then emotional, then enraged as the characters on-screen. Madness, I tell you.