Gone Girl, whether you like it or not, and I’m not sure how I feel, is definitely more than a thriller. It is what my old teacher Julia Cameron called an audience picture. But there’s also a kind of naughty gutlessness to it. Like the stick shift on a grand old sports car, the film shifts perspective and emphasis, making it hard to stay landed and concentrated on the matter at hand. There are a lot of ‘establishing’ shots, heavily framed compositions where action segues via diagonal peripherals, like the endless storyboard moments in Hitchcock’s classic Rope. Alfred Hitchcock would be irritated no end, I’m certain. Nevertheless, David Fincher who already spawned scores of copycats with another kind of thriller, Seven (1995), has definitely come up with a unique entertainment, to be sure. He wants to make the audience work hard. This takes guts, right?
Does Gone Girl tell us the story of a man who might or might not have committed murder? Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes off as so deeply self-absorbed that even his friends are completely dubious as to his stated innocence. A ‘blocked’ writer, Nick, protected by tenure, inhabits the cloak of hubris he wears in a smug sort of way. It’s all tenured hunky-dory until his deliciously icy wife, Amy (the beautiful Rosamund Pike) disappears
Three days go by before two jaded homicide cops (Patrick Fugit and Kim Dickens) show up to investigate a disappearance that might be a homicide. Meanwhile, shards from Amy’s diary, read by Amy in voiceover, start to kick in as flashbacks. Is what she says trustworthy? Is what Nick tells the detectives trustworthy?
So far, so okay, but Fincher’s into yanking you out of your expectations. It’s how he gets his jollies! Reality falls off a cliff when we get the explicit surprise ‘sweat and stink’ of back-door sex and gory violence that provided a sudden roller-coaster ride in those surprisingly dated 80s suspense-thrillers like Jagged Edge, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. They were, pretty much, a milieu more or less banished via Seven, and, here, a trope for Fincher to play with some more.
Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (author of the bestselling novel), seem to have in mind the kind of playful post-post modern version of a Julío Cortázar or Thomas Pynchon sort of gory, soap-opera/novella screenplay. It is a nice casting touch to implant Tyler Perry as a Johnnie Cochran-ish weapon-of-war defense attorney and an ingenious cameo from Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s desperately nostalgic former love.
And so the plot shifts back and forth, hither and thither. Is it a deconstruction or parody then? Well, much of the plot ravels around a wedding anniversary scavenger hunt where clues are placed in numbered envelopes that are marked, umm, ‘clue.’ Once that believability factor is ripped away about a third of the way through the movie, it becomes purely an entertainment. A clever bit of fluff, which makes our anxiety evaporate.
David Fincher is a clever, witty director. He wants you to know. Sure Seven and Zodiac (2007) were dry, but Gone Girl is witty—just in it’s own dry way. Fincher, who loves to dwell inside master-shots, has that Panaflex shooting its earthy, faded gliding widescreen camerawork, accompanied by Atticus Ross’ barbed wire and honey synthesizer.
Ultimately, Gone Girl turns out to be a nightmare of frozen love and ultra-violent, uber convoluted vengeance fantasies that toy with all the usual-usual familiar ‘sexist’ tropes spoon-fed to us for generations in storytelling imagery. I mean, yeah, the film is also about how both a psychopath and a film director conspire to create the ultimate nightmare. He’s bad, but she’s no better and it’s all a gag! Fincher is definitely a misanthrope. Just how much Gone Girl succeeds may be a pointer as to how misanthropic the rest of us are also.