The Unsettling Beauty of Gone Girl

October 3, 2014

From the second the studio logos hit the screen in the opening of David Fincher’s new film Gone Girl, the atmospheric, dreamy, too-good-to-be-true score sets in, leading us into the home of Nick and Amy Dunne. From the opening credits onward, the story of this couple is slowly peeled back, but by a pacing akin to relentless scraping. That’s not to say the film is in any way messy. In fact, the first act of Gone Girl is tensely clean, cutting back and forth between Amy, narrating the sweeping love story’s origins, to Nick, in the aftermath of her sudden disappearance.

On the surface, this is a story about the way we as a society assign blame via the media and our own ease at jumping to conclusions. Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn do a marvelous job incorporating the various forms of technology that keep us constantly informed with stories of which we should have distinct and harsh opinions, and they do so without any kind of on the nose criticism. However, that simple wrap up of the story leaves out the most poignant and effective element. The search for a hero in this story is quickly put to the wayside, as neither Nick or Amy allow themselves to fit that cookie cutter.

The real heart of Gone Girl is an explosive investigation into and a deconstruction of modern marriage. The sharp hook that pulls the viewer through this story is a carefully balanced drive into trust. The heat that grows inside of Nick as the investigation progresses is at once welcoming the audience’s desire to identify and violently testing their own ability to trust the character. Much of this balance is made successful by the unique performances delivered from both Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, the former constantly creating spaces between himself and the people around him, while the latter is using tone and expression for complete deception. The score, another beautiful work from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, evolves with the film’s different layers, and at times lends a particular plasticity to the film. In other words, parts of Gone Girl test the audience’s every preconceived notion on what to buy in a story.

gone-girl

When that plasticity is broken, and the weeds push through the flowers, Gone Girl emerges as possibly the coldest film of David Fincher’s career. Those who have read the book will expect certain plot twists and developments, but the way he navigates this story is an entirely new approach, and one that both recognizes the story for being the near pulp that it is, and lifts it to a much higher place. Much like his second proper film The Game, Fincher’s sharp and precise attention to detail and his mastery over the photography allows for an exquisite relief from a story that can be very, very relentless. His characterizations of mid-western America are sparse yet effective, with small bursts of billboards, Wal-Marts and sleepy streets cut in between the closed-in spaces where this story mostly unravels.

Even within the many tangled, twisted and undoubtedly uncomfortable places in Gone Girl, Flynn and Fincher still manage to sneak in some brilliant points of humor, from the suspicious police comments to the surprisingly delightful performance from Tyler Perry as famous defense attorney Tanner Bolt. Most importantly, humor is used as a device for false connectivity when it comes to Nick Dunne, and Affleck is in his best form, wavering between comically lethargic and unnervingly removed. The humor, the artifice, all of these weird filters put over this seemingly straightforward mystery lend to the analytical and ultimately satirical brilliance of this film.

More so than most movies, the best points of this film are not entirely discussable. Like the novel, Gone Girl is cuttingly clever and prone to 180 turns, and this film takes that material to a much richer place. Anyone who has spent time in a relationship will find themselves perhaps too aligned with certain ideas, whether they want to admit it or not. It may not be a date movie, but it is certainly David Fincher’s idea of a great love story.

(Oh, and don’t bring your infant to this film. Someone should talk to that guy.)

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