Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s Gone Girl.
A reviewer’s job becomes unexpectedly problematic when any significant discussion regarding a particular film will render watching that film entirely redundant. How do you talk about David Fincher’s Gone Girl without shattering its disorientating illusion? How do you discuss the central performances without revealing everything you shouldn’t know? There isn’t a central defining mystery to Gone Girl – which is one of the most baffling films of the year – the entire film is one attractively convoluted enigma.
If you’ve read the book upon which the film is based, it’s completely possible that there is simply no need to see this film, so reliant is the narrative on our ignorance. But then, plot isn’t particularly consequential to Fincher’s film, which falters under any semi-compressive scrutiny of its numerous leaps in logic and the deliberate spiral into the absurd in the third act. There’s something far more unsettling lurking beneath Fincher’s film. Plot is best ignored in favour of the startling impression the film will almost certainly leave. The film itself may need to be rewatched to fully comprehend its strengths and its failures. It’s very conceivable that Gone Girl will only get better with age.
There’s an attractive rationalism to David Fincher’s work, contradicting the sentimentality saturating the American film industry that surrounds him. Consider The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which disregarded the idea of passion and romance as true love in favour of growing mutual affection and respect. Gone Girl takes a similarly rational approach in its examination of marriage, but whereas there was a certain beauty to Button’s dismissal of zealous romance, Fincher’s rationalisation of marriage in Gone Girl is bleak and unforgiving. And yet, Fincher’s representation of marriage may be a façade. Just like many of the characters that inhabit the film, Fincher himself may be warping the responsibilities of his position to fulfil his own desires.
Complimenting Fincher’s sober logic is the central character of Nick (Ben Affleck), whose own measured disposition does him no favours when his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing and he suddenly becomes the chief suspect. “You’ve been up all night. You wanna look like you’ve been up all night.” Nick’s twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), warns him after noticing that his appearance perhaps doesn’t reflect the tousled mess of a genuinely concerned husband. Affleck critically exploits the same appealing blend of sympathetic and brashly confident that pervades his own public persona. Pike as Amy is astonishing, and intoxicatingly alluring. To say much more about either performance would be to impair the impact of the film.
The film is split into three distinct acts, all of which offer clues, hints and red herrings furiously, unrelentingly but subtly. Each act is wildly different from the one that preceded it, although Fincher’s considered pacing and style makes the transitions almost unnoticeable. Well-timed flashes of light, or a detail in the background are enough to put us on the right track or throw us off completely. We’re not fully in the loop until the very end, and even then it’s an uncertain certainty. Superficially the film is a whodunit, but far more mysterious than the perpetrator of Amy’s disappearance is what sort of people the characters really are and what really makes each of them tick. It’s a brutally eerie film, but not for the obvious reasons.
Perception is paramount to Gone Girl, most glaringly in the way in which the media manipulates the public perception of Nick in the aftermath of Amy’s disappearance, but more interestingly in how the characters perceive themselves. Amy, the model for her parents’ popular children’s books ‘Amazing Amy’, notes that the fictional Amy was a correction of her own failings growing up. When she gave up cello as a young girl, the next Amazing Amy book revealed the character as a prodigious cellist. As a new couple, Nick and Amy compare themselves favourably to other constantly, but their success may have more to do with perception than reality.
The film becomes absurd, but there’s something to the madness that enhances the unsettling nature of the film. Gone Girl isn’t about plot – it’s about absolutely everything else. Whether the blow still resonates upon further inspection will become evident with time.