“What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
In the age of Twitter and 24-hour news, it’s hard enough for an individual to find the time to really consider all of the angles of a story, let alone for society as a whole to do the same. Whether the issue being discussed is Israel or Kim Kardashian, snap decisions are made, evidence that doesn’t fit the chosen narrative is discarded or buried deep enough that, unless you’re looking for it, it might as well not exist.
In Gone Girl this disconnect between appearances and the subcutaneous truth of things is so pronounced and jagged that the characters are in very real danger of being swallowed whole. The film begins with Nick (Ben Affleck) returning home on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, only to find the door open, broken glass and scattered chairs inside, and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) gone.
Soon the police are involved but seem more interested in Nick’s recent movements than Amy’s, a situation exacerbated by the public’s decision that he doesn’t seem to be showing adequate sorrow. All of this is intercut with excerpts from Amy’s diary (narrated by Pike) beginning from the couples’ first meeting right up to the days before her disappearance.
To go into any more of the dark, strange and occasionally macabre tangles of the story would be to do the film a disservice. Those who have read Gillian Flynn’s novel (she also wrote the screenplay) will find everything mostly intact aside from some minor changes to the form of the ending.
Fincher’s crystal crisp visuals and dark palate give the story a claustrophobic edge that is only increased by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s twitchy electronic score. Omnipresent and oppressive, the music envelops the film like a hair shirt constantly clawing at the audience’s nerves and helping to fuel the more dreamlike elements.
The other marvel of the film is its two lead performances. It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago Ben Affleck was seen as washed up, considering the triumphantly multifaceted nuanced work he does here. His chiselled good looks and natural charisma conspire against him, giving him a salesman’s untrustworthiness even as we watch his life collapse around him. By contrast Amy is simultaneously the apotheosis of Hollywood’s obsession with the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ and a deconstruction of the very idea of it. Pike imbues the part with a sinuous reptile grace, taunt and poised, her face giving nothing away but her voice throbbing with emotion. The entire ensemble turn in good work, with special mentions due for Tyler Perry’s less than moral defence lawyer and especially Neil Patrick Harris’s controlling ex-lover.
Gone Girl fits in with the themes David Fincher began with 2011’s The Social Network, and 2012’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The films are paranoid, skittish of human contact and the impossibility of a full knowledge of another person and are all scored by Trent Reznor. Fincher is a director who seems instinctively drawn towards darkness and often the characters in his films are drowning in it. In this darkness you can be married to a person for years and not realise until far too late that you don’t really know them at all.
Let alone what they’re capable of.