I have friends who either love or hate the best seller Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s novel from which she adapted the screenplay for the film of the same title. Gone Girl screened its World Premiere at the 52nd New York Film Festival. If I research the demographics, I can easily understand why there is a strong emotional divide for this novel. The ones who hate it are happily married; the singles enjoy it. Nevertheless, after seeing the film and considering my friend network, I’m convinced that all of them, married or single, would appreciate Gone Girl. David Fincher wisely had Gillian Flynn adapt the screenplay from her novel and together they were able to work closely on the rewrites and iron out the potential issues and difficulties. The result is a taut, well made film that keeps us riveted. Fincher’s cast is well chosen with very fine acting from the leads: Ben Affleck as Nick and Rosamund Pike as Amy, Tyler Perry as the lawyer Tyler Bolt and a wonderful Neil Patrick Harris as the obsessive Desi Collings. The elements of irony are strong and humorous, the satire is rich. The director shreds “entertainment-sensationalism.” Irresponsible media that uses tawdry, unethical and unseemly tactics that belie accurate reporting are given their just due.
Like the novel, the film is a chilling cross genre work that hacks away at our assumptions and plays with our perceptions about marriage, relationships, the nature of individual needs and expectations, identity and the typical male/female behavior patterns that we can so easily manipulate to our own ends, especially if the opposite sex enjoys playing the game. Ben Affleck is a fine choice for Nick Dunne the mild mannered, sweet and balanced mid-western born husband whose life is upended when his wife disappears and he becomes a prime suspect. The disappeared one, Amy (the beautiful and lively Rosamund Pike), is a writer of the children’s series, Amazing Amy. She graduated from Harvard and is a sensitive perfectionist with regard to how she views herself and her marriage. The film begins in the present then flashes back to the past through the narration of Amy spoken from her diary about how she and Nick met, how she adored him and how theirs was a good marriage; marriage was easy for them, she discusses in a voice over as we watch disheveled Nick drop by their town bar to speak to his sister and life compass (Carrie Coon). By the time Nick returns to their beautiful fairy tale home and we presume lovely marriage, he notes the coffee table has been upturned and glass shattered. He realizes Amy is gone.
These are the initial minutes in the dawning of the first day that Amy has gone missing; the music, lighting and camera angles fuse into hyper-drive and we are hooked into Nick’s amazement at her vanishing and edged with empathy that their marriage is on hold until someone is able to identify a body or pick up clues to the trail of her kidnappers. Astute watchers will note the casting choice indicates that most probably Nick has little to do with her disappearance. Fincher took that risk and it is the right selection. The excitement of this rendering initially is in believing that Nick is neither responsible nor capable of harming her and something else happened. But these notions eventually leave, others come and they change back again. And at each change a new theme is born and evolved, for we are being royally duped by Flynn and Fincher. This is dark, and sardonic and satiric and funny. It’s what happens to us in life, and to “expect the unexpected,” to “trust the uncertain” are the primary threads of this film which keep us guessing from beginning to end.
The characters who Flynn has tricked us into believing in those first renditions don’t exist, as pretty as they are and as much as we would like them to. Throughout the film with each declension of the clues Amy leaves, more of the story of these individuals is revealed: by Amy in voice over as we watch Nick, by Nick in voice over as we watch Amy. We must be flexible when listening to their “truth” and perspective. Flynn and Fincher continually twit us not to assume: human beings run to infinity; the roles they play are completed in “the twinkling of an eye.” Can you really trust the person you are married to? Don’t people change with the wind, with their friends with the circumstances? And isn’t this an impossible situation in marriage where people think they will be the same people when they begin the marriage as when they end? When you marry, you haven’t the foggiest notion of how life will turn out. It is a crap shoot. Important is your faith in one another. When that goes, is there anything left?
Nick and Amy morph in physical appearance and personality throughout the film. And we are first dragged in one direction thinking one result is the possible conclusion, then dragged in the opposite direction when Nick begins to narrate his side of the story as a voice over while we watch Amy’s behaviors and action. As these facts are beaten about our heads we know Amy has indeed disappeared and Nick has indeed lost the woman he first fell for, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t alive. She is. He knows it and as more pieces of the puzzle are placed in their slots, despite the confusion of the detective squad, the frenzy of the media and the concern then exploitation of Amy’s parents over this world wide public relations coup, we come to know it. As a result we are left with many questions. What is the disappearance about? Will she return? Will Nick be held accountable for it? Why is she in hiding if she is indeed alive? From whom or what is she hiding? Is she mentally deranged?
Amy is gone and the word becomes loaded with meaning: gone is the Amy concocted to please her parents, the Amy that Nick believed he was marrying, the Amy that had to be the perfect, size 0, Amy, the strong, gorgeous, brilliant, accomplished, upper middle class success story. That woman has disappeared, but she never existed as a real identity to herself. Now in point Amy can be get rid of her once and for all by making her go away. The self the world had come to believe was Amy is a self that is unreal, despised, unwanted because it wasn’t a self created for herself but to please others. Ironically, though she is not who everyone thought her to be, it doesn’t matter. Regardless, attention is whipped up to a froth about her kidnapping or worse, murder. They have the wrong woman and they will never find her because that Amy never existed. Who Amy is has yet to become.
It is in the search for Amy, following the clues she left as part of an anniversary present, that Nick’s journey into the place of torments brings him to a level of despair where we feel for him and first question whether Amy herself has had something to do with her own disappearance. The more we doubt, the more the investigators and foundation set up to search for Amy spread out, the more the media flies buzz and foment their lies, unleashing everyone who has an opinion to voice it in chat rooms, Social media sites, call-in shows and radio. Do they care who this man is or know who Amy is? Nick and Amy have become icons of celebrity, vacuous images, ghosts of themselves, convenient to exploit. As with yellow journalism of old, they are useful pawns to create the news and even incite the police for an arrest though it would be based on circumstantial evidence for there is no body. Nick’s sister attempts to guide and counsel him, but the media Harpies and neighbors peck away at Nick’s emotions and consciousness and it becomes a warfare as he, the male, could only be accountable for this beautiful woman’s death. The irony is wide and large for who is murdering whom and why? What could possibly be the motive?
A possible motive turns up in the form of a well exposed, pubescent-looking college student with whom Nick’s been having torrid sex. Wild for her professor, she shows up at his doorstep at night, though he has warned her not to. Indeed, Nick is not who we thought he was; might he be capable of murder after all? Nick angers his love interest by telling her their future marriage is off. Next we see her on TV looking like a naive Little Miss Muffet minus the hat. For international news outlets she discusses her affair with Nick and provides a motive for murder to investigators and the media who are orgasmic at the ratings blitz that they hope will go on for years. It is then Nick hires Tyler Bolt (a fine turn by Tyler Perry), and we breathe a sigh of relief that this legal counsel will also serve as a PR manager to clear Nick’s name in the press and change public opinion to support him. In the meanwhile, Amy is watching the media eviscerate Nick’s reputation and demean him as a potential wife killer. She enjoys the Nick side show while she lives out a new identity and plots and plots her revenge on Nick.
The film’s whirlwind themes can only suggest there will be no winners or losers because the characters are still trying on the skins of who they are and who they can be. Of course, all is fluid and there is uncertainty. Will Amy reappear or turn Nick over to rot in prison or land on Missouri’s death row? Will Nick accept her if Amy comes back, especially since he wanted to divorce her as we find out later in the film? In the process of Amy’s “being disappeared” isn’t she accountable for disappearing Nick? What love can remain between them after what she has put Nick through as a revenge for her own soul miasmas? As marriages come and go, this one is for the record books.
Flynn and Fincher have retained the meat and potatoes and enhanced the symbolism of the book in the script. Fincher has done a masterful job in converting Flynn’s words into cinematic beauty, humor, brilliance and uncanny truths related to these characters and their relationship. As a result the plot becomes a means to an end; the underlying revelations of the film take on heightened significance in what we understand about our changing identity, our need to expose lies which nullify our spirit, our selection of partners and the cruel, execrable nature of love and expectation. The film is monumental in the questions it raises about our cultural folkways that are destructive to our growth and understanding of ourselves and those we might want to love. But we cannot presume Fincher and Flynn leave us with any answers. It is enough we walk away and think.
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