MINOR SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN GONE GIRL
Trigger warning: The story of Gone Girl revolves around sexual assault and physical and emotional abuse.
At some point during Gone Girl, you’re going to squirm in your seat. Maybe it’s at Nick’s dead-eyed smile to the cameras as he poses next to a picture of his vanished wife, Amy. Or as the nature of Nick and Amy’s relationship grows increasingly clear. Or maybe it will be at one of the seemingly normal scenes, where there’s just something fundamentally wrong about it.
The point is, you should expect to feel deeply unsettled by Gone Girl.
The base premise is simple enough: Amy, the wife of Nick Dunne, goes missing. As the search for her deepens, the media and the police begin to suspect Nick of murdering her. One of the pleasures of watching Gone Girl is that at the end of each act something new happens to totally change the sort of story it is. Gillian Flynn’s script moves at a steadily increasing pace, showing us how happy Nick and Amy were at the beginning of their marriage, and how everything slowly got worse and worse. As the stakes keep changing, it’s more than likely that your perspective on certain characters will seriously change. It’s a thrilling ride.
Performances are stellar all around – from Neil Patrick Harris’s slimy jilted ex-boyfriend to Rosamund Pike’s ruthless Amy. Affleck’s Nick is the performance that really grounds the whole affair. The viewer goes through some big transitions in the way they look at Nick, and Affleck subtly sells it the whole time. Pike’s Amy, while chilling, starts to feel a little more flat as the plot unfolds. By the third act, her motives devolve to being purely psychotic, and the viewer struggles to really establish any reason behind her actions. By the end of the movie, Amy resembles the cliché of the crazy wife more than a richly developed character.
That, in truth, is the biggest problem with Gone Girl. Fincher’s direction is methodical and compliments the procedural format of Flynn’s story well, but it fails to sometimes provide us with the why. Amy gives us reasons for why she does what she does, but these reasons don’t feel totally sufficient as we learn more about her history, and they feel increasingly flat by the movie’s close. The argument can be made that the point is to illustrate that there is no real motive or rational thought behind her actions, but it ultimately feels like the narrative would have benefited from clearer motives.
Fincher’s direction is excellent, despite this. The world of upper class suburbia glows with the dingy quality of a cheap motel, leaving even the slowest of scenes with a discomforting feeling of washed-up blood beneath the surface. The camera doesn’t go hand held a single time – a first in Fincher’s films, despite his vocal dislike for the style – denying us the subjective perspective which that approach brings. All of this helps Fincher position the audience in the best place to understand the events better than any of the characters, while constantly reminding us that we don’t see as much of the action as we think we do. The scene where Nick and Amy kiss for the first time really exemplifies what makes the direction so strong. It really should be a moment straight out of a fairy tale: the air is thick with sugar-like falling snow, and Nick wipes some it from Amy’s lips before going in for the kiss. Instead, it feels weirdly possessive. The waves of sugar end up feeling like something out of a noire flick rather than a love story. It just sets the tone for the coming abuse and weird sense of ownership that ends up defining their relationship.
One of the things that makes Nick and Amy so unsettling, not just as individuals but as a couple, is the conflicting perspectives of them we have as viewers. Amy is painted to be the sweet girl next door by the media, while Nick is painted as the murdering husband. In truth, Amy is psychotic and Nick was more neglectful than abusive. Amy gets away with all of the things she does because she plays with stereotypes and clichés, manipulating the way people view her and her husband. All of this – playing the victim, the presence of the crazy girlfriend – lead to the question whether or not Gone Girl is misogynistic. The first option is no: Nick and Amy are individuals that the media are determined to generalize and fit into gender roles. We see characters try to view them in ways that align with standard archetypes.
At the same time, the ending of the film really turns the original premise on its head: Nick goes from being the monster who killed his wife to the victim who is trapped by a genuine monster. This scenario – where the woman is this twisted, man-hating, violent pseudo-feminist, and the man is the misogynistic, but comparably innocent husband – is a problematic one that feels like it could potentially garner the movie a fan base for all of the wrong reasons. But that’s another article entirely.
Gone Girl is smart, entertaining, and wildly disturbing. It’s a deeply cautionary tale about wearing masks for the people we love which shows how horrible life can be both when the mask comes off – and when you’re trapped inside of it. Gone Girl doesn’t always hit every note, but with so many strong elements working together to sell such a powerful theme, it’s bound to stick with you.