David Fincher’s latest film “Gone Girl” found itself topping the weekend box-office as of October 3. By an extremely narrow margin, the film managed to outdo “Annabelle,” grossing an estimated $38 million, and becoming Fincher’s highest career opening to date, even outshining 2010’s “The Social Network.” Based on the book of the same name, authored by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl” has been a hot-seller and readers phenomenon since 2012. It sat at number one on the New York Times Fiction Bestsellers list for a commendable eight weeks and since then has become touted as a must-read novel. When news broke that Fincher would helm the movie, I figured I’d finally give it a read myself, as I did previously with his adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” a book and film that I ended up shrugging off due to the overhyped, mediocrity of the source material.
I approached “Gone Girl” with cautious optimism, fearing that Fincher may once again have fallen down the rabbit-hole of second-rate airport reading. To my disappointment, I felt lukewarm towards it. Gillian Flynn’s Entertainment Weekly writing style didn’t gel with me. It was an admirably well-plotted thriller filtered through a tasteless raunchy pop-culture magazine. I’d go as far as to call it “trashy,” and that says a lot seeing as I enjoy some pretty lowbrow stuff. The two protagonists’ hateful, self-aggrandizing observations about their economically failing, misfortunate lives was infuriating and whiny, rather than on-point or telling.
Gillian Flynn actually used to write for Entertainment Weekly before being laid off, and boy does it show. “Gone Girl” reads like a bitter anthrax letter to the industry she was fired from, a never-ending screed against journalism with characters who are conceited and not quite as wise in their cultural skewering as they think they are. How telling is it that both of the main characters just so happen to be magazine writers who were let go from their jobs?
So why am I even reviewing “Gone Girl” if I have such negative things to say about it? Because I think, once again, David Fincher, as he did with 1999’s counterculture zeitgeist film “Fight Club,” has made a film that’s a whole lot better then it’s source material. You heard that right. “Gone Girl” is a better movie than it is a book.
On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dune (Ben Affleck) finds that his wife Amy Dunne (Rosemund Pike) has gone unexplainably missing. His living room, having shown signs of struggle, quickly becomes a crime scene. Soon after, a media circus trails Nick’s every move as he becomes the prime suspect, implicating that he, above all people, may be responsible for the disappeared of his wife. His anti-social behavior, inability to authentically emote, and ill-timed facial expressions aren’t quite working in his favor. Yup, this guy might just have murdered his spouse. But in the world of “Gone Girl,” the simplest answer is often not the correct one.
“Gone Girl” is being billed as the ultimate anti-date movie, and I couldn’t disagree more. It’s actually a fantastic date movie provided that the parties attending want to engage in discussion with each other after the film has ended. This is one of the most cynical meditations on marriage ever put to screen with nasty concepts that suggest how one can never truly know a person, even our own spouses or family members. It’s a forensic examination of marriage, one that proposes the idea that we’ve all created a façade lying about who we are, and are attempting to project a certain image to be accepted by the opposite sex and others in general, but underneath desperately trying to play dress up to meet gender expectations. At its core, it could even be called a horror movie. It’s certainly a scarier picture than “Annabelle.” It’s also a good bit of pulpy fun and not quite as unpleasant as most of Fincher’s canon would suggest. There are sill moments of meanness, ugly insights, and disturbingly violent images, but counterbalanced between them are moments of laugh-out-loud black comedy.
This is Fincher’s most unexpectedly comedic film. One that, like the book, demonizes the Nancy Graces of the world and scrutinizes the media as they weave their false, fabricated narratives attaining to Nick’s involvement. But here, this media ridiculing is incredibly on point and reflective of 24 hour news coverage, where as in the novel it was practically an afterthought, being overly serious and mostly devoid of a sense of humor. All the extraneous fluff from the novel is cut out, and Flynn’s X-rated, celebrity gossip prose has been ditched.
As Amy, Pike is a revelation. There’s not a single actress in Hollywood right now as fitted to play the role as she is, and I suspect she’ll be nominated come Oscar Season. She is Amy. Through Amy’s diary entry flashbacks, we’re offered a “he said, she said” viewpoint of Amy and Nick’s toxic newlywed background, its turn leading to much questioning about the reliability of both narrators. Affleck, who initially garnered skepticism as being casted as the probable deranged wife killer, Nick Dunne, equally nails the role. And lastly, Tyler Perry’s brief, but very praiseworthy, good-humored performance as defense attorney Tanner Bolt is something to behold, a testament to how good of an actor can be provided he’s paired with such an accomplished director such as Fincher.
Trent Rezor and Atticus Ross once again contribute a noticeably pleasing malfunctioning orchestral soundscape that’s just what the doctor ordered. As a huge fan of Reznor’s work, I do think it sounds somewhat disappointingly reminiscent of their “Dragon Tattoo” score, and it consequently fails to find an identity of it’s own. That said, it does contain moments of Angelo Badalamenti-esque excellence that stand apart from the more familiar sounding, recycled material. Their Academy Award-Winning score for “The Social network” still remains their number one work.
“Gone Girl” walks the line so expertly between a disturbing poisonous tale of marriage, and a playful comedic thriller. It’s not so unpleasantly bleak that your struggle to watch it, but it’s not so lighthearted that audiences don’t leave the theater feeling rattled and marked. Laced between its constructs are ghastly understandings about who we pose to be in order lure and seduce a mate, a worse case scenario when our locked down contracted spouses choose to opt-out. It falls just short of being on par with Fincher’s four masterpieces, “Zodiac,” “Fight Club,” “The Social Network,” and “Se7en,” but still manages to be a riveting, icy-cold mystery piece all its own. I will say this: I do wish Fincher would quit being type-casted as the go-to director for darkly grim crime thrillers and murder mysteries. As exceptional as “Gone Girl” is, I’d rather see the director challenging himself and tackling epic projects instead of comfortably adapting material with themes that lend themselves to what he’s already proved in the past. Quite frankly, Fincher’s become pigeonholed by people who only think he can do one type of film.
Either way, “Gone Girl” is one of fall’s first must-see films. It’s a diabolical tale of a marriage gone wrong punctuated by powerful performances, technical accomplishment and disquieting ideas about fraudulent role playing within relationships. It owes a debt to stylistic genre predecessors like Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill” (1980) and Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” (1992), yet its overarching subject matter remains mostly untrodden and fresh.
Rob Gabe is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.