Lives and society are largely based around the roles people play. Societies exist with an expectation that everyone plays a certain role. This provides order otherwise, it becomes a chaos. By “roles” I mean the “faces” they put on for the outside world, their loved ones and even for themselves. Sometimes it’s an image, a way of dealing with or adjusting the truth, many times it’s a lie to “fit in” with external expectations. Filmmaker David Fincher’s teams up with writer/feminist critic Gillian Flynn (who is adapting her own controversial novel) for Gone Girl, a film that is all about lies: the lies we tell each other, the lies society tells us and the lies we tell ourselves. It is a dark film with a cynical view of people. Gone Girl uses the framework of a standard-issue “whodunit” to create a bleak, darkly clever and absolutely biting satire on gender roles and dynamics, marriage and societal expectations. To go into detail about specifics in the story may in fact alter the experience and so prospective viewers may want to go into this film as “blind” as possible. Nevertheless the best review for such a film as this is to provide the context to get the uninitiated in the best possible mindset for such an experience.
On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy Dunne (played by a steely Rosamund Pike) vanishes from the generic McMansion that she and her husband, Nick (played by a paunchy and smarmy Ben Affleck) share, amidst a shattered glass table in the living room and a small streak of blood in the kitchen. Cue a storm of police procedure headed by Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and her partner (Patrick Fugit) for help and the sensationalized media circus. Like any investigation, we learn more about the people at the center than we normally ever would. It all sounds like a familiar story: not the one about a man trying to find his wife as much as the one about the couple discovering who they really were together.
Fincher, who has mastered the art of shooting movies with digital cameras, bathes his film in dark colors, his favored amber/yellow and inky shadows. Every shot is steady, not a single handheld scene as per Fincher’s trademark minimalist composition. Quick cuts zip us between scenes and characters, and the effect is thrilling and unsettling and very exciting. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score, so overpowering and overbearing during its first few uses (the party scene where Nick and Amy meet is particularly prone to too much reliance on the chords), soon settles into itself, and the discordant tones and creepy sounds help drive the narrative into ever-stranger territory. Gone Girl has been accused of being some kind of elevated trash, a big-budget Lifetime Channel film, but Fincher doesn’t treat it that way, and the audience shouldn’t either. This is dark, twisted stuff, and Fincher approaches the subject and the characters with respect and reverence. The cast, while not revelatory, really bring to life the layered text of Flynn’s lurid world. Standouts aside from Pike & Affleck include Tyler Perry as a charismatic attorney and Carrie Coon as Nick’s down-to-earth-yet worried sister caught in the middle of this expose’. Audiences may find their empathy and sympathies constantly shifting over the course of the film.
And truly, no one is let off the hook. In the time since it was first published, Flynn’s original novel has sparked any number of debates about its perceived misogyny, and the film’s cagey manipulation of audience sympathies makes it seem eager to invite many more of them. But Gone Girl is not a film that believes in heroes and villains in the traditional sense, even though it has a great deal of fun batting that dichotomy around like a human piñata. The heart of the film – and something that both Affleck and Pike are attuned to with every detail of their performances – is that Gone Girl is ultimately a post-modern take on a love story, one defined by its perversities.
Gone Girl is a post-modern narrative in the sense that the “heroes and villains” are not people, but stories. Audiences tend to hope that the familiar, reassuring narratives always win out in any work of fiction, even in the real world. How many times have you tweaked an anecdote around to tell the “best version” of it where you look your best? The film is all about how nothing can or should be taken at face value, and when it does it can lead to a maze of fallacies and hypocrisy. The myth of the “perfect marriage,” the “cool girl,” the “dream guy” are all poisonous constructs in the view of the film but they all have a reason for being and they only truly become damaging when they start to crash. One of the questions asked in the film is about why we have these narratives in society at all? Is it to comfort ourselves or to live up to some sort of “ideal norm”?
If any of those questions sound familiar, that’s because, in some ways, Gone Girl is complimentary to Fincher’s last satirical post-modern work, Fight Club. Simply substitute Amy Dunne for Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). In both stories, the characters exist as iconoclasts to unbearable myths of attainable ideals and instead pursue what they believe to be transcendent, authentic, freedom-giving destruction. Tyler Durden’s response to his disillusionment with contemporary masculinity was to embrace a seductive, violent, and supposedly more genuine idea of “real” manliness. In Gone Girl, it’s the mythos of women and coupledom, not the mythos of masculinity, which are oppressive. Amy and her husband Nick are explored with much more depth and complexity than most on-screen couples, both of them as individual characters and the dynamics of their relationship as well. However it is Amy who takes the spotlight in a sort of darkly feminist commentary. Flynn, Finch and Pike have molded a particularly fascinating character because she gets at what is unsettling about societal expectations of women and their “role” in relationships. Fight Club showed the fallacy in the belief that manliness and aggression are inseparable; Gone Girl raises the insidious fruits of the belief that femininity and passive “perfection” are inseparable, too. In Fincher and Flynn’s movie, dangerous concepts of masculinity and femininity—and of personhood, success, and freedom—lead to dark places. We live in a world where nearly every website and men’s and women’s publications often have “personality tests” that tell us what our ideal selves are. Life is reduced to one big role-playing game and men & women are reduced to archetypes.
The humiliating disparity between how little people know about the inner workings of a relationship they are not a part of, and how much people assume that they do, and the standards for what women are vs men are points Gone Girl illustrate in order to reconcile how all of these are constructs that allows peoples to negotiate between private complicity and public spectacle. Fincher’s movie and Flynn’s text find fault with that fact: that people basically have to lie or live up to a lie in order to navigate life. However, a lie can only work if at least two people are playing along with it. The medium of film itself is based around lies, and their potency is almost entirely dependent on the audience engaging with them and the filmmakers. David Fincher & Gillian Flynn’s pulpy, lurid and darkly satirical Gone Girl is definitely a lie worth playing along with.