Having purposely kept myself in the dark regarding the central conceit at the core of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel Gone Girl, I approached David Fincher’s adaptation of it ready to be knocked back on my heels. I wasn’t disappointed. Containing a plot that doubles back on itself more than once, Gone Girl is an engaging mystery that, however improbable, plays fair with the audience in the way it dispenses its clues and genuine performances across the board, bringing a variety of layers to complex roles. This is one of the best movies of 2014.
However, as is the case with Fincher’s films (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network), there’s much more at play here than an intriguing narrative. Girl’s subtext speaks to issues of shifting identity, both private and public, as well as the inevitable death of individuality that’s often the result of marriage, and the resentment it breeds.
When we first meet Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), he’s a man at the end of his rope. Having moved back to the dying small town of his youth, Carthage, Missouri, from New York City after losing his job as a writer, he’s at a loss as to what to buy his lovely wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), for their fifth anniversary. Certain she will have an elaborate scavenger hunt planned for him, Nick knows that, par for the course, his efforts will fail to live up to those of his spouse. However, this becomes the least of his worries when he returns home to find that his house has been broken into and that Amy is nowhere to be found. Soon, local detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) determines that she’s been kidnapped, a bit of news the media devours and blows out of proportion as Amy was the basis for a beloved character (Amazing Amy) from a series of children’s books. As days go by and the search for the missing woman proves futile, Nick becomes the prime suspect in what is assumed to be her murder.
Fincher sets all of this up quickly and efficiently and it doesn’t take long to determine that he has far more on his mind than simply inflicting whiplash on the viewer with the film’s various plot twists. No, issues of identity – how others perceive us, how we see ourselves, how isolated incidents define us to outsiders – are central in the filmmaker’s mind. When Nick is put in the crosshairs of the media machine, he goes from being seen as a grieving husband to an insensitive killer over the course of a single news cycle. That the media mill will change the public’s perception of him twice more before things come to an end is no surprise. As viewers we have a separate perception of Nick, seeing his faults as a husband and being capable of deceiving even those closest to him. Affleck is perfectly cast. Handsome and capable but bordering on bland and never accused of being charismatic, his on-screen persona is such that it’s easy to project upon him the many different identities he’s required to shoulder during the film, all equally convincing in their lack of conviction.
More than anything, dating and marriage are pilloried in the film, the former seen as a ritual in which we willingly put forth the best image of ourselves in order to snare a mate, only to have to suppress our true selves in order for the relationship to survive. Both Nick and Amy are guilty of this and the results of each being dishonest with each other and themselves is catastrophic. All that happens in the Dunne’s marriage is exaggerated for effect, but at its core, Gone Girl speaks to the confusion that arises within as a result of compromising ourselves for what we think to be a greater good. In the end, we’re hardly recognizable to ourselves.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.