This is the question Nick Dunne poses to the world in the first minute of Gone Girl, and it hangs over every single plot development and over every ounce of characterization in the remainder of the David Fincher-Gillian Flynn film. It’s a mesmerizing ride, a two hour-plus piece of glorious filmmaking and pure entertainment that immerses you in an atmosphere that never lets go of its frenetic pace, that never ceases to be compelling.
The film is essentially broken down into three acts, with the first act being the only one I can describe sans spoilers (check out the spoiler section for more detailed thoughts on the other parts). At the beginning, we have all the components of a generic murder mystery: the good husband, the missing wife, the astute detectives, the overturned table, the broken glass. We become privy, through flashbacks, to how Nick and Amy’s relationship developed, how they met and flirted and had sex on a coffee table, and we see a loving couple get married.
However, there’s a key piece of dialogue in this part that encapsulates what their dynamic is all about: “All else is just background noise.” These are two people who understand each other, who attempt to eschew societal conventions, who attempt to be “not like those other couples”. It’s them and only them, and although that’s a feeling that many couples feel–especially during the honeymoon phase of a relationship–we get the sense that something’s off with these two. We get the sense that Amy’s disappearance may be a result of something that happened between her and her husband, and the rest of the country seems to think so as well.
So, the question becomes whether Nick killed his wife or not, and the constant hounding by the town and the media wears him down. They pick up on every small detail, every smile and interaction, and as they’re analyzing the hell out of it, no one seems to be able to look away. Throughout the film, people are transfixed by Ellen Abbott, talk show host, and her Nancy Grace-ness, by the sensationalism of the media and the apparent clearcut nature of the situation. There’s a bad one and a good one, they believe, and the bad one deserves to be crucified while the good one deserves adoration. They have expectations because society as a whole sets expectations; we have stereotypes that are perpetuated by cable news or the internet or even a film like this one, and those expectations influence the way we perceive others.
And, in the end, perception is key. Looking good on television is a key. Putting on a facade is often what results. Flynn’s script challenges us to look at the roles we’re expected to play, the way we’ve lived our lives, and it does so through a very unique relationship between Nick and Amy Dunne. It does so through a phenomenal ensemble, through a surprisingly good Tyler Perry and a creepy Neil Patrick Harris and a heartbreaking, yet entertaining, Carrie Coon and a scrambling Ben Affleck. However, the star of the show is Rosamund Pike, giving a masterful performance that wonderfully showcases her wide range and should lead to many more roles for her. She is simply captivating.
In essence, this is a mystery and a horror movie and a satire all at once. It’s disturbingly hilarious and emotionally hard-hitting and directed with a passion, and it emphasizes the fact that although we’d like to believe we’re in complete control of our lives, sometimes, the world oversimplifies us. Sometimes, putting up a facade is what’s needed to keep pushing on this society, and sometimes, self-delusion is an inherent aspect of a relationship. Throughout the film, Fincher and Flynn decide to delude their audience as well, and what we’re left with are husbands and wives and friends and family whom we believe we know at one second, but realize we don’t at the next.
“You don’t know what you got ’till it’s…” is the tagline of the film, but if you never truly had something in the first place, can it really be gone?
-So, if you’ve seen the film, you know how much of it rests upon the big twist in the middle. It’s extremely difficult to talk about the themes of the movie without giving that away, so it’s nice to be able to explore those ideas further in this section.
-One of the marks of Pike’s brilliance is that even her narration gives me chills; it’s often overdone, but she nails it in this movie, and her “Cool Girls” monologue halfway through is especially chilling. It also kickstarts the whole thing into high gear with a truly exhilarating sequence there. As for the rest of Pike’s performance, there are pretty much zero false notes; whether she’s staring at the TV screen during Nick’s interview (“It took me to the woodshed” is one of my favorite moments in the film) or whether she’s covered in Desi’s blood–and damn, what a scene–she commands the screen.
-More on Amy: we can see that she’s very much her own person and is possibly a sociopath, and there’s a lot of self-delusion that goes on here even as she’s deceiving others. Case in point: her fantasies, her idealized versions of herself, never factor in the possibility of being robbed by hillbillies.
-The idea of structuring much of the film around the news show essentially means structuring the film around blanket statements like “what is it about a child that makes men…”. And that’s what the media does, doesn’t it? Many of us desire simplicity; we want the clearcut solution with the bad guy and the good guy, and we act accordingly once an accusation has been made. The media, throughout this whole film, is looking for the easy solution to appeal to the masses, so it winds up picking apart every small detail about Nick.
-One of those small details: the smiling. It’s interesting to note that for those two instances–at the press conference and with the casserole woman–it’s someone telling him to smile that causes him to force a smile. They aren’t necessarily telling him to smile because they know it’ll hurt him, but rather because it’s an expectation they have when pictures are taken, even considering the context of “Missing, possible dead wife”. And then, of course, people realize that he probably shouldn’t be smiling, there’s another set of expectations to deal with. He just can’t escape the scrutiny, no matter what he does.
Also, when the smile comes back, it’s at the end when he’s revealing the pregnancy. He was being ripped apart for it earlier in the media, and now he’s being adored, and here at the end he’s implicitly being told by society that he needs to smile and be happy. As Officer Gilpin says earlier, “You’re wife’s home. Can’t that just be enough?” That smile is recontextualized like the first scene of the movie is.
-The film’s big point is that there are certain societal expectations that are pervasive in our culture, and it’s how you live even given them that makes your relationship what it is. Nick and Amy eventually buy into the phoniness of it all and understand each others’ phoniness, and they wind up constructing themselves according to what others think. We get the sense that Nick deludes himself at the end as well, and Amy returns to him because she wants that phony side of him, the side of him that was brought out while he was courting her. Because in the end, although not all marriages are like this one–this is seriously at a whole new level(s)–deceptions and facades are innate to every relationship to some extent.
-Nick and Amy become the fiction that is much of the diary. For example, Nick actually uses force and slams her against the wall at the end.
-It’s important to remember that not all Amy’s victims are blameless. Desi, for example, is extremely controlling, and that’s a side of him that was probably even worse during their relationship.
-How the hell can she bring herself to leave that glorious lake house?
-New tagline: “You two are the most fucked up people I’ve ever met.” –Tyler Perry
– “Sometimes, the simplest answer is the right one.” “From my experience, it’s not.” And thus, the film.
-At the beginning, you can see the various pens at the top of the screen while Amy’s writing in her diary. Nice touch there.
-I like how Boney tells Noelle that they’ll have a talk between shampoos, and Amy and Nick literally do that at the end of the film. Speaking of, hospitals don’t let you walk home covered in blood unless you’re in a movie and you really need a cool scene in the shower.
-Nick calling Amy a bitch at the end draws a connection to his father, who uses that word a lot.
-Amy’s parents do not come across as good people in this film.
-I wish Nick messed up during the interview so that he could be pelted with gummi bears from off stage.
-THAT CAT. I thought it had something to do with the murder, for all the times it shows up.
OTHER THOUGHTS (NO MORE SPOILERS):
–Zodiac remains Fincher’s best film.
-Margo is so awesome in this movie.
-In case you haven’t heard, Fincher and Flynn are teaming up again for HBO’s Utopia. That should be fantastic, although I’ve heard that the original series is so strong that there’s no need for an American remake.
-I feel like this is another Fight Club, what with people mis-construing the meaning of the film and using it to further their own beliefs. Yes, there are ideas of gender roles in here, but accusations of misogyny…I can see why people would have a problem, but I don’t agree. Amy is the way she is not because she’s a woman, but because she’s Amy.
-Kim Dickens is wonderful. That is all. Watching her on last week’s Sons of Anarchy helps me appreciate her in a role–her Gone Girl one–that actually utilizes her talents well.
-The opening credits are gorgeously filmed, and the way the names appear and disappear is a nice way to illustrate the “gone girl” title.
-Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are geniuses. Their pounding, intense score is a huge part of why this film works as well as it does. Listen to the soundtrack at some point; it’ll be worth your while.
-Casey Wilson is in this as Noelle Hawthorne, “idiot neighbor”. I miss Happy Endings again.
-I haven’t read the book yet, so if any book-readers would like to offer up some thoughts, that would be much appreciated.
-Thus begins awards season. I haven’t reviewed many films this year, but look for reviews of Birdman, Nightcrawler, Interstellar, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, and more over the next few months. I’m excited.
Photo credit: Gone Girl, Regency Enterprises