Everything That Is Right, and the One Thing That Is Wrong with David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'
Gone Girl is one of the most perfectly realized adaptations of a novel ever put to film. Everything you loved, everything you hated, and everything that you hated that you loved about Gillian Flynn’s novel is rendered onscreen as you imagined it, or in such an indelible way that it completely supplants your previous memories of the novel. Once you leave the theater, the cinematic interpretation of Gone Girl will be seared immutably into your brain with all of the devilish wonder of Fincher’s sleazy, slickly gory stylism.
It’s an incredible film, pulpy and wildly entertaining, disturbing, twist-y, and completely fucked in the head, the kind of movie that will sit in the pit of your stomach and gnaw at you, as you roll each scene around in your mind with a glee that makes you feel both guilty and alive. Yet, for all of Fincher’s other assets as a director, what makes Gone Girl so wildly successful is the casting, and the performances Fincher pulls out of these actors is nothing short of exquisite.
Ben Affleck is incredible in the role, and it’s not really a compliment to say that he was born to play Nick Dunne: His corn-fed, everyman good looks make him magnetic in spite of the fact that he’s also kind of a slimy douche. You like him, and you sympathize with him, but you also feel bad about yourself for doing so, which is the same trick that Affleck himself has been pulling on us for years now.
Here, Nick Dunne a charming journalist who moves his New York City trust-fund wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), back to his home state of Missouri to care for his ailing mother. The mother dies, but instead of returning to the brownstone in Manhattan from whence they came, Nick keeps his wife trapped in Missouri, where she sticks out like a gorgeous but broken thumb. Their once impeccable marriage eventually falls apart under the strain of money problems; Amy’s cold, scolding judgement; Nick’s sleazy ways; and in general, the fact that these two incompatible people didn’t really like one another at all once they pierced through the facade, the illusion of perfection, that brought them together.
Suddenly, on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears under suspicious circumstances. The more police officers investigate, the more it appears that Nick murdered his wife and hid her body. Nick doesn’t help his own case by being terrible with the media, smiling when he’s uncomfortable, and clumsily illustrating his midwestern values in such a way that it’s hard not to be convinced that he was behind his wife’s disappearance.
But there are a number of twists in Gone Girl that alter the course of the narrative. I won’t spoil them for those who haven’t read the book, except to say — to those who have — that watching Gone Girl come to life is like watching the New York Philharmonic perform Symphony #5: You know every goddamn note, but you will be floored by how well Fincher nails them.
There aren’t enough ways to express how amazing Rosamund Pike is in the role of Amy, the privileged but long-suffering wife. She deftly combines the evil streak of Glenn Close with the raw sexuality of Eva Green, and in the middle sections of the film, completely transforms herself into a woman that is almost unrecognizable from the person to whom we are first introduced. Amy is old-school femme fatale, a lady you know is trouble, but you can’t help yourself, and Pike turns the Barbara Stanwyck to 11.
Carrie Coon, likewise, is phenomenal as Nick’s sympathetic twin sister, Margo Dunne, and perhaps the only character in the movie that’s in any way likable except, strangely, Tanner Bolt, the seedy defense attorney played by Tyler Perry. Sometimes I feel like Fincher and Steven Soderbergh are in a friendly competition to see who can extract the best performances out of people who are not necessarily known for being good actors. I think Fincher’s work with Tyler Perry has wiped Soderbergh’s efforts with Sasha Grey and Gina Carano off the map. Meanwhile, I don’t want to give too much away about Neil Patrick Harris’ character, except to say that NPH plays a remarkably perfect shitbag, and not in the comedic way for which he is known in “How I Met Your Mother.”
Gone Girl is a perfect literary adaptation, and if there’s anything wrong with it, it’s not in Fincher’s doing. It’s in the source material, which invites a discussion about (SPOILERS HERE ON OUT) whether it’s OK to wield the sexual-victim card as a weapon. Gone Girl trades in morally bankrupt characters, and there is something troublesome about a female character’s strength coming from false accusations of rape and murder, which plays right into the film’s misogynistic themes.
It’s a worthwhile complaint, but one that’s not likely to gain much purchase. Pike’s character is a villain after all, and the fact that we want to root for a strong, sexually empowered evil fucking “c*nt” — as she refers to herself repeatedly at one point — is no different than wanting to root for a generation’s worth of Michael Douglas characters or a charismatic neo-Nazi in Justified. We are often drawn to captivating but terrible people, and while it’s slightly more troubling from a cultural standpoint to see a woman invert the power of rape and domestic violence and use it to her advantage because of the way it plays into the fears of Fox News pinheads, what she triggers in men is also what makes her such a deliciously, irresistibly spellbinding villainess. She’s like a female Praying Mantis; you can’t help but feel seduced, even though in the end you know she’s going to eat you alive.