It’s tempting to proclaim Gone Girl the best movie of the year, since it was preceded by a whole month’s worth of movies you’d expect to be dumped in January, not September. Gone Girl is definitely the most interesting film released in a long while by the most interesting director. It fits quite nicely with the rest of David Fincher’s résumé as the maker of twisted, mind-bending thrillers littered with broken relationships. You could never accuse Fincher of making a boring movie. And Gone Girl is far from boring.
In case you’ve managed to miss even the barest of Gone Girl plot summaries, here’s a spoiler-free version for you. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a writer turned professor, returns to his Missouri home one day to find the place a mess and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), gone. The police (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) and the media get involved as the town coordinates a manhunt for Amy. But soon, Nick is a suspect in what looks increasingly like his wife’s murder.
(And now spoilers.) But what the trailers have made seem like an atmospheric whodunit is actually a blistering, funny look at marriage and the media. And when I say blistering I mean twisted, disturbing, diabolical. The truth is that Amy is a psychopath. Like, a literal psychopath. This becomes clear by the end of the movie, after she’s slit the throat of her ex-boyfriend (a well-cast Neil Patrick Harris) while having sex with him, reminiscent of the violent sexual images from Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Gillian Flynn, the author of the best-selling novel upon which the movie is based and also the movie’s screenwriter, has presented us with a woman who must have control at all costs to the point where she fakes her own death. Rosamund Pike makes her a convincing every-woman in the movie’s first half and then a terrifyingly convincing monster after the mid-film twist that reveals her plan to frame her husband for her murder.
But for all the aspects of the movie that push it into the realm of horror, Fincher’s sense of humor prevails. The movie revolves around the circus of the manhunt, the police case, the media hubbub, and Nick’s own investigation into his wife’s disappearance. If the parallels between the movie’s and Ben Affleck’s own personal media circus don’t amuse you, maybe this isn’t the movie for you. As it is, Affleck is wonderfully exasperated as the man forced to keep up with Amy for the majority of their married life, and is now forced to do so in the public eye. Tyler Perry as his bemused defense lawyer and Carrie Coons as his skeptical sister round out the cast of audience surrogates that also includes the aforementioned cops. The movie wants them to be the equivalent of single people looking in at married couples saying, “What on earth made you decide to get married?”
And that’s where the movie stumbles. Because Amy is such a monster, this marriage can’t hold up under the weight of representing the institution of marriage as a whole. By the end of the movie, Amy is pregnant to spite her husband and uses it to make him stay with her, but this doesn’t work as a reason for them to stay together. The book does a better job of showing you that Nick and Amy stay together because they’re the only equals the other has in terms of twistedness. I’ll have to watch the movie again to make sure, but it seems like Fincher and Flynn overreach when they try to dramatize this onscreen, so Nick’s motives seem really hazy. The movie is fascinating, for sure, and it seems like we have an incisive commentary on modern marriage- until the very end, when they fail to see the con through to the end.