NYFF Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' is Twisted, Sleek & Smart
by Alex Billington
September 26, 2014
The evil genius returns. David Fincher has thrown the doors to the bedroom of modern society wide open, showing us how deceptive and twisted some people in this world can be - the "ugly truth" has been revealed. His latest film is Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel about a married couple: Nick and Amy Dunne. Closer to Zodiac or Fight Club in tone and style rather than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher's Gone Girl starts out as a mystery, evolves into a dark comedy, and twists itself around a self-reflective look at the follies and fallacies of the American dream.
I love watching Fincher films. He's one of the few directors that can spend as much time as he wants telling a story, and it doesn't bother me one bit. Gone Girl runs an extensive 145 minutes, spending as much time as necessary building up the stories on both sides, giving us background and surface details on the two main characters – played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike – then playing with our minds as we watch the endless manipulation, deception and fabrication unfold in front of us. Even when we finally learn the secrets of what happened it doesn't change the mood, it makes things more infuriating. Fincher weaves an intricate web of lies and challenges us to actually think about what we're seeing, evoking either laughter or irritation.
Similar to Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, Fincher's Gone Girl is a brutally honest look at the American dream and the lengths Americans go to achieve that dream, at any cost. It shows the very real (and sick) reality as it exists, without any positive or negative connotation, and lets the audience make up their minds about what's happening. However, unlike Wolf of Wall Street, there are consequences here and it's easier to feel the emotional pains of the various people affected. Fincher has more finesse and the story in Gone Girl is vastly smarter, more nuanced about absurd societal pressures, all wrapped around a mystery which he's already experienced at presenting. It's the kind of film with potent scenes that linger on the mind for weeks.
Gone Girl excels in prying open the minds of men and specifically women, marriage, and the expectations of society. It's a sensitive subject to discuss with anyone, I'm even admittedly nervous to discuss it in-depth here, but thankfully others are discussing it in enlightening ways. Sasha Stone's review of Gone Girl is as brilliant as the film, peeling back the layers and examining the dark, dirty secrets that lie within. This is a modern monster movie, with a searing take on certain power hungry women ever so prevalent in today's society. I can't say it any better than she did, it's best to quote her review "Sympathy for the Devil" directly:
"We women live under the cloak of inadequacy every day of our lives. We eat that shit for breakfast (low carb please), and stuff our faces with it during daylight hours as we dutifully count our calories, contort ourselves in yoga class, shave our pussies, wax our legs, pluck our eyebrows, wear sunscreen, stuff our swollen feet into high heels and then vomit it all up before we go to bed at night. Some of us are driven to the brink of insanity, but none of us can ever really talk about it because to merely confess that it’s a struggle is to admit we’ve failed at being what society expects us to be."
"And everywhere we look there are always prettier, younger girls. A monster is born in Gone Girl, a monster built from the cries of frustration from a hundreds million women. And that monster is prowling the quiet countryside operating from a handmade rulebook, a catalogue of justifications and entitlements, the end result of ranking high self-esteem as the utmost character trait."
She goes on to reference the greater themes Fincher touches upon in Gone Girl, how much it challenges our own preconceived notions of what to expect with our lives, and then compare that to what we're seeing on screen. The difference being that, because Fincher is so good at what he does, the film is both entertaining and engaging. It allows us to decide on our own how much we want to agree with the characters, or not, without forgetting that it's a movie for all audiences; without ever losing the sense that it's not up to the filmmaker, but the viewers, to decide what to do with our feelings. Sasha continues with this poignant bit:
"It is here that we sympathize with the devil — a modern American girl suffocated under the mask of the SuperChild in the post therapy, post Oprah America where parents don’t punish their children nor risk shaking their self-esteem because self-esteem is what it’s all about. We’re taught that feeling good about ourselves is the key to going out there and getting what we deserve."
"Amy Dunne is not just the fears and anxieties of the American male embodied in a female, she is the sum total of women’s collective female fears too — that ideal we are all taught to strive for but can never attain. We women know what is expected of us by men and by ourselves. We wake up every day knowing it."
As with every David Fincher film, multiple viewings are necessary to delve into it further. There's so much more beneath the surface, so many scenes that have a powerful impact on their own that play even better within the context of the film. But each one is worth dissecting by itself. Rosamund Pike gives one of her best performances ever, and I've seen her in tons of films, as Amy Dunne – the incredibly complex women at the middle of everything. Ben Affleck is excellent as well, reaching depths with his character that few actors ever reach. The score from Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross drifts between the electronic psychosis Fincher prefers, and lighter romantic fare, but all of it works well in enhancing the atmosphere of the film.
What I love the most about the film, after first viewing, is how much it touches upon honesty. And how little of it there is. There are only two characters in the film that are completely honest: the lawyer Tanner Bolt played by Tyler Perry; and Nick's sister Margo played by Carrie Coon. I don't exactly know what their honesty means yet, and it will take extra viewings to examine their characters and scenes further, though at first glance it seems pretty straightforward - they just tell it like it is. Things get rather crazy rather quickly, and someone has to point that out, especially when no one else involved is willing to do so. Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it, too. Even if that means taking advantage of tragedy. So how far would you go?
Gone Girl is one of the smartest films this year, made by a masterful filmmaker who continues to show how immensely talented he is at crafting cinematic stories that act as mirrors to society. Even running over two hours it never loses steam, never skips a beat, and never wastes time, every scene is necessary and each one builds upon the last. Every character has something to say that, and all of them are so real, almost too real. Fincher has opened the door and it can't be closed, though we can still continue to sweep everything under the rug. But eventually there's going to be too much crap piling up under that rug, someone is going to trip and hurt themselves. We can either laugh at them, help them, or ignore everything and step right over them.