Gone Girl—David Fincher’s cold, cruel, and often very funny adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel—plays so many tricks at the viewer’s expense that it becomes difficult to take anything it does at face value. Ending exactly where it started, with a repeat of its enigmatic opening scene, the movie traffics in flashbacks and backward twists that purport to reveal more and more about its dissatisfied central couple, but which only uncover facades. Fincher fixates on causality; one thing is always leading to another—a clue to a clue, a detail to an inference, a fake-out to a reveal, a kiss to an oral swab. It all seems intoxicatingly logical, pasted with date stamps, connected by associative cuts, and wrapped up in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ silky, Mark Isham-esque score.
One might be inclined to label the movie as a series of elaborate misdirections, if it weren’t implicitly conditioning the viewer to mistrust its characters. Like the Paul Verhoeven movies it occasionally resembles, Gone Girl is a satire that doubles as tightly styled, perverse entertainment—a deconstructed thriller with a bop-bop-bop drum-machine pace, which builds to one of the sourest, most hopeless downer endings in recent memory. Fincher’s style—with its looming ceilings and motel-murder-scene lighting—can make something as simple as a man going out for a cup of coffee look like a procedural. Working off a script (by Flynn herself) that correlates suburban home life with a convoluted mystery, he has made a movie in which the lurid and the mundane look exactly alike, and where the underworld is represented by an abandoned shopping mall where suburbanites go to buy drugs.
One Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappears from her suburban Missouri home on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. Her hapless husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), finds himself at the center of a media circus, his every move interpreted as a sign of guilt. While he hides out at the bungalow of his twin sister and business partner, Go (Carrie Coon), no-nonsense local detective Boney (Kim Dickens) rifles through his drawers and personal finances, uncovering a paper trail of bills, letters, and anniversary notes that suggest that he’s hiding something. Eventually, Nick is forced to seek out the services of Tanner Bolt (a superb Tyler Perry), a charismatic lawyer who specializes in defending “wife-killers.” And still, there’s no body or definitive proof that Nick had something to do with his wife’s disappearance.
Gone Girl starts with easy targets—pop psychologists, sensationalized newscasts, overbearing parents, dumb neighbors—and works its way inward; once a viewer accepts that Nick and Amy aren’t the people everyone else makes them out to be, they may begin to suspect that they aren’t the people they make themselves out to be, either. Narrated scenes from Amy’s diary—many of them set in an artificial, mannered nighttime New York that seems modeled on Eyes Wide Shut—run parallel to the investigation into her disappearance. Her voice is a low Lauren Bacall purr, and it immediately registers as an affectation; pretty soon Nick’s exasperated cluelessness starts to seem like a put-on, too. The more thoroughly the movie proves his innocence, the harder it becomes for the viewer to trust him.
This is where things get really tricky, because Gone Girl gives its audience plenty of reasons to think of Nick and Amy as archetypes, representative of all married couples, and most of those reasons come straight from the characters’ mouths. “That’s marriage,” declares Amy at the end of an especially brutal scene—a sharply delivered line that could be interpreted as a thesis statement for the movie, were viewers to believe that Amy is being sincere. But they can’t, which is more or less the point. Gone Girl isn’t a movie about marriage or relationships or men and women, but about the way people assume established, familiar archetypes to please, manipulate, and entrap one another. The Dunnes’ behavior is predictable, but only because they are playing roles—for their parents, for the media, for the people they assume each other to be. The movie’s most tantalizing mystery is the question of what’s really going on in their heads. It remains unanswered.
For thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details not talked about in this review, visit Gone Girl’s spoiler space.