The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Gone Girl

Reviewed by James Slaymaker.

Director David Fincher
Length 149 mins
Certificate 18 / R
Rating *********-
Filmmaking: 5  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article The two films that immediately sprang to mind after I saw Gone Girl - David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name (which, admittedly, I haven’t read) - were also recent, oneiric near-masterpieces dissecting the institution of marriage: Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. All of these films use an outlandish, dream-logic plot as a means to explore the performative nature of human relationships and the fundamental unknowability of the object of desire. In doing so, all three highlight the messy interplay of compromise, wilful blindness, deceit, possession and paranoia that underlines every close relationship. In Gone Girl’s case, the focus is on the way in which people tend to self-consciously embody popular archetypes in order to attract each other, and are then disappointed when they’re perceived as only being these archetypes. Because we play up to images of what we think others want us to be, we encourage them to project idealized images onto us.

Like Zodiac, The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl is also a film about digitization, chiefly the ways in which the digital revolution has changed the manner in which we process information. Fincher’s high-res DV images are precise and exacting - typically shot in deep-focus with wide angle lenses, on-screen space divided with straight lines and sharp angles, as if designed with a protractor. The images appear simultaneously to be have been captured with incredible clarity and also hyper-real, dream-like. The editing is efficient as hell, with sharp cuts timed precisely to the beat of the dialogue, creating a high-speed, montage-like sense of forward motion.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a former journalist and current bar co-owner, returns home on his 5th wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. Due to a number of incriminating clues and his shockingly nonchalant attitude, Nick becomes the prime suspect and quickly finds himself the subject of a media storm. Significantly, the film places less emphasis on Nick’s attempts to prove his (alleged) innocence than on his attempts to turn himself into an amiable public figure, carefully calibrating every act he makes (even ones as seemingly small as the cadence of a remark or a stray hand gesture), as to reflect as well on himself as possible. This emphasis on performance and perception - altering your behaviour to manipulate a person sees you - resonates with the film’s exploration of interpersonal relationships.

Placed alongside these procedural scenes are experts from Amy’s diary, which elaborately detail the breakdown of their marriage. As it turns out, the two used to live the high life in New York City, but, following the economic pressures brought about by Nick losing his job in a downsizing scheme, they moved back to Nick’s quaint hometown of North Carthage. Amy’s difficulty in adjusting, combined with Nick’s increasingly distant behaviour, put a destructive strain on their relationship. It’s difficult to talk about the film without bringing up the subject of misogyny, about which there have been several think-pieces since the film’s release. Like Eye’s Wide Shut’s Bill Harford, Nick is the sort of casual sexist who’s internalized the values of a patriarchal society so passively he doesn’t even realize it himself. Though he sees himself as the totally rational, good-natured victim, his bitterness, arrogance, apathy, and chauvinism register as decidedly adolescent.

To describe the plot in any further detail would be to risk spoiling it, but, suffice to say, it soon becomes clear that every major character is, to some extent, a manipulator, trying to bend reality and perception to their will. Stray clues are used as the building blocks for narratives (Nick’s, Amy’s, the media’s), that can used to serve their own ends. Digital data is known for the ease with which it can be manipulated, moulded and narrativized, and Gone Girl is a largely about how a person skilful enough can control information to the extent that they create a narrative which supplants the truth.

This review was published on October 30, 2014.

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