This article was originally printed on 10-9-14.
“The primal questions of a marriage: what are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
These opening lines of David Fincher’s newest film, “Gone Girl,” present the central question of the film: can we ever truly know another, even the one purported to be closest to us? This question presents itself on the fifth anniversary of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike, in a star-making performance), when Amy disappears under mysterious circumstances. After Amy’s disappearance goes viral, Nick’s public lack of emotion regarding his wife’s disappearance leads the cable news cycle, notably a Nancy Grace-like anchor (Missi Pyle), to immediately label him the culprit.
However, more is at play: the audience is introduced to Amy, with various neuroses of her own, through flashbacks from her diary over the previous five years. Amy is shown to be beautiful and intelligent, but also controlling and manipulative. It’s easy to see how it could be difficult to be married to her. Nick and Amy’s relationship begins to falter after both are laid off from their New York City writing jobs and are forced to move to Nick’s Missouri hometown.
But did he kill her? That’s what the entire world seems to think, especially as the town’s head detective (Kim Dickens) discovers evidence that corroborates the theory.
However, this description only applies to the first hour of the 145-minute film. To discuss more would be a disservice to those unspoiled of the twists and turns of the best-selling novel. What begins as a standard, if intriguing, crime procedural quickly transforms into something more provocative, as the film digs into Nick and Amy’s psyches, showing how both have hidden their true selves from the other.
Ben Affleck is terrific, subtly displaying Nick’s obsessive need to be liked. He gives away pieces of Nick slowly, keeping the audience at bay as to whether or not he is guilty. When the emotional stakes rise towards the end, Affleck’s performance grows in stature, showing the man Nick used to be, as well as the man he is becoming.
As good as Affleck is, he is no match for Rosmaund Pike. The luminous British actress, who has been wonderful in supporting roles in such films as “An Education” and “Pride and Prejudice,” gives an entirely transformative, singular performance here. Appearing in extensive flashbacks, Pike conveys the contradictory aspects of Amy’s personality (or, intriguingly, lack thereof) with aplomb, balancing her patrician iciness with warmth, strength with vulnerability. She is calculating, sympathetic, narcissistic, and terrifying, sometimes all at once.
Like most Fincher films, the ensemble is perfectly cast. Carrie Coon, as Nick’s twin sister, gives a phenomenal, heartbreaking performance, providing the only likeable character of the film. Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris are also excellent, cast against type as Nick’s lawyer and Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend, respectively.
Technical credits are topnotch, with Gillian Flynn (adapting from her own novel) delivering a caustic screenplay that somehow visualizes an internally based book without losing much of its depth. Kirk Baxter (who won Oscars for editing Fincher’s previous two films,) edits with a claustrophobic briskness that initially distracts but works wonders in the latter half of the film. Alternating between sparse tones and lustrous melodies, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score, while jarring, increases the suspense and may lead the duo to a second Oscar win. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s camera realizes astonishing images within the drab confines of a fading Missouri town.
In parallel with the beginning, the final shot of the film shows Nick contemplating his relationship with his wife: “What have we done to each other?”
There are no possessed dolls in “Gone Girl.” There are no demons, no ghosts, no zombies: only a couple driven together by their own prevailing narcissism. This horror movie finds its raw power by offering a biting mediation on the nature of marriage while asking us the question: is this a relationship that’s gone terribly wrong or one that’s gone terribly right?
Directed by: David Fincher Starring: Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris.
Abrams is a member of the class of 2018.