I can’t stop thinking about Gone Girl. Not because of any maddening, unresolved plot twist; it’s just emotionally draining. If I had written this review immediately after walking out of the screening, the only thing I’d be able to say is that we’ve been given another brilliant-yet-imperfect David Fincher movie that fits neatly alongside the director’s other recent works, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
But like The Social Network, the interwoven storylines here all serve as a satire of modern life. Fincher’s entire body of work, which also includes Fight Club and Se7en, is punctuated with moments of physical and emotional violence used to contrast cultural mores. Gone Girl succeeds as a critique of the marketplace of ideas — a rationale that, in free and public discourse, the truth will always emerge from competing ideas.
The marketplace of ideas, according to Gone Girl, is bullshit.
Gone Girl is the story of Amy and Nick Dunne (Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, respectively) — New York expatriates who find themselves living a mundane existence in suburban Missouri, where Nick grew up. On their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to find a broken coffee table and no Amy in sight. An investigation into her disappearance unearths evidence suggesting Amy was murdered — with Nick as the prime suspect. At the same time, the court of public opinion (as rallied by tabloid media) has already tried and convicted Nick without so much as an arrest. It's not because of any conclusive evidence; it's because from the onset, Nick is really, truly unlikeable. Therefore, he must be guilty.
It takes a while to understand Affleck's character, who in the first 20 minutes seems distant, numb, and uncaring. (My only gripe with the film is that the pacing early on feels a bit off.) Both Affleck and Pike give incredibly nuanced performances, each tasked with portraying multiple facades at various times. Second to them would be Tyler Perry and Carrie Coon as Nick's attorney and twin sister, respectively, who are there to teach Nick that what he says isn't as important as how he says it — be it to them, to friends and family, to the public at large. Every supporting character in Gone Girl ultimately serves as an effective foil to Nick and Amy, challenging how they present themselves to the world and the consequences thereof.
The movie jumps between past and present, the story at times told from the direct points of view of Nick or Amy. It can get hard to follow, and there isn't a clear change in visual style to indicate time à la Memento. Time is tracked via titling, by the number of days since Amy went missing, and supplemented with voiceover. It's an important tool used sparingly enough, offering a contrast to what the narrator is feeling when their outward appearance suggests the opposite.
Again, it’s all about presentation. The point Gone Girl makes over and over again, implicitly and often explicitly, is that truth on its own isn’t enough — if it's even necessary at all. This is Gillian Flynn, who wrote both the screenplay and the original book it’s based on, speaking at a panel after the Gone Girl screening:
It's a movie about storytelling. It's a movie about the stories we tell ourselves. The stories we tell other people and also with the media, this greek chorus kind of blowing up large.
Later, she continues:
It's the idea that someone else's tragedy is something that we consume. We are consumers of tragedy when we tune into those shows and what that means to package and produce someone else's tragedy. How someone immediately becomes the villain and someone becomes the hero and how they're cast against our wills.
This is the perfect movie for David Fincher. The intentions of the characters, good or bad, are never judged — Fincher never takes a side. The consequences are determined by what's presented, not what's honest or even fair. And by the end of the movie, the audience is left with an uneasy feeling that the mob mentality, the sensational tabloid media, and the false moral high grounds depicted in the film are all too close to our own reality.
In the world of Gone Girl, the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work — or rather, it doesn’t matter. This is a narrative driven not by the truth but by the perspective thereof. All that matters is how you sell it — and to whom.
That’s the argument Fincher and Flynn have made with Gone Girl, and it’s very convincing.
Gone Girl opens Friday, October 3rd