If the institution of marriage is ever looking for a PR agent to burnish its reputation to the world at large, it would do well to avoid the services of one Gillian Flynn.
The author of the bestselling book Gone Girl, upon which this beautifully-wrought if emotionally-unnerving adaptation by acclaimed director David Fincher is based (she also wrote the screenplay), Flynn is unflinching in her brilliantly cynical depiction of marriage as the murderous union of two often flawed, and in this case at least, quite damaged individuals who together do not add up to the much-valued and romanticised happily ever after whole, even if they would like to think they do.
In their own casually narcissistic ways, neither Nick nor Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) are as fully invested in their coming together as the other would like to believe, with each of them play acting to degrees both large and small, the idealised picture of marriage expressed over and over in newspaper social pages, wedding photos, and Facebook updates with neither suspecting that the other is engaged in anything less than wholesale devotion (we learnt later that applies to Nick far more than Amy).
Both Flynn, who adapts her book with ruthless precision to the visual demands of cinema without sacrificing the double-sided back-and-forth narrative (both between the two parties and in time) that sustains the novel, and Fincher, who delights in bringing to the light the dark half-truths and outright lies that manifest just below society’s Norman Rockwell exteriors, craft fine drama in the yawning gulf that exist in this place between perception and reality, where laziness, disinterest and obsessive interest can grow and corrupt, veiled from the prying sight of caring, brutally realistic eyes.
It is in this nether zone of relationship nothingness that both now conduct their interactions, consciously or otherwise, with Nick, beset by failures financial and existential, a despairing and lazy shadow of the man he once was when he dazzlingly romanced Amy’s vivacious, eye-twinkling rich girl from New York, who finds herself in her husband’s economically-depressed hometown of Carthage, Missouri with little to occupy her mind but thoughts of relational revenge.
Gone Girl opens on the morning of the once golden couple’s fifth anniversary with Nick beginning his day as he often does with a coffee and a chat with his sassy but tough bar tending twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) at the drinking establishment he runs, simply called The Bar (its naming looks to be yet another manifestation of Nick’s disinterested approach to so much of his life including, rather disastrously as it turns out, his marriage), blithely unaware of the hell his life is about to be plunged into.
Returning home he finds the home he shares with Amy in a mild state of disarray, with no sign of his wife amidst the cavernous emptiness of the home they have come to share in a physical sense only.
It alarms him sufficiently – though with everything in Nick’s life, this is expressed in the most muted and languorous way possible, an emotionally indistinct manner that is interpreted later on by the world at large, egged on by tabloid journalists like Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), as insufficiently caring – to call in the police, ably represented by the forensically-savvy Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and immediately suspicious Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit).
Faced with an escalating investigation that almost inevitably paints him as the lead suspect, Nick puts one foot wrong after another, or at least he is perceived to by the baying-for-blood peanut gallery of public and media that highlight the paucity of truth inherent in and the propensity for tawdry muckraking in today’s news-gathering services, with his only defenders Margo and feisty eminently-capable celebrity defence attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry).
Backed into a corner, Nick looks for all the world like a vengeful husband with blood on his hands, especially after clue after somewhat too obvious clue surface, dressing him in the clothes of a wronged, violent husband with only murder on his mind.
But of course as anyone who has read the book will know, this is far too simple a summation of the man, the woman he married who is anything but a put-upon pawn (there is one shockingly violent scene between her and her ex-boyfriend Desi Collings played with delusional vivacity by Neil Patrick Harris underscores this to a tee), and the empty shell of a marriage he and Amy inhabited, and the truth is far darker, more twisted and deliciously involving than the surface machinations of justice may suggest.
To go any further, in detailing what transpires would be to give away spoilers too many.
Suffice to say, Gone Girl is a complex, utterly involving tale that seems to gallop through its 149 minute running time, during which you are alternately on the edge of your seat, gasping in disbelief and sitting slack-jawed in amazement at the unexpected revelations, multi-layered twists and turns and deliberately understated, chilling ending that sustain a film that is anything but an open-and-shut murder mystery.
Fincher does a fine job of uncovering and giving life to the half-truths and outright lies that pepper the Dunnes’ union like a cancer, with neither party exactly escaping unscathed as their relationship is laid to dry for all the world to see, to dissect and to lay judgement.
Visually the film moves seamlessly between the dreamworld lightness and playfulness of the couples’ early years together and the drab greys and muted tones of their marriage’s declining years, a tribute to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s ability to match the mood with style to a degree only matched by the moodily ominous synth-laced soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Revelation aside, what makes Gone Girl such a remarkable, and endlessly engrossing cinematic achievement is the clever way in which it reveals its great secrets and insights, neither too quickly or too slowly, its scenes both flashback and present day serving to perfectly illuminate the hidden dark realms that exist knowingly or unknowingly between two people, and the great costs that come from failing to adequately illuminate them before the damage is done and life is set, for better or worse, on its inevitable course.