There are few directors these days that inspire cult-like following, and even fewer of these directors that are critical darlings each time out. An event, with the possibility of a masterpiece. Scorsese. Tarantino. Fincher. Eastwood. I don’t quite consider Christopher Nolan on that level quite yet, but David Fincher is. His adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl is a timeless masterpiece like only a master filmmaker can hand down, and he seems to be doing it with great regularity the past few years. But let’s go back to the novel that this was based on. Gone Girl is the third novel from former critic Gillian Flynn, and easily her most successful. When Fox bought the rights to the book they paid a somewhat hefty sum of $1.5 million, and hired Flynn to adapt it for the screen. While the novel wasn’t the outward, worldwide success of, say, 50 Shades of Grey, it was a massive success in a day where literature sales are steadily declining, even with the uptick in e-book sales. It’s easy to see why, as the darkly intellectual subject matter challenges its readers, but its also shocking and satisfying in the sickest ways. While certain elements fall in the infamous “black widow” genre, it’s really a genre mash-up, all taken very seriously through the lens of a marriage between two people.
Of course, Fincher is just the director to run wild with the dark examination of a failing marriage, told backwards, as the wife has disappeared, with the husband a likely suspect in her disappearance. Let’s get the basics out of the way, Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, and Rosamund Pike plays his wife Amy. In the first scenes of the movie, we are introduced to Nick as he realizes his wife might be missing, and he goes through the process of wrapping his head around the concept of what might have happened at his house. As the investigation into her disappearance progresses, the story cuts back to their meeting, and through a very long and complicated story, how they ended up at the day that Amy went missing.
Fincher presents every scene with a certain suspicious quality, as if not even he knows if Nick Dunne had anything to do with his wife’s disappearance or not, and the camera keeps a certain subjectivity about everyone that keeps the audience guessing, because it quickly lets you know that everyone is suspicious, anyone could be lying, and to not trust a single thing you see or hear because it might just be misdirection. The balance of this constant state of misdirection and questionable motivation intellectually engages the viewer, because it’s challenging you to find out what’s going on, usually with a big pay-off, whether you were right or wrong.
I’ve heard that Flynn changed the ending for the film, to keep viewers that had read the novel surprised. I’m a big fan of modern mystery fiction (particularly Connelly, Lehane, and Pelecanos) and even though I haven’t read Gone Girl it fights right in the modern state of the genre, which is to throw everything at you to let you decipher what matters and where the secret lies. It’s become hard to shock human senses dulled by over-consumption, but Gillian Flynn goes a long way to tell the audience that one ending is not necessarily THE ending, it’s just simply the ending to that chapter. She uses this style to her advantage, because even when you think you’ve figured it out, and even when you have figured it out, and you see it happening, she waits a few extra beats to slap you in the face with yet another angle that you hadn’t seen.
Some might call this type of mystery a gimmick. And they might be right, because it’s a cyclical story, and the intention is that this type of behavior and story goes well beyond the scope of a film, instead serving as a mediation on marriage and motivation in life. An examination of the human condition, they call it in film school. It’s master storytelling, some of the most beautiful cinematography, or photography (any single frame is a literal work of art, all production crew, as has become standard, are expert and create a literal world) you will ever see, and I don’t care what museums you’ve been to. The most gorgeous, horrifying murder I’ve ever seen, surpassing Dario Argento while lovingly calling to him. The work of a genius, in his prime, creating masterpieces. Ben Affleck gives a good performance, but I still believe I’ve seen better from him, and that there’s even a better performance in him. I suppose we’ll see it one day in a Tarantino or Scorsese or Eastwood movie. Rosamund Pike, as sexy and dangerous as she ever was, definitely an Oscar contender. Brilliant character work all around, but especially from Patrick Fugit, Kim Dickens, and Lisa Banes, great acting all around, memorable characters all doing well to serve the engaging plot.
What more is there to say? I didn’t rehash the plot because that would defeat the purpose. Either you’ve read the novel, or you’re going in semi-blind as far as how twisty it is. So I left it alone. I think the movie version is tightly plotted (the end drags a little, but there’s intent in it) and I enjoyed it immensely, screw Basic Instinct, this is a black widow thriller worth writing about. Again, masterpiece.