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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Distrust spouses, neighbors in ‘Gone Girl’

David Fincher’s famous works center around the psychologically perverse, presenting the warpath left behind not by villains donning capes or masks, but by those hiding among us. John Doe (“Se7en” (1995)), Tyler Durden (“Fight Club” (1999)) and the Zodiac killer (“Zodiac” (2007)) are all highly calculating, sadistic and nearly invisible murderers who nihilistically revel in the ensuing chaos. Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014) adds another volume to his oeuvre of highly successful thrillers, based off the hit 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. Flynn altered the ending to compel the book’s fans to the theater. I haven’t read the book, which left me blissfully unaware of comparisons and fully gripped by the film.

The film begins like an alien invasion movie — shots of an apple-pie American town are overlayed by eerie, “Inception”-esque music. The wind rustles menacingly. It is the fifth anniversary of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) marriage, and Nick intends to divorce his wife. When he arrives home from work, Amy is missing, appearently kidnapped. Nick is soon the police’s No. 1 suspect due to this uncanny coincidence and mounting but circumstantial evidence against him.

Like Natalee Holloway and Elizabeth Smart, Amy is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed all-American sweetheart. A Harvard grad, she is adored in her neighborhood. While she obviously does not undergo the same traumatic experiences as Holloway or Smart, this idealized wax doll silently enlists the media army. Fincher lampoons televised culture, where newscasters transform the case into a reality television circus focused on image and sentimentality rather than evidence and truth. It’s the nation against Nick, and he’s down for the count.

Yet the nation is nothing compared to Amy, who is a Hitchcockian cocktail of Uncle Charlie (“Shadow of a Doubt” (1943)), Madeleine Elster (“Vertigo” (1958)) and Norman Bates (“Psycho” (1960)). She transforms herself repeatedly while “missing” to manipulate others, and she shares Bates’ robotically innocent yet psychotically diabolical smile. Without divulging her multiple jaw-dropping decisions, I’ll say she is the ne plus ultra of all femme fatales of the film noir era — a true Fincher criminal. Pike, who gives Kevin Spacey (John Doe) a run for his money as the flat lined mastermind, is certainly worthy of a supporting actress Oscar nod.

The “Shadow of a Doubt” parallel is especially revealing. Hitchcock thought that Middle America was an ideal setting for a thriller, where he’d uncover swine hidden behind picturesque suburban houses. Fincher presents an ominous image of America’s heartland as well, employing a palette of faded blues and harsh whites to create a menacing, noir feel. This environment permits Amy’s actions; otherwise, to suspect a pregnant housewife of crime seems criminal itself.

Unlike “Se7en” or “Zodiac,” which focus on an individual’s nearly fantastical murder rampages, “Gone Girl” is more grounded, realistic and, ultimately, horrifying. What do the Johnsons do when they wave goodbye after the neighborhood cookout? If “Fight Club” taught us anything, it’s that everyone has a touch of crazy waiting to be unleashed. “Gone Girl” brings that drama into the home with chilling results. Worked on by the haunting realizations of a failing marriage, Amy suffers a Jack Torrence (“The Shining” (1980)) breakdown. Marriage is her Overlook Hotel. All work (at home) and no play makes Amy a dull girl.

With the U.S. divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, Fincher’s messages of marriage as compromise or as an institution that leads two people to destroy each other will hit home for many viewers. Amy initially laments feeling like something to be jettisoned off and a tool for sex, until she learns to fight back — while Tyler Durden fights The System and The Man, Amy fights Marriage. Just watch “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) — five years after the vows, the person lying next to you can become a stranger, an alien.

A recent New Yorker article about the novel compares marriage to an abduction, sapping a single woman of her accomplishments and reducing her to a child-bearing machine. Amy inverts this concept, abducting the lives of those around her and reveling in their dismay like a modern Medea.

Fincher’s first female villain proves comparable to The Joker or Alex DeLarge (“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)). Fitting for the Halloween season,“Gone Girl” transports us into a world of macabre and haunting when a tortured psyche becomes unmasked.


Rating: 10/10

“Gone Girl” is playing at 4:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at the Nugget.