If there is one thing that the fairy tales we read and the movies we watched as children taught us, it’s that everything has a happily ever after, most notably relationships and the intangible concept of “true love”. If there’s one thing that real life has told us, it’s that this is complete bullshit; if the Cinderella story continued after she found her prince charming, it would probably end with them separating after a massive argument about leaving the toilet seat up.
In many ways, all of director David Fincher’s films are about miserable relationships. From the messy end to Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow’s marriage in Se7en, to the break-up that inadvertently leads to Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook in The Social Network, the fall outs from relationships ending have consequences that shape the rest of the characters lives. Even Fincher’s attempt at a more conventional love story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, ends in misery as an elderly Cate Blanchett has to face up to the fact that she is hopelessly in love with a young child who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
Gone Girl may not be Fincher’s best film, but it is his best attempt to date of tackling this subject. On surface level, this appears to be another murder mystery, the sub-genre he excels at. The digger you deep, the more it reveals itself to be a savage satire on modern relationships – one that is impossible to laugh out loud to because of how merciless it is when it comes to scrutinising the stereotypes of both men and women on the brink of breaking up. It’s probably not the best film to watch on a date, or even if you are in a relationship and watching it on your own, as you’ll feel yourself slowly starting to distrust your other half. David Fincher claims he’s always wanted to make a date movie that made three million people get divorces as a result. Believe me, he’s made it here – this is a film that revels in its audience’s discomfort.
This is what I can tell you about Gone Girl, which has been faithfully adapted to the screen by author Gillian Flynn from her novel. In 2005, Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck, in a career best performance) meets Amy (Rosamund Pike, in what is sure to be an Oscar nominated performance) at a terrible house party in New York. Both are successful writers, with Amy being the childhood inspiration for the “Amazing Amy” children’s books written by her parents. Flash forward to July 5th 2012, the date of their fifth wedding anniversary, where they are now living in Nick’s sleepy childhood hometown.
After visiting his twin sister at the bar they co-own, Nick gets a call from a neighbour informing him his front door is open. There is smashed glass and blood everywhere, with Amy nowhere to be seen- within hours the police investigation becomes national news, and the media circus all vilifies Nick as responsible for what they believe is a murder. Soon, everything about his life is open to question, from the fact he smiled in a photograph to severe misreadings of his relationship with his sister (“Twin-cest”) designed to make the American public hate him. With even the investigating officers believing this stuff, he takes the investigation into his own hands, looking for clues via Amy’s anniversary treasure hunt.
From there, I can tell you absolutely nothing. Like the sensationalised news story in its narrative, this is a movie solely designed to become a water cooler moment, whose secrets are best left undiscovered beforehand. You will be frantically asking other people if they’ve seen it just so you can talk about it – just not your better half, who you will probably sharing very awkward silences with after viewing. If the film does attract any criticism, it’s that it can easily be read as both misogynist and misandrist (the female equivalent of misogyny- yes I did google that before writing it).
The hysterical nature of all the female characters and the fact that almost every male character is presented as a potential rapist (Neil Patrick Harris’ character is what Barney Stinson would be like if David Fincher had created How I Met Your Mother) and woman hater may prove jarring to some; in what is essentially a skewering of how both sexes are presented in relationships and in the media, this is incredibly justified. It’s this element of social and media satire that separates it from the casual misogyny of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, two films that the second half of the film becomes increasingly reminiscent of. You can bet your bottom dollar that if this was made in the early 90’s, Michael Douglas would be cast in the lead role.
Of all Fincher’s films though, the one this reminded me of most was Zodiac. In that film, the three central characters become obsessed with finding the Zodiac killer, something which causes the breakdown of their personal and professional lives. With the case remaining unsolved in real life, we as the audience find ourselves picking everything apart for clues – something which we obsessively find ourselves doing here, no matter how ridiculous the entire thing gets. Also in that film, journalists were presented as the good guys, even though the public at large distrusts them; in Gone Girl, the closest thing to a sympathetic character is Tyler Perry’s defence lawyer Tanner Bolt, who would be the villain in any other movie. It’s an incredibly Fincherian move to make your sole likeable character not only a lawyer, but one dubbed “the patron saint of wife killers”. Most surprisingly, Perry is actually the best thing in the film by giving an unshowy performance that perfectly complements the hysteria of the two leads. We are living in a world where the sentence “Academy Award nominee Tyler Perry” may soon exist.
Gone Girl is set to become one of the most talked-about movies of the year. Whether you love it or hate it, it will have a massive impact that you will not be able to shake off – you’ll never be able to take happy couples seriously again. Whenever you see couples changing their Facebook profile pictures to images of them kissing, take solace in the fact that they wouldn’t be rubbing their happiness in your miserable face after watching Gone Girl. For that reason alone, as well as many others I can’t tell you about until you’ve seen it, this is one of the best films of the year.