Some thoughts on David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ (2014): ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ with a ‘mind-tricking’ twist?
(Warning: This post contains spoilers. Best engaged with after viewing the film.)
On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find signs of a violent struggle and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) gone. As the search for Amy unfolds Nick finds himself at the centre of a media circus, cast as the prime suspect for his wife’s murder.
Watching David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ was like watching two films at once: one a murder mystery thriller that with a ‘mind-tricking’ twist morphs into a revenge narrative; the other an unsparingly grim (yet, at times, morbidly humorous) examination of a ‘happy marriage’ coming undone. Fincher masterfully interweaves these two elements and the only time I felt the film trundle towards the ordinary was when the entire focus veered off briefly onto the grisly but sterile mechanics of Amy’s imprisonment and escape from her ex-boyfriend’s lake house.
Thematically, Fincher’s dissection of marriage as a public performance provides a sharp critique of an obsessively mediatised society demanding the perfect enactment of both grief and happiness. Alongside this there is a broader questioning of the more private everyday pressures of social role-playing, particularly the demands upon women to be ‘amazing’ daughters, wives and partners. Fincher’s achievement in this regard is that the film manages to present Amy’s seemingly psychopathic behaviour, at least in my assessment, as an understandable (even justifiable?) ‘play’ designed to force Nick back into participating in the marital performance. I loved the line with which she tucks him into bed in the scene marking an uneasy reconciliation between the couple: ‘I am not going to hurt you. I only want you to participate’.
Narratively, Fincher makes fantastic use of the unreliable narration provided by the two central characters. Amy’s diary, a deliciously crafted tool of deception, nevertheless provides truthful glimpses of the dissimulations underpinning the relationship and their unravelling. Nick Dunne, empathetic but feckless, deceives everyone and the audience by withholding information about his unhappy marriage and extra marital affair. Both Affleck and Pike are superbly believable in their characters’ skins. Neither character is particularly likeable but their weaknesses are uncomfortably recognisable; this recognition, I thought, gave an uneasy edge to the audiences’ laughter at the macabre conjugality with which the film ends. The film reminded me of Bergman’s ‘Scenes from a marriage’ (1973); this might be a sacrilegious comparison for Bergman fans and admittedly Fincher’s film (even with its moments of spectacular violence) does not come close to the deeply troubling study of marital relations achieved by Bergman. In my view, Fincher does however manage to create moments of unsettling power that go beyond the mechanical surprises of complex storytelling. And that is no mean achievement.