Every year, I wait for that one movie where the screenplay is fluid, the images are delicious and the scenes whisper the tension between the characters in the most subtle manner. And I keep getting what I want in Fincher’s films. As is evident from the title of my blog, Fincher is among my top three directors of all time. And I earnestly believe that he is the best expressionist and intense director in Hollywood today, as I shall try to explain through the analysis of his latest outing, Gone Girl. This film has been adapted from a book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, who herself has written the screenplay, tweaking and teasing at certain areas in the book. The movie is about a man, Nick Dunne, who one day returns from the bar he runs to find his wife missing and the tension that ensues between him and everyone else in pursuit of the truth, or what they want to be the truth. It is this question of perception and public image which takes the limelight, exploring quite rudely the stencils we the public mould the people around us into. From an ideological point, it is a critique on how society demands a certain stereotype for everyone who wishes to survive in that society, so that believing they know you, you can be hunted down. The air that Gone Girl establishes from the very moment Nick enters his house is one of uncertainty and a creepy intensity, as we do not have a clear idea as to what anyone is hiding behind their sculpted masks. The film approaches the relationship between people with a sort of brashness and scathing rudeness that makes the audience sit uncomfortably in their seats, clutching onto their sodas while introspecting on how much they can relate to the characters.
This was a film that could have been a forgettable C-list movie, had it not received the treatment of visual expressionism by the director in question. The impact and the returns of the movie entirely relies on the use of the camera, the treatment of the scenes with appropriately timed sound and silence, both of which together hold up the atmosphere of suspense and creepy intensity that the film manages to pull off astonishingly well. It is a very noticeable trend in the images of Fincher’s films that a certain darkness and stark play of shadows dominate the visual experience, adding layers to the suspenseful drama which fill his pages. This style has been very appropriately applied for this film where the dominance in all images is of the shades of dull yellow, cool blue and grey. This palette exudes a sense of poison and wrongness in every object that is being examined, and every character that eyes are turned to. This can also be very evidently seen in his previous films such as The Game and The Social Network, where this very specific use of disturbing shades tend to mess with the viewer’s mind and innately place in it the notion that something is definitely wrong here. Such an intense atmosphere complemented by the use of crisp yet stunning dialogue, make for a very rewarding experience.
Coming to the plot, the movie is very clever in its interaction with its audience; as it keeps shifting from one possible direction to another, until we start questioning everything that is happening, and just like a legal proceeding, new and contradicting evidence and statements seem to appear from all corners. This has created a film where at no point is it possible to guess the next step, the direction it is heading in, which is in my opinion, the definitive making of a great suspense thriller. This effect is accomplished by a treatment of the story, I wouldn’t say in a non-linear fashion, but with alternating voices from the husband and wife, relating to seemingly different events, until after a certain point you begin to realize they are both narrating the same event in two entirely different ways. This brings me back to my legal analogy, where contradicting witness statements are heard from both sides in court, the uncovering of the actual events that unfurled being the thrill in most criminal cases. Such a stylistic choice also reminds me of another great film, by another great director – The Prestige by Christopher Nolan, where you had different retellings of the same story by two characters, and adding to the similarity, one of the character’s recounting being from his diary. But the similarities end there, the storytelling technique in Gone Girl having a far greater effect on the plot, adding to its many nuances. Upto the very mid-point of the movie, the film seems to be taking a very clear direction, and the audience seems to have developed a certain character sketch of Nick Dunne, when it turns itself on its head. Fincher plays the irony card by moulding his own audience into the press and media in the film, forming very stencil-like perceptions of its characters in their minds, only to be confused even more. In terms of story-telling and plot direction, Gone Girl is the best I have seen all year. The ending I shall not discuss too much on, but at first viewing I felt that it was anti-climactic to an extent, not leaving the audience satisfied. But now I realize that the point of the whole movie is to be agonizingly insecure and providing an unsatisfactory ending which leaves a lump in our throats is definitely elevating. The notion of non-finality, which was alluded to in certain nuanced moments of both Amy and Nick, was indeed the only possible outcome. They are both messed up individuals, and there is definitely something wrong about their relationship, but that is the only way they can survive, the only way they can subsist is with the other, driving each other mad day by day. Very poetic.
The main protagonist of the film, Nick Dunne, being played by Ben Affleck, is one of the most intriguing and curious characters in any film. For the most part of the movie, I had no idea what to think of his character, seeing myself draw up a certain sketch only to see myself trash-canning that with every ten minutes. Nick is primarily an intense, yet awkward character who is most masked in his emotions to re-define the meaning of steel. He seems to be utterly at a loss, with no clear idea on how to react to anything that comes his way, and this obviously tends to act against his perception in the eyes of the police, the public and anyone who has a moment to stare. These attributes to the character very much took me back to the namesake character in Camus’ novel, The Stranger. From his absence of emotional display and general dryness causing skewed public perceptions and unfavourable reactions in the jury at his trial, to his general defiance of having to act this way or the other to establish what he believes is the truth, there are several stark similarities. When put to film, Nick also projects this image of a bordering-on-psychopathic creep hiding behind a chiselled face and a stern jaw-line. This is crimson blood to the sharks of the media and the general public who feed off this story, as the more interesting the story, the more we are compelled to be convinced by it. Ben Affleck, who has been hitting several home-runs since his return to cinema, knocks it out of the park in this one, playing the ever-subdued, brooding man who definitely has something to hide. At one point in the movie, where Nick is advised by his lawyer, immaculately played by Tyler Perry, to confess to the public about his affair, we are exposed to the more nuanced spaces of his character. An on-screen act that at the time placed him in our heads as a devilishly cunning, and convincing actor, later turns out to be the words he actually has been wanting to speak from the heart from the start.
Coming to Amy, who is played by Rosamund Pike, presents to the viewer the most riveting sketch of a woman put to screen in quite some time. A woman who astonishes the crowd by the lengths she is willing to go to, in order to preserve what she thinks is her real self, or to attack the man she loved, out of sheer boredom ensuing from the comfort she has been slinking into. Rosamund Pike could not have bettered her performance in any way, the narration from the diary, the stone-like faces and expressions, all hitting the nail on the head, with unsettling determination. Note is to be taken of a particular scene where Amy fakes a sexual assault on her by her former lover, in a most gut-wrenching and horrifying way, that disturbs me to this very day of how proficient an actress she could be, and the hellish use she could put such talent to. Amy is, on the whole a determined woman, who is bored of comfort and her husband who she feels is tying her talents down, not letting her fly. And she turns out to be the most calculating and intelligent character, who understands exactly who she and Nick are, and what they have to do. A character I will remember for a long time, for sure. It seems as though every single casting choice for this movie was spot-on and delivered big time, down to the extras that had probably a scene apiece. One casting choice did throw me off of the movie slightly, and that is of Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, Amy’s ex-lover and partial-stalker. I do think that most of my reservation about this choice draws from my previous experience of NPH in all his hilarious and show-time roles preventing me from seeing a serious character here, but I’m still certain that Neil was not the perfect casting for this particular role, which requires a serious, subdued individual, who can present a threat to Ben’s Nick. It seems that my television experience robbed me of the wholesome experience as every time Neil showed up, the sense of creepy intensity was lost for a second.
Gone Girl definitely qualifies as one of the best films I have seen in quite a while, and probably ranks third in Fincher’s portfolio according to me. What I take away most from this movie, and will surely keep me coming back is the excellent use of the camera and the murky palette which both contributed to the subdued yet creepy undertones that filled the suspense.