Eclipse of the truth

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) playing the cool girl.

Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) playing the cool girl.

It has taken me a few weeks to collect my thoughts about David Fincher’s brilliant adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. So as a disclaimer, this review is going to contain spoilers.

What made The Social Network a very special film back in 2010 is that it said something to people living and breathing in 2010, yet it could easily mean something as important and relevant to people living in any other year. Because ultimately, Fincher made both a timely and timeless film about our collective hopes and dreams; he tapped into our dirty aspirations for an envy-inducing social status and our deepest desires and expectations from our friends. It’s the kind of film that necessitates a strong, lively voice to stay afloat and Fincher, luckily, found exactly that in Aaron Sorkin’s ferociously fast-paced, bitingly witty script. From Sorkin’s script onwards, Fincher is able to supply his composed, introspective, Trent Reznor-scored canvas with splashes of humor and–dare I say it–heart.

And now Fincher has made Gone Girl, based on Flynn’s adaptation of her own blockbuster novel. The film’s twist is probably more fun if you haven’t read the book, but as expected, it’s a very loyal adaptation. Although, to be honest, Flynn’s book is an easy beach read. It’s not as sharply observant or beautifully written as Flynn’s previous effort, Dark Places, but it contains some of the most insightful, daring passages I’ve read on womanhood in ages. Anyone who accuses Flynn of misogyny has so entirely missed the point because the crucial point of Flynn’s book (and Fincher’s film) is a defense of the woman, and a critique of the man.

For the uninitiated, Gone Girl opens as Nick Dunne’s (portrayed by a marvelously cast Ben Affleck) wife, Amy (portrayed by a radiant Rosamund Pike in a perfect performance), has gone missing. What starts out as a possible kidnapping case on the Dunnes’ fifth anniversary quickly unfolds in the media as a possible murder in a marriage turning sour. Everyone begins to suspect that Nick Dunne–apathetic, reserved all-American male, with a local bar started on his wife’s trust fund–may have very well killed a wife who could have done much better.

Yet Gone Girl is less about the mystery and more about the Dunnes’ marriage. It joins the long tradition of stories that are, at its core, about marriage–the relationship between two people and their expectations for each other. Oftentimes, those expectations are unrealistic, and in the Dunnes’ case, frighteningly so. The film’s mystery pretty much ends at the halfway point, a telling punctuation that the film is not really about where Amy has gone, but more about why Amy is gone.

Flynn’s iconic “cool girl” monologue from the novel has been beautifully adapted to the screen by Fincher, a director who is equipped with the intuition that the monologue must stay. That monologue contains some of the sharpest social commentary about women and men I’ve encountered in a while. It’s a confession that women everywhere would inevitably recognize–that women often mold themselves into the male’s version of the “dream girl,” that women restrain themselves from what they really want to do or say in fear of male judgment, and most importantly, the fact that women no longer can be themselves because most men, especially in this day and age, have been rendered into a perpetual state of man-child syndrome, unable to take disapproval and only open to the auto-pilot rituals of sycophantic flattery. Women are told to “get over things” by their male overseers and their female peers–don’t make a fuss, it’s not a big deal, just be chill about all the shit, let the poor boy win. Women are no longer living in the era of a Rhett Butler who likes Scarlett O’Hara the way she really is; women are now trying to get the attention of an ADD-prone Judd Apatow hero who masturbates to the filtered photo of that girl who advertises her tight ass on Instagram because she thinks that is the easiest thing about her to like. Flynn gets all of that–she knows that the girl with the tight ass has so much more to offer to the world as a fully realized human being–who can hurt and be hurt, who can think and incite thought–than as the object of the clinical male gaze.

And that’s why Amy is gone. Because Amy has realized Nick likes the facade more than the truth.

In this day and age, it’s getting easier to be the person you want people to think you are–both from a distance, and up close. You can update your Facebook status, post a photo on Instagram, and people will come to an instant conclusion on the type of person you are. And, even in real life, we’re all being programmed to reach a conclusion–what type of person are you? versus the more chilling, what type of person do you want people to think you are? But what happens when everyone–including your spouse–thinks you are, and should be, the identity you’ve projected, or promised, rather than person you truly are? And is it your fault or theirs?

Gone Girl battles all those things, making it a painful zeitgeist of our times. Like Fincher’s The Social Network, Gone Girl forces us to examine and confront our relationships and our identities.

None of this would work without Pike’s chilling, star-turning performance as Amy Dunne. Pike has been a steady working actress for years, but under Fincher’s direction, she finally has an opportunity to blossom. Fincher understands Pike’s knack to slip into any role, from the sweet older sister from Pride & Prejudice to the sophisticated, posh socialite in An Education. Vulnerable and calculating, Pike’s performance as Amy allows all of Pike’s previous personas to seamlessly come together in a complex–and sometimes terrifying–portrait of a woman scorned, yet still unusually desperate and sympathetic.

Then there’s her marital foil, Nick Dunne, played by Affleck in one of his most natural performance to date. Affleck has never been good as the romantic comedy lead and I’m glad that the Affleck era of rom-coms seems to be over. He had always seemed somewhat uncomfortable, stiff, and uncharming in those roles (see: Gigli, Forces of Nature, the list goes on). When I saw Affleck in State of Play as the slimy politician, it just seemed like that was the kind of role he was meant to play. So perhaps Affleck became a director so he can properly cast himself instead of being inappropriately typecast. But here, Fincher cleverly shapes him into the Average Joe husband well–constantly longing for validation, gradually feeling tired of all the games that he isn’t able to quite keep up with. Affleck’s performance is certainly overshadowed by Pike’s more expertly crafted one, but there’s no denying: Affleck as Nick Dunne is genius casting; it’s a casting that turns Affleck’s weakness–lack of actorly bravura–into a strength.

Pike and Affleck lead a strong supporting cast, including Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s former lover, Tyler Perry as Nick’s lawyer, Carrie Coon as Nick’s no-nonsense sister, Kim Dickens as the clear-headed detective on the case, Patrick Fugit as the comical cop on the case, Missi Pyle as the Nancy Grace-esque TV journalist, and Sela Ward as the TV journalist set to interview Nick in an exclusive.

Gone Girl is film that says something about our times, our expectations, our dreams. For a film with such a dark subject matter, it’s actually a pretty funny film. Fincher and Flynn dare us to laugh as they tease and haunt us with the possibility that all that we’ve ever wanted can go horribly wrong because it went wrong for their picture-perfect couple. If anything, we’ve all been prisoners of some twisted, misguided sense of entitlement at some point in our lives, but for the Dunnes, it may be too late for them to redeem themselves.