One of the most praised aspects of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl was the utilization of the unreliable narrator, the first half written in the first person from the perspective of both lead characters, neither of whom, the second half reveals, divulges everything there is to know about them. I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen David Fincher’s film adaptation, penned by Flynn herself; the unreliable narrator concept has been retained, although I don’t know if it will fare as well from a critical standpoint, given how much harder it is to deceive the audience with visuals than with mere words on a page. The only way it truly works is if a character or group of characters is hallucinating, escaping into fantasy, imagining a sequence of events, or, if the filmmakers are really desperate, dreaming.
Here is a film I truly don’t know how to feel about. On the one hand, it’s cynical, satirical, taut, twisted, visually shocking, and disturbingly funny, with very pointed yet intelligent statements being made about the nature of relationships, media culture, and the vast divide between who we present ourselves as and who we really are within. On the other hand, the plot is constructed as a sequence of impossibly intricate, highly implausible, and occasionally predictable events that eventually force us to question the thinking that went into them. It’s one of those movies that, in the moment, has our undivided attention; only afterwards do we view it from a distance and begin to seriously doubt how much of what transpired actually could have. Perhaps it wasn’t about the plot so much as the underlying themes, although I can’t say for sure.
The film is, above all, a nightmare for people like me – people who would like nothing more than to comment on what they observed yet cannot, at least not in detail, for the story is secretive and full of twists and turns the filmmakers obviously don’t want spoiled. If I may digress for a moment, please take note that, in spite of the film’s many secrets, we of the press were invited to see it in advance. This is more than I can say for No Good Deed, for which all advanced screenings were cancelled, the official reason being to preserve the twist at the end. The actual reason, much suspected and now confirmed in my mind, is that the studio knew they had, at best, a mediocre film, and it was feared negative reviews would kill its box-office potential. Considering that the film has to date grossed nearly four times its estimated budget, I’d say they had nothing to worry about.
Back to Gone Girl. I can reveal that its focus is the marriage between the Dunnes, two unemployed Missouri-based writers who were casualties of the 2008 economic crisis. That’s about all I can reveal in terms of specifics. Everything else I say from now on will be annoyingly vague. On the very day of the Dunnes’ fifth anniversary, the wife, Amy, goes missing. Amidst the media frenzy that ensues over the next several days, previously undisclosed details about the husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), come to light in one form or another. That, coupled with forensic details that simply don’t add up, turn him into the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. He’s targeted not only by the public, but also by a thorough police detective (Kim Dickens), an opinionated TV journalist obviously modeled after Nancy Grace (Missi Pyle), and a curiously insistent neighbor (Casey Wilson), who claims to be Amy’s best friend.
Early scenes are intercut with flashback sequences of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick at the start of their relationship, all of which are narrated by Amy as she writes in her journal. Let it suffice to say that the picture she paints of her personal and nuptial life is vastly different from the picture that Nick paints. Let it also suffice to say that both husband and wife, the latter even in her physically non-present state, may not be the most reliable of sources when it comes to personal details. As crucial information is incrementally uncovered, several more characters enter the picture and have their parts to play. There’s a slick New York defense attorney (Tyler Perry) whose dedication to justice is strangely second to presenting his clients in the most appropriate light. There’s also one of Amy’s ex-boyfriends (Neil Patrick Harris), who has neurotic, possessive tendencies.
Although it should be clear to even the most casual observer that Nick and Amy’s marriage wasn’t at all what anyone thought it was, least of all themselves, it should also be obvious that both of them are, in a very perverse way, meant for no one apart from each other. I can’t delve into it too deeply, but I will say that we witness behaviors that are at first odd, then diabolical, and finally pathological. The trouble with Gone Girl is that whatever intriguing psychological insights we can glean are at the mercy of a story so meticulously constructed that it always feels staged. Then again, satires typically are of a heightened reality, for which the intention is to say something subversively rather than show it directly. This is by no means a boring movie, even with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, but I’m having trouble determining whether or not its benefits outweigh its drawbacks.