Pickup: Appearances are deceiving in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. The marketing casts it as a whodunit about murder, but it is actually a very different kind of film. Dark, moody, gripping, and sexy, Gone Girl will have you wondering if you really know anyone. More importantly, it will have you asking “Who am I?”
Gone Girl (2014)
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Neil Patrick Harris
Running time: 149 minutes
Budget: $61 million
Produced by: Regency Enterprises, Pacific Standard
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
David Fincher’s latest release opens with a gruesome, yet familiar, line narrated by Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). “I want to crack open your skull and see what’s inside. What are you thinking?” This sets the stage for Gone Girl‘s overall theme: appearances.
Appearances can be deceiving. Or, as Fincher and Gillian Flynn suggest, appearances are deceiving.
Nick, a one-time New York men’s magazine writer, returns home to Missouri with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike), a trust fund baby who wrote magazine personality questionnaires.
Prior to frame one, Amy is already gone – presumed kidnapped, possibly murdered, with Nick the target of suspecting eyes. The characters play detective for about an hour, then the story changes.
Further details would lead to “spoilers,” so let’s just say Fincher has never been a “happy ending” type of filmmaker.
Leaving the theater, the words “slow burn” grabbed me. The film never seems frantic. Pacing is steady. Only one scene may qualify as “explosive.” In a way, the movie flows like a dream; jumping from scene to scene, yet controlled and somehow natural.
Of course, this must all be intentional, if that’s the right word. Perhaps “deliberate” is what I’m looking for. Fincher takes his time both in terms of production – which has been well documented by cast and crew – and storytelling itself.
I see this as Fincher being a consummate student; crafting a style unique to him and breaking conventions as only a good student can.
Fincher lights so much of the film with darkness, non-lighting. Faces are constantly in shadow to some degree. Even shots outdoors and others that would typically feature high-key lighting are somewhat dull and muted.
The score and dialogue have a similar quality to them. Pay particular attention when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score competes with dialogue. The two almost fight each other for our attention. Sounds echo and bleed out in many places. During a particular shower scene, this makes the characters’ conversation almost inaudible. Yet we hang on to every word.
In some cases in filmmaking, these types of things are accidents, mistakes, or the results of creative restrictions. With Fincher, these seem more like challenges. We, as an audience, need to work to experience the film; to see and to hear.
Perhaps this trend is part a larger aesthetic – a dark, dull, echoey world where we become nothingness, like ripples in a pond.
The story and pacing seem to be part of this. A slow burn fizzles out. Understandably, this may upset those looking for a story that’s more “traditional.” However, Gone Girl largely follows the traditional structure of films and most other narratives, including the inciting incident, rising action, climax, denouement, etc.
But our characters don’t really grow. Rather, they just change. They’re different, not reformed…but different.
It comes back full circle to appearances. Characters learn about the deception of others, of appearances, and of themselves.
Do we ever really know someone?
The film doesn’t really say. It’s up to you to decide. We see too little of that in major Hollywood movies.
– Ryan Pumroy