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Director David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) is an uncannily scintillating thriller drama based on a psychotic take on the vexations of married life. Gillian Flynn has adapted this magnificent tale for the screen from her 2012 bestseller by the same name. As a revered thriller novelist- Sharp Objects (2006), Dark Places (2009) - Flynn has wittily executed a self-aware script that throws the audience into a cathartic roller coaster of varied emotions. Long after the credits have rolled over, this unique crime-thriller leaves us aghast at its psychopathic perspective of reconciliation.
The movie commences with a brief shot of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) affectionately caressing his wife- Amy Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) head. They are a tired Missouri couple- half out and half in for each other. But the story slips into a devious turn when Amy mysteriously goes missing on their 5th anniversary, leaving an overtly oblivious Nick dumbfounded. He has no other option but to face the police, neighbors, and media- all of who suspect him for her murder.
Nick is exhausted from the overwhelming situation and seeks emotional refuge in his sister's (Carrie Coon) house. But our minds brim with resentment as we see her unwillingly get entangled in a legal battle with the cops. We witness things getting messy as Amy's parents (late Lisa Banes and David Clennon) and her ex-lover (awkwardly cast Neil Patrick Harris) come into the scene play their complicated roles in Nick's life.
With his previous work on Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007) - Fincher has proudly demonstrated his connoisseur’s eye for murder mysteries centered on a psychological realm. He does nothing different in this film and executes his misanthropic vision of psychopaths. He stays largely true to Flynn’s original novel except for his thematic taste for a brooding tale. His intentionally grim color palette sketches the underlying paranoia of frustration in them.
But, surprisingly, Flynn ends her quasi-whodunit thriller halfway through the movie to delve into the film's thematic spine. The entire story suddenly flips perspectives, subverts all expectations, and explores its philosophy. What follows is a deep character-driven drama- the result of a brilliant creative choice. Flynn cleverly strangles her characters with compelling emotional whirlpools and deviates from her genre, only to tell a better tale. It not only holds a magnifying glass to their souls but also allows the plot time to tighten its potential holes.
The movie's unconventional end is profoundly satisfying. We feel emotionally wrecked with the only thing we see- a grief-stained joy.
Part of what makes this story stand out is its unreliability of narrators. Flynn paints both Nick and Amy with flawed and untrustworthy colors. She crafts their common ground on innocent love, something both these characters silently crave but fail to realize until it is too late.
Nick's apathy towards marriage overshadows him. He is overindulgent in his desires and takes little notice of Amy's. On the other hand, she masks her expectations of an ideal life with a terrifyingly psychopathic persona. We naively believe their mannerisms and feel stung by betrayal in the film’s philosophically succulent second half.
Flynn's powerful screenplay presses Nick Dunne into ceaseless turmoil that compels him to reveal his undesirable inner psyche to the seemingly intrigued public, particularly women. Her story unravels his dilemma that challenges his ethical responsibilities as a husband. His utter reluctance of an emotional engagement in marriage lights up a burning fuse in Amy- who is already tired of being thrown under the bus by him. She grows unbearably sick of her loneliness and depression.
In Fincher's words, this tale is a ‘narcissistic projection’ on a married couple. But Amy fails to be squeezed into the dictionary definition of a narcissist. At times she excessively seeks attention and has utopian visions for marriage, but her vanities are born from Nick's irresponsibleness. The twist lies in the audience's stereotypical reactions toward female neglect. For years we have overdosed ourselves with stories like Knocked Up (2007) and Step Brothers (2008) that centralize the ‘manchild’ male protagonist. This film feels like a response to all of them.
Amy's craving for attention does not just stem from her isolation in marriage. A cleverly written flashback shows us her childhood days. Her moderately pressurizing psychologist-parents published a series of children's books titled 'Amazing Amy.' The protagonist was a fictitiously more successful version of their daughter.
Amy Dunne’s character is a silky innocence heavily embroidered with heinous manipulative desires. Though she is an outward sociopathic liar, the film invokes the audience's empathy for her through its softest and most vulnerable moments. We despise her morality but fail to disconnect ourselves from her heart, which is quivering with emotion from the scarcity of love for too long. Pike embodies all of these multi-dimensional qualities and excels in portraying this mercurial personality with genuine authenticity. With her fishy eyes and an unbelievable smile, she casts the perfect impression of her character's mood on us at all times. Her every expression is seemingly built upon simultaneous rage and compassion, the two crucial qualities that define Amy. Undoubtedly her performance scored her career-highlight nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress, Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture- Drama, and BAFTA Best Film Actress in a Leading Role.
Like most crime thrillers, its plot is too farfetched and convoluted to draw any parallelism in real life. It is a farce fantasy born out of artistic creation. But that said, it does not shy away from leaning onto society's sexist expectations of a perfect wife (or as the film puts it through a monologue- 'cool girl') that fuels Amy's character. It also highlights how unfairly so many people forgive the flaws of a lousy husband and start nitpicking his wife.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have composed an iconic score for this masterpiece. Every time it plays, it ignites a peculiar sensation in our minds. It is a feeling of hope undermined with a pounding sense of victimized regret for both Amy and Nick. In other words, the score in itself is a packaged representation of the script's thematic charm.
Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth's point of view shots highlight character perspectives and subtly hint at unpredictable clues for the audience to linger. He carefully uses visually appealing 6K digital cameras to film this twisted neo-noir and generates a surreal experience.
The story finds its sweet spot in an arguable perception of female revenge. It builds its stage on a unique stance of the 'obnoxious husband' and 'loving wife' relationship. It furiously attempts to call out misogyny and raises an eyebrow at the inevitable gender politics at its core. But then quickly flexes back to its theme and scrutinizes the excruciating struggle between lunacy and exasperation through its genre.
Flynn starts off her story with Nick as a writer for men's magazines. This stylistic choice carefully serves as a metaphor to the male and female expectations of an ideal married life- which is often an urban power couple with no children.
But when these picture-perfect couples circumstantially fall apart, the people who idealize them inculcate cynical and skeptical views of married households. It unavoidably incites the audiences' consciousness and challenges their speculations of female victimhood. People are always bizarrely horrid on seeing their darkest fantasies playing out in front of their own eyes. That is where Gone Girl thrives. It is about a couple where husband and wife spend their days lying and pretending in front of each other, never revealing their true selves.
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