Gone Girl

I’m not much of a fiction reader. I used to read more of it, but I don’t keep up with new releases. I tend to read more non-fiction books, and we all have plenty of content to consume these days. Needless to say, “Gone Girl” was on my radar as a huge bestseller, but I was not familiar with it. In situations like these, I am sometimes surprised when I arrive at a 3:30 Saturday showing to a packed theater. I forgot that a movie like this would have a following. My anticipation for this movie resided in the director. David Fincher is one of the best working directors in the business. I scoffed a the idea of a Facebook movie, yet “The Social Network” was fascinating. While his films aren't always the easiest to watch (I'm looking at you, "Seven"), I know I can always expect something well-crafted. This is a director that can pick whatever projects he wants, and I was eager to see what he would do next. I was curious to see what brought him to another hit book adaptation.


Warning: The following is a spoiler-filled discussion of “Gone Girl”. If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you disappear.

Fincher and the rest of the creators did not disappoint. Gillian Flynn adapts his own novel; giving us an incredible story that unfolds in a ways that continues to surprise us. It is beautifully shot, consistent  with Fincher’s other work. The score, again from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, supports the visuals well without distracting us.  The actors are well cast. Ben Affleck does good work, and is a great fit for the story Fincher tells. That said, the true standout of this film is Rosamund Pike as Amy. Her portrayal wins us over early, setting us up for one heck of a fall. This movie doesn’t work without her. There are a number of good performances here, but Amy’s transformation is chilling and unforgettable.

In a typical murder mystery, we are left with a satisfying resolution. While we may have many questions along the way, we end up with good characters and bad characters. I would love to see a “likeability index” for the characters throughout this movie. We could chart our feeling for Nick, Amy, and those around them. By the end, there aren’t many likable people here, but they have their moments. We start with Nick the scumbag, get a a glimpse of his charming past, but his response to the crisis is condemning. Only when it becomes seeming obvious that he killed his wife does the story flip upside down, and our sympathy shifts. Amy’s character has a similar path, only starting with sympathy and ending as a sociopath. Do we have a shining light of pure goodness in this film? Amy’s parents made a career on improving the story of their daughter’s life. Neil Patrick Harris subtly shifts from suspicious enigma to creepy caretaker. Nick’s twin sister, Margo may be the best person in this story, but at points even she suspects that she is supporting a murderer. Strangely enough, Tyler Perry may play the most likable character in the movie. Its too bad he’s greedy defense attorney that relishes his role in the media circus. He is the type of character we love to hate in real life.

That media circus is a clear focus of “Gone Girl”, as the story gives us an interesting perspective on the news that fascinates us. Ellen Abbot, a clear stand-in for Nancy Grace, sensationalizes this story. She shapes public opinion, influences the investigation, yet turns on a dime without an apology. Is this what the pursuit of higher ratings does to the pursuit of justice? Would the trial of Casey Anthony have gone differently if the world didn’t spend months watching its every turn? Furthermore, why are we watching such coverage? The newscasters in “Gone Girl” didn’t provide much of value to it’s viewers. In most cases, they unwittingly spread the lies that Nick or Amy wanted the world to see. If this is the way we treat “entertaining” trials in the news, how can we trust them when more important news breaks? For example, the media has played an important role in reporting the events in Ferguson; but do journalists treat such a situation differently than reports on investigations like what we see in "Gone Girl"?  How different are we than the crazed public that flocks to "The Bar" just to get a picture?  Its a complicated debate, one that I am not informed enough to make; but "Gone Girl" causes me to think about how we treat news as entertainment.

Speaking of the media, “Gone Girl”’s Missouri setting created a surreal experience for this native St. Louisan. Much of the movie was filmed in Cape Girardeau, a few hours south of my home. Some of the TV networks represented on screens or news vans are local affiliates I see every day. I know people with homes in the Ozarks (perhaps not as fancy as Desi’s), and I agree that “The Real Housewives of Branson” would be fascinating reality TV. I probably have friends that own Nick’s St. Louis Cardinal t-shirt. I saw plenty of connections to my own life on screen.

Surprisingly, these constant local references didn’t pull me out of the story. That’s likely a testament to the quality of the film and a captivating story. That said, the representation of real affiliates like KMOV and KPLR connected me to the story, only making it feel more real. Is this what it feels like to live in commonly filmed areas like New York of Los Angeles? I can’t imagine its that same experience, as some of those areas are featured so often that it must feel common, but I’m curious.

OK, so lets talk about that ending. Apparently, this is different from what happened in the book. I wonder how much has changed. Is the pregnancy an addition? Does Nick go public in the Ellen Abbott interview, spilling all of their secrets? This is an interesting game of “want-if”. In any case, the film’s ending was absolutely unsettling to the crowd I viewed this with. It was not the first time there were audible gasps, whispered comments, and mouths agape. I can understand why this book was so popular. Every time I thought the story had run it’s course, we were treated to another twist. I continue to wonder what would happen next.

One of the reasons I look forward to watching “Gone Girl” for a second time is to see how important the twists are to the experience. There is much to spoil about this movie, and it may be a great example to use in the defense of keeping secrets from moviegoers. I loved going along for this wild ride; and I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I knew Amy was alive, or just how cold-hearted she could be. Then again, I am a guy who is thankful that he hasn’t seen the later trailers for “Interstellar”. I am interested to see what an informed “Gone Girl” experience feels like. Perhaps I could ask people who read the book, but even they didn't completely know how it this adaptation would transpire.

In short, I thought “Gone Girl” was a spellbinding thriller. I continued to be surprised through each twist an turn. That said, this movie is more than a great story. It is artfully  delivered to us onscreen, creating something that rises above a simple adaptation of a popular book. “Gone Girl” feels like the type of thriller that will hold a place in our culture. I think we will be talking about “Amazing Amy” for some time.