29 December 2014

Marriage meets Mystery: "Gone Girl" Review

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike dangerously tip-toe around marriage in "Gone Girl"
Photo taken by Merrick Morton, courtesy of 20th Century Fox

In writing the script for "Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn has simultaneously created two narratives wherein as one story unfolds, peeling itself back, the second narrative underneath is revealed. At its surface "Gone Girl" is a film about a man who's wife goes missing and the subsequent drama that ensues--the police investigation, the media blitz, and the public outcry.  Beneath that, however, lies the film's satirical nature which takes the form of the film's second narrative. The real emphasis in "Gone Girl," while it may not be immediately apparent, is on the modern-day concept of marriage and love. What Flynn is pointing towards is a question of what exactly is marriage constituted of, and the manner in which director David Fincher frames the question, is what makes the film partly terrifying because of its realism. By modern-day standards, marriage is seen as the pinnacle of love between two persons. It's a union where two people are bounded to one another forever. At least, that's the idea behind marriage and it's not that Flynn herself is attacking this idea but perhaps the dangers of buying into a blind belief of marriage or true-love.

The film begins with a narrative voice-over from its protagonist Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) expressing his desire to crack his wife's head open. This verbal expression of violence is right after revealed to stem from not a necessarily physical abusive relationship between Nick and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) but rather from Nick's desire to know what his wife is thinking. As he puts it, it's "the primal question of any marriage." Already then, Nick and Amy, despite being married, don't fit into the normal perceptions of a married couple. Where our idea of a "normal" might suggest that Nick simply asks his wife the question of what she's thinking, Flynn distorts that idea of normal by having Nick speak the way he does, using words such as "crack," and "primal" which connote a sense of violence. Communication between Nick and Amy and by extension their marriage, is one which is framed by this violence. The couple then serve as the tools by which Flynn goes about satirizing certain ideological constructions of marriage and it's because Nick and Amy are so dysfunctional, that the satire works.

The film's story is at first told between present day time and flashbacks. In the present, Amy goes missing and through the film's narrative progression, its revealed that Nick may not have been the ideal husband, let alone a "good" husband. It is not that Nick doesn't fit into a certain ideology concerning the role of husbands but that despite having been married to Amy for five years, is unable to tell police investigators  basic things, such as her hobbies or whether or not she has friends. Affleck plays Nick with the bumbling ignorance of a self-concerned husband which gives the film a sense of dark humor at first before underlining the serious matters at hand.

The narrative taking place within flashbacks reveal a different Nick. First meeting at a party, Nick and Amy hit it off with one another.  Their dialogue is fast and rife with quip and the romantic nature of these scenes are almost enough to fool us that we're watching a different film altogether. The technique is similar to Derek Cianfrance's in "Blue Valentine," another film which examined the concept of true-love. A comparison and contrast soon begins to draw itself between an Amy of the past and a Nick of the present. Without giving too much away, it is apparent at one point that the marriage begins to appear one-sided with Amy taking up most of the weight. She's willing to indulge herself in Nick's hobbies, please him sexually just the way he likes it, and abandons her life in the city to move to Missouri for his sake. Pike brings to Amy the attitude of a young girl totally in love yet it's a love with a tinge of self-awareness. This is what characterizes Amy and ultimately drives her character, setting up Amy and Nick as a dysfunctional couple which then paves the way for the satire.

Ultimately "Gone Girl" uses its satire on marriage to not only open up further questions regarding normative gender roles in modern society but attempt to deconstruct the idea of those normative gender roles. The earlier plot points of the film, such as the media blitz on Nick, the police investigation, and the public outcry, which at first work towards constructing the film's first narrative, take on a dual nature themselves, working towards Flynn's agenda in regards to how she develops the film's themes. There's a danger in the belief of popular opinion that Flynn highlights through the portrayal of media in the film. Like the first narrative of "Gone Girl," Flynn creates a second ideological layer to society that can only be viewed once we begin to challenge and thus deconstruct  the normative views that have been created.

 "Gone Girl" is not only directed in a technically impressive manner but also masterfully directed in the way that Fincher goes about revealing the film's story. At over 2 hours long Fincher and his team build up the film slowly, allowing the mystery and the film's themes to properly unfold. In their third collaboration with Fincher, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross return as the film's dual composers. It is their mark that first begins constructing "Gone Girl," with the soundtrack playing before any image is actually presented. The score is one that truly works in the background of the film. That is, mainly being composed of ambient tracks, it becomes difficult to realize that the music in itself is separate from the rest of the film, as the cinematic components of "Gone Girl--"its actors, camerawork, cinematography, and soundtrack--all work seamlessly together in stitching the film's atmosphere.

It's an atmosphere of quiet poignancy which serves to fit the film's ever-haunting theme. Fincher's own camerawork is slow yet powerful so that by the end of the film there's an extreme awe left hanging. An awe that will create a dialogue concerning the issues presented within the film and the different standpoints that can be taken. "Gone Girl" is controversial, but I use this term without any of the negative connotations that might be associated with it. In adapting her novel for the film's screenplay, there's no place that Flynn isn't willing to go to concerning the ideologies she wants to tackle. It's a risk but a risk that pays off. Despite its subject matter, "Gone Girl" never seems to take one side over another whether it's in how Fincher directs his characters or scenes or in how Flynn writes them. What's created then is a complete film where Fincher wraps everything nicely but ultimately leaves room for a dialogue to take place.