Gone Girl

Gone Girl ★★★★★

The world is a circus, and we're all performers. Turn on your TV--cable news, talk shows...pundits influencing the world, guiding the aimless toward conclusions a leap away. You will believe what your TV tells you, what you know to be the truth, and the evidence is ancillary...right? Do you believe O.J. Simpson killed his wife? Or Scott Peterson? What about Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck)? His wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing on their fifth anniversary, while he's visiting with his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) at "The Bar" first thing in the morning. We know something is wrong, we just don't know how far yet.

Gone Girl is a mystery and a thriller; it presents a story which is not uncommon in any number of entertainment venues, but allows for our expectations and prejudices to direct us. Adapted from the novel by Gillian Flynn--who also writes the screenplay--it is a story told in part by flashback, recollections penned in Amy's diary about her relationship with Nick. From their early meeting at a party--he, the charming, funny fella, and she, the somewhat aloof but curious beauty who allows herself to be swayed into a late-night stroll through an alley behind a bakery, a storm of sugar being unloaded...the perfect recipe, the scene for the first kiss. Much of these moments feel perfect--as every "true love" story does, as every romance seems on paper--but falls into chapters involving the recession, perceived money troubles, moving from New York City to Missouri, and the challenges that nip at the heels of their unraveling marriage. It's a familiar setup, something which if the film had been preceded by a "based on a true story" disclaimer, I would not have been surprised. But that's a preconceived expectation, a conclusion reached before all the evidence is in, and that is at the heart of the plot. There are certainly staples of the crime thriller here: the attentive Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) heading up the investigation, being first to respond to Nick's call when he finds his his wife missing. Amy's parents--who have "plagiarized" Amy's childhood to craft children's books about a young, perfect girl named "Amazing Amy", who got the dog Amy never did, and is generally a walking manifestation of resentment in Amy's life. After Amy goes missing, the media swoops in hard to capture the story at ground zero. Press conferences are arranged with alacrity, and Nick's face goes out across the globe on exploitative cable news stations. Talk show pundits already point toward the possibility that Nick murdered Amy long before the police have produced anything to substantiate these assertions, and the public at large soaks up the fetid swill peddled off as news; even Margo--or "Go" as she is nicknamed--asks, or rather "doesn't ask" questions about Nick and Amy's relationship. Who is Nick? Who is Amy for that matter? What information we get about them is often told from their individual, respective perspectives; so who can we trust for reliable disclosure?

Gone Girl is a thriller which subverts the genre by sardonically exploiting the audience's notions of how the story should proceed, even when the story is portrayed on televisions across America--the search for Amy plastered on billboards, advertised...I suspect in this movie's world, even coffee mugs bear her visage. This is a trend not unfamiliar to clever, detail-driven director David Fincher, whose skill with defying expectation and presenting a complex package of both obsession and deception makes me believe he is the true inheritor of a style of film making reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. In fact, Gone Girl shares an alarming number of similarities with the work of Hitchcock. Between overt stylistic flourishes--like blood draining in the shower--to a narrative structure reminiscent of Vertigo, the film has the air of familiarity for those acquainted with Hitchcock, but by no means does this make it any less surprising as the layers are peeled away. The film opens with a somewhat morbid preface by Nick; as we stare at Amy's beautiful blonde hair, he comments that he would like to crack open her skull to get open the thoughts hidden away in her mind. From this moment, we already suspect him because of the violent metaphor, but we should also wonder why a man who would seem to be so in love with Amy--for so many of these recollected scenes--even allude to this kind of image; but aren't we being led to that conclusion? Haven't we--as audiences--been trained to look for clues, all of us amateur sleuths and lawyers, thinking that we know who is guilty by what the news purports, and that we can spot a killer, regardless of the investigators specially trained in this field? How often did you turn on the news in recent history--be it any popular topic, from Ferguson to Donald Trump--and thought you had the right conclusion in your mind about what to do with these events, the answer to the problem. But consider how we heard about it, what media distributed it to us, and what message was really conveyed, and you just might realize that the image is not the truth--it's just the advertisement of it. A lot of talk is mentioned about the "truth" being the side of the story which Nick tells--it is what he tells his celebrity lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry)--but the battle lines are drawn at popularity, image. The truth is that audiences don't care about truth--they want their perception of it, and that is why venomous, irresponsible television personalities like Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) can thrive. It is not important that you are innocent, but that everyone else thinks that you are--welcome to the 21st century, where one's character is measured by a Gallup Poll--mob rule by Twitter, administers of justice by iPhone; standard text message fees apply.

Recommended for: Fans of a cynical, smart thriller which lures you into the sense that you have a grasp on the situation, that you know where things are leading, but you are excited to see how the story unfolds, a testament to the creativity and ambitiousness of the story and direction of it.

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