The first rule about Gone Girl is that you don’t talk about Gone Girl.
In the context of late eighties/early nineties marital and relationship noir thrillers, Gone Girl offers us a chance to return to that particular cinema sub-genre, updated for the media age, and is engaging, well acted, well designed and resolute in its storytelling. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) are due to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Their relationship was loving and their lives successful but a series of unfortunate events – the loss of their jobs, family illness, moving from a posh New York apartment to sleepy Missouri – have put a strain on their relationship to the extent that it has deteriorated to a position where they despise each other and yet have not acknowledged this fact to the other. When Nick returns home on the day of their anniversary, having spent much of the day bitching about Amy to his sister, he is shocked to discover evidence of a violent break in at their house and that Amy is missing. Worse, the police seem to think Nick might have had something to do with her disappearance.
Like many of Fincher’s films, Gone Girl involves a mystery with enough convoluted plotting to ensure that audience expectations are constantly twisted. Examining modern troubles and relationships in the context of a thriller, the opening shot sets the tone as it shows us the close up of Amy’s blonde hair, as Nick muses, ‘What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?’ Rather than offer us the gruff guys and downtrodden women from What Lies Beneath (2000), the ice-cold femme fatale of Basic Instinct (1992), or bunny atrocities in Fatal Attraction (1987), Gone Girl presents us with a modern media couple whose relationship changes irrevocably and then it explores the very personal and public consequences. Times have moved on and so has technology – mobile communications, the media and social media are fundamental to the construction of this narrative. But the modern age is contrasted with old-fashioned thriller tropes, such as diaries, letters and books which provide clues to Amy’s disappearance, so many of the plot elements are decidedly old-school in instigation. Amy is portrayed as beautiful and brilliant; she was the inspiration for a series of successful children’s books in her youth, the fictional Amazing Amy, written by her ambitious parents. This ‘fame’ provides the catalyst for the enhanced media attention which drives the publicity to find her. Every clue about Amy’s disappearance is made public, Nick’s responses to events dissected in microscopic detail; it’s all about public perception for the two protagonists. And similarly, Fincher plays with our perceptions of the characters – audience sympathy is expected to be entirely malleable as the story unfolds.
Not as clever as it would like us to believe, Gone Girl is nevertheless taut, occasionally dark, with some dry humour and will hold your attention for its running time.