WE SEE A CLOSE-UP of a sleeping woman’s blond head and hear a gentle voice-over from her off-camera husband. He meditates on what it would be like to open her skull and unspool her brains to catch her thoughts. “What are you thinking?” he asks. “How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
From its first scene, Gone Girl, a modern-day thriller directed by David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fight Club), invites viewers to examine the troubled spouses, offering an intimate glimpse into the toxic marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). In the film, based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, Fincher does a remarkable job of captivating the audience with a plot that slowly reveals the most feared and despised attributes a spouse could have. Infidelity. Pathological lies. Violence. In the first half of the film, Fincher’s characters delicately toe the line of immorality before taking a flying leap over that line midway through. The film is a metaphorical exploration of an opened skull as both characters’ true personalities unravel. And with the opened skull comes a story worth unspooling.
Good-looking yet down-on-their-luck Nick and Amy have been relocated from Manhattan to Nick’s native small Missouri town after losing their jobs. A dual narrative, told from Nick’s and Amy’s separate perspectives, emerges shortly after Amy disappears from the home on their fifth anniversary. Left behind is a broken glass table, a suspicious bloodstain and envelopes marked with “clues” written by Amy, leading to Nick’s anniversary present.
For the first half of the film, we hear Amy’s voice through her past diary entries, which recall flashbacks from the couple’s courtship and first two happy years as husband and wife. We also hear from Nick’s perspective in the present, as he becomes a suspect in his wife’s disappearance. We learn that Nick has been unfaithful and planned to get a divorce, and Amy reveals that she is frightened of her husband. She concludes her last entry before her disappearance with a convenient confession for the cops who want to arrest Nick for murder, “This man may kill me.”
The confession may be too convenient. Fincher slowly unmasks both of the characters as unreliable narrators, and both are revealed as immoral and nearly irredeemable people. Affleck and Pike “unspool” the layers of their supposed personalities through their bold acting, with Affleck’s mounting temper and Pike’s smooth frostiness.
The one glitch of the film is the sudden quickness of pace after the big reveal. We barely have time to take a breath before the story ends. We are left hating the so-called “couple next door,” but loving their story.
What does this say about the appeal of characters that are so unlikable?
It says that the filmmaker is good at walking the line between the two. And that the characters raise questions that, like the film’s opening questions, have no easy answers. ■