Fincher’s “Gone Girl” has it both ways.
I am late to the party when it comes to reviewing David Fincher’s latest thriller “Gone Girl.” Although the wide release only occurred a few weeks ago, the buzz surrounding the film had been building for months, and the general consensus is largely positive, for good reason. Many readers of The Pulse may have already seen the film and discussed it at length. It is certainly the kind of film that generates discussion.
But for those that have not yet seen it, the less said about the plot the better. Fincher has a talent for creating cerebral and challenging films, finding material that might be better suited to the shelves of bargain-book sellers and elevating it to something genuinely shocking—if the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief.
It takes a director of this caliber and a well-managed script to turn a story like this one into a relevant indictment of a culture obsessed with quick-judgment, 24-hour infotainment networks. Fincher does so with aplomb, telling an exceptionally entertaining story while driving home a broader message about the dangers of sensationalist media. The final moments of the film are enough to chill you for weeks.
About the plot I will only reiterate what has been seen in the trailers: A man’s wife has gone missing, leaving behind a diary that reveals a dark side of her marriage. The couple’s small town has become the center of a manhunt, a national phenomenon focused on the smile of the beautiful girl on the posters. Ben Affleck plays the husband with a certain ambivalence, one that appears to betray sinister motives.
As with many Fincher films, the mystery is built by showing differing perceptions of reality. This is done without the use of the obvious red herrings that tend to plague movies within this genre. The movie isn’t interested necessarily in allowing the audience to develop their own conclusions and then rip them away; instead, we experience the bewilderment alongside the characters, patiently flowing through the narrative in anticipation of the next moment.
The film follows a similar narrative structure to the popular book on which it is based, seamlessly incorporating flashback as a way of completing the picture as a whole. This is not a new concept, but if done incorrectly can disjoint the story and make it harder to follow. Here, the structure only adds to the tension.
Much of the subtext of the film is rooted in the idea of “missing white woman” syndrome, seen in cases like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway. Very rarely does a missing woman of color gain any traction in the national news. Instead, time is given to the young, the affluent and the beautiful.
This isn’t to say that these cases don’t deserve the attention they receive; however, there is an inconsistency in how missing-person cases are reported and large questions remain about what precisely the obsession with this type of news story says about the country as a whole. Adding to this is the popularity of legal shows by ex-lawyers like Nancy Grace, who spend an enormous amount of time trying cases in the court of public opinion, ruining lives and reputations long before a case ever comes to trial.
Sensationalism and anger without facts or understanding creep into every aspect of the film, revealing the nastiness of voyeuristic aggrandizement within the national media. We all know it exists, and most of us condemn it, and yet more often than not we participate in its proliferation. “Gone Girl” draws comparisons between the dissolution of a marriage and the dissolution of civil, rational discourse—and how both can be powerful weapons used to hurt others.
Although David Fincher uses complex narrative structures and powerful subtext to make a compelling film, “Gone Girl” at its heart is a thriller of the first degree. Films are fun to pick apart, but ultimately their purpose is to entertain. “Gone Girl” is as entertaining as can be, fun to see with an audience, and far beyond what has been offered by Hollywood this year.
I tend to be a passive moviegoer, but with this film I found myself literally leaning forward, eagerly engaged with the story unfolding onscreen.
I can’t say that it has the seriousness required of an Oscar nominee, but I can only hope the Academy has a fun side.