It’s not every day that slick popular entertainment, perceptive social drama and biting satire come together in the same movie. But that’s what we have in David Fincher’s new film Gone Girl. Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own bestselling novel, which I have not read, the story concerns a married couple, Nick and Amy, played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Amy goes missing on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary—the police are called in, Nick and his wife’s parents make public pleas for her to be found, and the case turns into one of those huge media events that we’ve become familiar with in this time of tabloid journalism. On a parallel track to these events, excerpts from Amy’s diary show through flashbacks the development of this relationship between a charismatic young writer and a beautiful and stylish woman who, it so happens, had inspired her parents to write a series of children’s books when she was growing up featuring the character “Amazing Amy.”
No one in American film crafts a narrative with the power and precision of David Fincher, whose credits include Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Social Network. And Gone Girl is, more than anything else, a thriller, with plenty of the suspense and excitement one expects from that genre. But it’s the layers that make it special. One significant element is the theme of narcissism and lack of authenticity in relationships. The image that the characters build up in order to attract each other into marriage inevitably shows cracks and fissures over time, and the question is whether you can love and accept the real person you’re with—but that, however, involves self-knowledge, which can be the hardest thing of all. This theme is magnified when a relationship or a marriage becomes the center of a media firestorm and the public’s general fascination with crime and misbehavior. The film is frequently very funny when it deals with these topics—there’s a Nancy Grace-type figure, and in a brilliant piece of casting, Tyler Perry appears as a hotshot publicity-loving lawyer. A standout among the excellent cast is Rosamund Pike, who is close to perfect as “Amazing Amy.”
Now, like most thrillers there are things that happen that are wildly improbable, and in fact a few things that I don’t think would ever happen. That just goes with the territory. Still, Gone Girl is a terrific movie, with a unique point of view, and a wickedly subversive sense of humor.