NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Gone Girl' Plumbs The Depths Of Emptiness And You'll Like Every Minute Of It

Merrick Morton
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) finds himself the chief suspect behind the disappearance of his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) in 'Gone Girl.'

Gone Girl has a low opinion of humankind. The film comes from the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay, and it’s like a swim through a stinky pool of dreadful human behavior. It sucks you in, and then leaves you feeling both astonished and slimy. It’s a double pleasure – you can deplore the sins of unfettered passion, lying, betrayal and even murder, and can you revel in them at the same time.

The movie opens in New York. Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick (Ben Affleck) meet cute and tumble into sex, love and marriage. They’re both writers, but when the economy collapses, they lose their jobs and wind up back in Nick’s hometown in Missouri. Pretty soon you realize that you can’t trust what either Amy or Nick say about their lives. Amy’s diary sounds like fiction, or maybe worse.

The movie feels unbalanced; events and situations don’t add up. Nick and Amy are supposedly broke; they've taken refuge with his parents, but his mother is dead and his father’s in an Alzheimer’s home. Amy’s parents are alive, kicking and apparently rich. The Missouri house is too much for people in money trouble, it’s packed with upscale appliances and furniture. The taste is sterile, though, almost robotic, as if the couple are living in an artificial world, like The Truman Show. The over-ordered space keeps you on guard, you can’t get comfortable or secure.

Then Amy disappears.

What might have been a chilly family melodrama, like Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, grows into police procedural, except that cop movies start with a bunch of elements that don’t add up, and proceed to explain them until the cops have assembled the story and catch the criminals. In Gone Girl, the more the cops learn, the less they understand or can do.

Clues build up, but they don’t help resolve the crime. The police just get tangled in a web of detail and impotence. Amy is gone, maybe kidnapped; then they find traces of blood on the kitchen floor. Then come more complications, and more. Amy seems sweet and loving, but her parents got rich off a series of children’s’ books about an idealized super-accomplished Amy – and real Amy resents the hell out of them for doing it.

She’s got more mischief in her than you’d imagine.

Nick gives the center of the movie a nasty blandness. He’s stands for nothing and has no principles beyond his own comforts and desires. Amy does appalling things, but as events grow more grotesque, innocent-looking Nick seems progressively the ideal complement to her.

They are a pair of terrible human beings. They're self-serving beyond belief; there’s no limit to the malevolence they share.

David Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth film Gone Girl in sharp focus with dull colors. It’s not an ugly world – there’s no overt post-industrial rot, no disease or misery, no mold on the walls. If anything, the walls are too clean, enough to feel just slightly uncomfortable with a whiff of the malignant.

People from the town flock to Nick’s side when they believe that Amy has been kidnapped, but for all their enthusiastic volunteerism and search parties, they’re in it because they smell blood, and they turn hateful the second the TV news shows leer that Nick has killed her. The crowd is all impulse and the people switch directions like the wind – with not a hint of remorse or apology.

There’s been some fuss about Amy’s character – that it’s misogynist. She certainly comes from the tradition of hateful women like Lady Macbeth or Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. But Nick plays his part. He may be victim; he may be two steps behind his more cunning spouse. He’s also a willing victim, who may be getting just what he wants. At any rate, he's more than simply an unfaithful husband and a dupe.

What a marriage.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
Related Content