Fincher’s Nightmare

A review of Gone Girl

MPAA Rating, R

USCCB Rating, O

Reel Rating,              

As I exited the theater after seeing David Fincher’s latest film, Gone Girl, a cheerful usher asked a dazed patron if she liked it. “I need a drink,” she flatly responded, perfectly summarizing the experience. The film is a dark and disturbing narrative about a bored Missourian housewife who goes missing and the insane fallout as her husband tries to find her. This scenario, however, only describes the first hour of the film’s nearly 150 minute runtime, as the plot descends into an array of twists and turns, upsetting previous assumptions and leaving the viewer unsure of even the most basic facts of the Universe.

Like Fincher’s previous work, it is an amazing piece of craftsmanship with stellar directing, acting, writing, cinematography, music, and blood-splatter effects. It is also incredibly grotesque, painful, and devoid of any catharsis needed to soften the blow.

One morning in July, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) goes to a local bar he owns with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), to contemplate his life and his upcoming fifth wedding anniversary. He returns home to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing; the only clues are a broken glass table and a few small blood stains in the kitchen. He calls the police, who quickly organize a hotline and press conference. Yet Amy is no ordinary woman. She’s white, blonde, attractive, well-educated, and her childhood was used—possibly exploited—for a famous, fictionalized book series Amazing Amy, written by her parents.

Her disappearance quickly spirals into a media frenzy, with news pundit Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) convinced Nick is the culprit and twenty-something groupies commenting on “how hot he is.” Slowly and suspensefully, new facts and characters are uncovered. Pretty soon, it becomes clear both Nick and Amy are hiding a myriad of secrets—but is one of them really murder?

On the surface, Gone Girl is a strong critique of amateur media investigations and the severe consequences of presumption. Gossip is one of the most prevalent sins of the media age, fueled by the need to fill air time. There is simply not enough actual news to support a 24-hour cable news network, much less several. Thus, they must invent news through commentary, debate, and speculation. Pundits often make wild and unfounded presuppositions that can radically alter public perception of situations and issues. Worst of all, it can frustrate the judicial process and compromise proper investigations.

At first, Nick feels powerless to do anything. Yet under the guidance of superstar attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), he begins to manipulate and use the media for his own agenda. They are only too happy to oblige.

Internally, Gone Girl examines the modern marriage through the relationship between Nick and Amy. They originally fell in love at a party where he performed an elaborate setup to seduce her. Amy’s whole life has been a charade, pretending to be the real “Amazing Amy,” and she finds Nick’s strong but shadowy personality incredibly attractive. Yet, once married, they are totally incapable of living a normal existence. She only wants to climb the social ladder as the perfect couple, while he is actually interested in settling down and starting a family. Their only real connection is found in indulging in elaborate sexual fantasies. She is a greedy monster pretending to be a nice, submissive wife while he is just an ordinary Joe pretending to be a jerk.

The tipping point comes when Nick’s mother gets sick, prompting them to move from bustling New York to boring, backwater Missouri. Nick certainly is capable of murdering his wife, the only obstacle to a happy suburban life. But Amy is equally despicable, maybe more so, in getting what she wants. In a rare moment of clarity, Nick questions their lifestyle. “Why do we do this? All we do is cause each other pain!” he yells. “This is marriage,” she replies, without a hint of sarcasm. Both of them entered the relationship because it fulfilled an outside need. Such marriages will always fail because, in the words of Father Robert Barron, “they will always descend into egotism.” Love means wanting the good for someone else, not yourself.

There is a troubling misanthropic thread that runs throughout all of Fincher’s films, from Se7en to Fight Club to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. His fictional world is full of awful people doing awful things to other awful people. No one is spared. Even when the villains are caught or exposed, they are rarely remorseful. Real life isn’t like this. Most people live perfectly normal, even happy, lives without stealing, murdering, or committing adultery. Yes, people sin, and yes, truth can be eclipsed, but not for long, and many of the wayward will seek repentance.

The only silver lining to seeing Gone Girl is the revelation of society’s true feelings regarding marriage: an impossible union that will only lead to the destruction of everyone involved. Any viewer will need a cold movie shower afterward, probably along the lines of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I recommend the episode where Rarity and Applejack learn to get along despite their differences. 

About Nick Olszyk 86 Articles
Nick Olszyk is Chair of the Department of Religion at Cornelia Connelly School in Anaheim, CA. He has directed several short films and is the new father of the aptly named Nick Jr. He was raised on bad science movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.