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My 12 for ’14: Gone Girl and the most $£@!ed up people…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Gone Girl is a surprisingly playful film.

David Fincher is a director who likes to play with his audience, constructing elaborate and stylish labyrinths that might trap the audience as easily as they trap his characters. Gone Girl plays to Fincher’s strengths, as Gillian Flynn adapts her best-selling novel into a pulpy thriller. The news that Fincher and Flynn would collaborate on HBO’s Utopia is fantastic, giving television viewers something to anticipate; one hopes that the collaboration might be as fruitful as that enjoyed by Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Joji Fukunaga on True Detective this year.

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Gone Girl is a story about stories. Most particularly, it is the story of two people fighting to control their own narratives; to try to steer the stories being told around them. Is Nick Dunne a loving husband desperately searching for his missing wife? Or is Nick Dunne a sociopath desperately trying to cover-up her murder? Is Amy Dunne an innocent victim who has worked her way into the heart of the American public? Or is Amy Dunne a manipulative and ruthless (and ruthless) cynic who has helped to turn her marriage into a perpetual struggle?

Gone Girl is a very sleek and stylish film that is lovingly crafted and wryly self-aware. It is a horror story about a dysfunctional marriage, a tale about media fascination and a black comedy about resentment and revenge. More than that, it is a puzzle that competes against the audience, a story that seems to change form at any point where the viewer might finally have come to grips with what they are watching.

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Note: This “best of” entry includes spoilers for Gone Girl. You should probably go and see the movie, because everybody is talking about it. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Still there? Good. Let’s continue.

The biggest twist in Gone Girl comes around the half-way point, where it is revealed that Amy Dunne is alive and well, having faked her own disappearance and framed her husband Nick for the crime. The reveal is handled quite masterfully as well, coming at precisely the moment where a new and unspoiled viewer will have made the leap themselves, transitioning from the sort of voice-overs used in her diary entries to a shot of Amy driving free and easy down the highway, escaping her former life.

Amy Dunne is a piece of work. Most particularly, Amy Dunne is a piece of fiction. It is revealed early in the film that Amy grew up in the shadow of “Amazing Amy”, the children’s book character created by her parents as a counterpart to their daughter. Amy describes a book launch celebrating the fictional character’s milestones as “a quick tour of my failings.” When Nick suggests that Amy’s parents “plagiarised” her childhood, she is quick to correct him. “No, they improved upon it.”

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And so Amy was taught about the power of stories at a young age, and uses that knowledge to her own advantage. Disappointed with the direction her life has taken, Amy Dunne begins to fashion the little flaws and failures into an overarching narrative. All the disappointments mount up, and Amy is able to tie them together into a story that she can control and direct. Amy skilfully and carefully sets up all the necessary ingredients for a scandal and a conviction. She works with material both provided – Nick’s extra-marital affair – and manufactured – her own pregnancy.

The cornerstone of the case is her diary – a meticulously-crafted guide to her married life that indicts her husband. It tells a story that Amy knows the media will love, projecting an image of Amy as an all-American ideal. She is a loving and devoted wife, living in fear of her resentful husband. Her words condemn him, even closing out the diary with an accusation. “Man of my dreams, this man of mine may truly kill me.” As Nick notes once the diary turns up, Amy might have over-egged the pudding slightly. Nevertheless, she makes quite the storyteller.

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For his part, Nick finds himself trying to wrestle control of the narrative from his wife. “What about my side?” Nick protests during an interview with law enforcement. He only seems to find a level footing when he decides what narrative he can harness. If Amy positioned herself as the beloved victim, Nick tries to present himself as the apologetic and atoning husband. The public loves a good redemption story, the tale of a failure making good. Although he lacks Amy’s skill, Nick proves quite adept.

Of course, despite the public stage, Gone Girl is a dark look at a struggling marriage; the story of two people trapped in a relationship together, each with irreconcilable stories and motivations, wondering how they each ended up at this point. For all that Amy and Nick find their lives exposed to media scrutiny and public speculation, they each find themselves wondering if they ever really knew the person with whom they had been living. Towards the climax of the film, Nick finds himself more terrified of the woman with whom he shares a house than the media at his door.

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This is part of the beauty of Gone Girl. A story about stories, it twists and turns dramatically – evolving into many different types of stories over its runtime. The opening sequences ground the movie in something approaching reality, presenting a fairly by-the-numbers missing person investigation and glimpse at married suburban life, with all the pettiness simmering away in the background. However, things quickly become more surreal and absurd, particular with the introduction of Amy’s own complicated history and her relationship with Desi Collins.

Fincher and Flynn do an excellent job balancing the tone and mood of the film, which often seems to be poised on a knife-edge. Gone Girl is frequently hilarious and horrifying, harrowing and heightened, often within the same moment. Gone Girl is always the story of a failing marriage and the stories that people tell, but it dances between genres with a practiced ease. Fincher’s approach to film is often very clinical, and that efficiency serves him well here. It would be easy for Gone Girl to come off the rails; instead, it always feels like he has it under control.

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Gone Girl is a stunning piece of work. The fact that it is so hard to classify is just part of the charm.

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2 Responses

  1. Im going to see this. I have heard mixed reviews but your summary has convinced me.

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