Gone Girl’s overt mystery of whether or not Nick Dunne murdered his wife may be resolved midway through the film, but the real mystery is never reconciled. The question that director David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn posit is one of simple, Earthly conceit: what are you thinking? It’s one of the great unanswerable questions that we find ourselves asking our significant others and it is at some point that we agree to accept their answer, placing faith in a bond fostered by time. But in the end, we can never really know. Gone Girl is a brash exaggeration of that question, given lurid flourishes and highlighted by Fincher’s cold formal proficiency. It is not Fincher’s best film, but it is a welcome and playfully self-aware effort that signals a director in full command of his craft.
The picture opens with a shot of, presumably, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) peering down at the back of his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) head as she lays on his chest. Voice over asks us what she could possibly be thinking. She looks our way, as if her eyes could possibly answer the question. And now we’re swept away. Nick returns to his suburban home to find evidence of a struggle and his wife missing. What follows is a media circus, a give and take of reality and fiction that becomes increasingly distorted the closer you look.
The intrigue of Nick uncovering a crime scene in his home is juxtaposed with flashbacks detailing Amy and Nick’s relationship. These flashbacks are extracted from Amy’s diary, with Pike’s sultry voiceover probing the ebb and flow of their relationship. Detailing their meet-cute encounter to the eventual distance that comes in any long-term relationship, Amy’s diary segments often operate in opposition to Nick’s scenes. The sugary sweetness of their courtship jarringly disrupts the more analytical procedure of Nick contending with police and the media circus that surrounds Amy’s disappearance. But the film subtly begins to reshape our perspective by offering compromising evidence against both Amy and Nick, questioning their reliability as vessels for truth.
Like anyone, Nick and Amy project, exaggerate, and conceal details to their advantage. The film has fun with this notion of false projection on both a micro (Nick and Amy) and macro (the media circus) level, culminating in a final scene that essentially leaves you exactly where you started - unknowing and questioning. Amy and Nick are constantly interacting with other people yet their social maneuvering never truly sheds light on who they are as individuals. They’re constantly in the shadows, cold, distant, and analytical. Compounded by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ chilly elevator music score and Kirk Baxter’s meticulous editing, Gone Girl never opens itself entirely to you.
But that cold precision is why the film works so wonderfully. Its plot-driven gears envelop you in their perpetual movement. The glib humor and growing uncertainty of truth only tightens your grip along the film’s icy edges. Gone Girl is a masterstroke of formal subversion, constantly relishing in its ludicrousness and being completely playful about its material. How many other films use a jump cut between a first kiss and an oral swabbing? Or relies on something as silly as an abandoned mall as the source of perverse underground black market? Gone Girl is a perversely fun film, with plenty on its mind - even though you’re never completely certain as to what exactly that might be.