Fincher accomplished the impossible this weekend. He topped the box office two weekends in a row with a film that wasn’t:
a.) a sequel
b.) part of a pre-existing franchise
c.) aimed at the kiddies
For that, it deserves some closer attention and tremendous respect.
Upon the second viewing, it became abundantly clear that Gone Girl was a perverse Romantic Comedy…albeit a Dark Comedy. The kind of comedy only Fincher would have the cunning to pull off with a straight face. It plays like anything but upon the surface, but like Amy and Nick Dunne, there’s plenty more than meets the eye.
Spoiler Alerts Ahead
1 The Gift as the Game
Gone Girl is in itself a treasure hunt for Nick Dunne and for the audience. Like Fincher’s previous thriller, The Game, the film is predicated on a special occasion. In The Game, Nicholas’ (Michael Douglas) birthday. In Gone Girl, Amy and Nick’s anniversary. To hit the hammer over the head of the thematic string of games throughout, the film happens to open with Nick carrying a game into his Bar to greet his sister. When asked what the significance of the game was, Fincher responded:
“There was absolutely no importance to that at all, there’s no significance at all,” Fincher answered with a laugh. “I think it was the only game we could legally clear, and of course everyone comes up to me and asks what it means.”
But we know this isn’t true because Fincher has a penchant for the most minute details and because we see a wide array of games on the shelves in the bar a minute later and when Nick and Margo play the game of Life. So why the game? Perhaps because it’s the game that keeps their marriage alive. Cat and mouse anyone? It’s in my unpopular opinion that Amy is actually conducting an elaborate plan that extends beyond simply getting Nick the death penalty. Amy legitimately wants to give Nick an anniversary gift he will never forget. It’s her intention to killing Desi Collins in a ritualistic sacrifice for their marriage.
I know what you’re saying: She murdered Desi Collins out of necessity because her plans went awry. This isn’t the modus operandi of a calculated psychopath. It also wasn’t her intention to kill herself at any point afterwards. It’s revealed when she swaps the post-it notes on her calendar that the suicide was never a motive, but rather false evidence to serve the facade of a suicide. The only way she could leave that Motel to murder Desi without Greta and Jeff testifying against her was to stage the robbery. That way they keep their mouths shut and she walks out with more desperation in her eyes when she confronts him at the Casino. I beg anyone to watch the robbery scene. It’s not Amy desperate, it’s Amy acting as if she were desperate. No one as cunning and calculated as “Amazing Amy” would drop a sack of money in plain sight. Fincher precedes this with her planting a hole in one - the suggestion? She never loses. Her scream into the pillow after being slammed against the wall by Jeff sounds more akin to a shout of victory after a football game than a scream for help.
As an anniversary gift, it’s a doozy. It offers Nick not only the chance to escape life in prison, it also provides a Amy a great chance for him to find out who his wife is. Throughout the investigation, Nick delves deeper into who her friends are, what her blood type is, and the key question: why would she disappear? If he can figure out who she truly is, he gets rewarded with the blood sacrifice of her dead ex-boyfriend. And also a warning: don’t ever hurt me.
On top of that, Nick gets the gift any narcissist would revel in: galvanization from the media just as long as he confesses his love for Amy on national television. Amy, in return, gets the gift of hearing it. What woman wouldn’t want their man to confess their love (even if it’s so it’s he doesn’t get executed) to 10 million people?
Amy, on the other hand, gets a book deal and tremendous admiration from a legion of “groupies” as Nick aptly describes them. “Gone Girl” is the ultimate narcissist’s dream and the honest population’s nightmare. It offers complete admiration to its psychopaths and utter confusion and manipulation to the rest.
2 The Dream
This isn’t the first time Gone Girl has been compared to Kubrick’s masterpiece, Eyes Wide Shut, but it feels fitting given it’s a seasoned director’s take on marriage in a satirical and dreamlike voice. One can’t help but notice they both share the rainbow motif throughout Gone Girl.
Let’s begin with Fincher’s calculated use of the rainbow and where he places it. Nick and Margo spin the rainbow wheel on the game of Life which sets the film into motion. His use of the rainbow alarms the viewer of two things: 1.) this isn’t reality. We’re going to enter a dream. Given the heavy use of Amy’s narration, Amy’s dream. And b.) we’re playing a game, both with the characters and the audience.
When Nick enters the help centre to find the community has come together for the cause, Nick makes important note to touch the shoulder of a child in a rainbow-coloured shirt. The gesture acts as a subtle hint to the viewer of the importance of the child as imaginary character development in the third act. It’s the “pregnancy” that both decides Nick’s fate and emboldens Amy as a hero to the people.
Finally, the most subtle representation being the logo of the television Amy watches in her motel that appears on the bottom right of the television set. It occurs when Tanner Bolt appears on television defending Nick. It’s also a key plot turn as it marks Greta’s turning on the media’s portrayal of Amy Dunne. Amy’s dream, as Fincher has it, comes to a close.
Soundscape and sound design lend themselves to the dream theory throughout. Take note of Reznor’s use of sedate, romantic, yet uneasy use of music throughout Amy’s flashbacks. Reznor would go on to say:
“Because there are certain sections of the movie that go back and forth between Amy Dunne’s perspective, painting a certain picture of events and then reality.”
This, coupled with Fincher’s obvious use of ADR in the flashbacks creates an artificial tone. There is no indication that any of this should be taken seriously. Fincher even uses super-dramatic use of slow-motion when Nick pushes Amy against the staircase. Like Kubrick’s use of studio sets to substitute New York City, it accentuates the fakery and eliminates impartiality to the characters. If nothing is true, nothing is permitted.
3 The Politics of Psychopathy
Whether it’s the anarcho-capitalist rhetoric of Fight Club or the social politics of the 1%ers in The Social Network, Fincher has never shied away from the political climate in his films. Gone Girl, then, provides ample material for satire and scrutiny of America’s upper-middle class.
Allegorically, it serves as a satire on marriage, the media, and the public manipulation. On a character to character basis, everyone is trying to manipulate someone else with the exception of Detective Boney. It’s a surefire way to illustrate a cynical viewpoint of “everyone as psychopath” syndrome of a capitalist democracy. But I think there’s more going on underneath the surface.
Nick is prepped and coiffed like an all-American politician for the people. The media sways the public’s opinion of him. But in the end, he is a puppet to both Amy (a stifled representation of female consciousness) and Tanner Bolt (a mainstream representation of male consciousness). Nick is at the sole mercy of the information left by Amy to the Police and the pavlovian instruction of Tanner Bolt. He is merely a symbol of freedom, but like Amy’s gift to him in the wood-house, a puppet.
The police, in many ways, serve as an all-knowing Omnipresence in the film. Notice how Detective Boney always just shows up when Nick is alone (“What are you? Following me?”). She even stares the truth straight into Amy’s eyes at the end during her evaluation by the FBI. To which, Amy easily dismisses Boney by wheeling away.
Sharon Schieber and Ellen Abbott are the media personified. One representing the far-right, FOX, know-it-all pundit, and the other representing the gentler, investigative, empathetic left-of-centre. Both have their opposing teams, Democrats and Republicans, sharing the world stage. Ellen Abbott crucifies Nick, then Sharon empathizes and brings him closer to the human spotlight, then Ellen brings him back into the spotlight as loving father. The media’s game of martyr come back to life.
Desi Collins is an enigma. Not much is known other than he was charged for doing something “bad” to Amy and that he was in constant correspondence with her for 20 years after their break-up. Enter the N.S.A. on stage left (it’s fitting Neil Patrick Harris shares the acronymous “N” identification). He stalks her obsessively and watches her (on every camera at every possible angle). He welcomes you with surveillanced open doors, white wine and lilies.
Politically, it’s intriguing. Despite all is unknown about Desi, we can conclude he was a threat and that he was compulsively watching her every move. Once he’s destroyed, she is free to return and Nick is granted freedom from scrutiny and from death. The political allegory is strong with young Fincher.
There are striking similarities behind the many character’s ruthless exploitation of tragedy and Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In the book she posits that in major crises, global leaders push controversial political and capitalistic agendas to profit from tragedies. I couldn’t help but see this idea resonate throughout all of Gone Girl. The media wields its power to control the population and even Nick. Desi is practically waiting for this “tragedy” and confesses he’s been “waiting 20 years for this.”
Take note of the two inserts Fincher puts in once the media frenzy sets in. One is a shot looking up at the KFC sign with the Amy hotline front and center and another is a Wal-Mart sign. Later in the film, a young woman from the community asks Nick to pose for her smartphone camera. She says “Say Chicken Frito Pie!” and Nick gives an incriminating smile. Cut to the Motel swimming pool and Amy sits in a floater eating Fritos - the food of the “cool girls,” the food of the woman who made Nick smile.
People lambast Fincher for corporate product placement. I disagree. I think Fincher is absolutely aware of his corporate product placement and his use of their logos is a scathing, tongue-in-cheek critique on a capitalist society hell-bent on making a buck. One person’s tragedy, another person’s fortune.