When Gone Girl first came out, I was 20 and it was R21. So I bought a ticket to Dracula Untold at Bugis Filmegarde and snuck inside. I spent the next two and a half hours gasping out loud as the plot unfurled and was completely gripped by David Fincher and Gillian Flynn's masterpiece.
I watched Gone Girl for the second time recently. And if anything, I love this movie even more now. Because the first time through, I was so caught up in the suspense, in the what-comes-next, that I couldn't fully grasp all the things this movie was contending with. This movie contends with a great deal of issues, without ever losing track of its central characters. It's a movie about an economic recession, feminism, toxic masculinity, sexual politics, infidelity, and most importantly, marriage. It's about the people we become for each other, and the lies we tell each other and ourselves.
(Light spoilers from here on in.)
Like I said, the mystery occupied my attention the first time. The second time, it was the details. One of those easily overlooked details is casting. Casting isn't just about the actor and how well they perform. It's also about the context through which we understand that character, whether they are able to bring something to the role that no one else can. It surpasses technique or competency, and steps into the undefinable concept of suitability. Ben Affleck is the perfect Nick Dunn because Ben Affleck can exude asshole from every pore, while still being charming. He can smirk at the press conference for his missing wife and all at once, we can justifiably believe that he killed her or that he just is that stupid. Neil Patrick Harris has the perfect face for a billionaire who has never been rejected, and genuinely thinks he's a good guy. But all the clues are there when his savior complex starts to crumble. And then there's Rosamund Pike, who is delivering a career best performance. Pike with one look can be both charming and suave, obsessive and controlling. She's the cool girl and the nagging wife, all at once. We can never fully understand Amy Elliot Dunne, even up till the film's final moments, when it twists its mysterious opening into something haunting.
This is a movie that plays on our prejudices. Because all three of these performances work on two levels: there's the facade we believe and the ugly truth beneath. The actors are acting as their characters, and then they're their characters acting as their ideal selves. They mirror the performances people put on every day, the violence we inflict upon ourselves to be who we think others want us to be. And eventually, that violence will rip through the mask and enter the world.
One of my questions with thrillers like Gone Girl, is who deserves what they get? It's a question that assumes that the film is delivering some sort of societal critique, that there is some form of justice that the writer and director are aspiring to with the film. The question stems from the ancient Greek tragedies where characters mostly get what they deserve, because they transgressed or refused to accept their fate. In Gone Girl, I'm still thinking about who deserves what. Simpler movies punish their villains and reward their heroes. But what happens when there are no heroes or villains? What happens in a reality when those moral lines are blurred and nobody is purely good or purely evil? Do any of these characters deserve what they get? These are essential questions to ask for any revenge movie, or really almost any movie with violence as a central theme. Movies like John Wick make the answers simple: the bad guys kill the dog, the bad guys get killed. The Invisible Man, (which I've written about here) complicates things with its ending and the relationship with the truth. But Gone Girl completely deprives us of this catharsis by not giving us any heroes to root for, and delivering a conclusion that is ambiguous in its rewards and punishments.
Part of the reason Gone Girl has sat with me for so long is because of its conclusion. Gone Girl doesn't end, it stops. The difference is that endings bring a journey to a close, they bring clarity to what we have seen come before. A stop is abrupt, it comes suddenly and the fog never clears. When Gone Girl stops, its tension remains. Its grip does not release, and 5 years after my first viewing, if anything, the fog is thicker than before.