Gone Girl is one of those movies that grew on me — I started indifferent to Ben Affleck’s presence and to dialogue that sounded too scripted and not organic enough, yet soon enough the film drops into a fairly straightforward engrossing plot that then remarkably shifts gears at the midpoint and becomes…. something else… and yet this turn of events leads to the kind of conclusion that now disturbingly sticks with me even a few hours after the final credits rolled and I suspect will continue to grow over time. (Accordingly, it’s one of those movies that, the less you know going in, the better.)
The film plays with perspective and truth a great deal, although by movie’s end we have a decent understanding of the most important facts of the story. It’s unclear for a while how reliable the different narrators are, and meanwhile there’s an underlying interplay with the US media which is constantly spinning stories and judging people in the court of public entertainment. What is guilt and innocence but the stories we spin based on the facts we find most interesting and that resonate with core feelings within ourselves? The movie highlights how fictions are not merely the product of the spinners but the audience as well, by how they respond to and modify the narratives with their own energy. Everyone is complicit in the convenient twisting and pillaging of the facts, until public opinion and cultural narrative become the only story that matters.
There are some scary channelings going here: Missy Park is like Nancy Grace’s twin sister, both Affleck and the plot borrow strongly from the Scott Peterson debacle over the murder of his wife Laci, and even Carrie Coon reminds me a bit of a less quirky Joan Cusack. Tyler Perry is particularly at ease at spinning a likable amalgam of every high-profile defense attorney we’ve seen in the media, without the whiff of snake oil. (Even more remarkable is his claim in interviews that he would have likely walked away from the movie if he had known who David Fincher was or the popularity of the book, as he brings an effortless good-naturedness to his role that helps anchors the film.) The only unfortunate casting for me was Neil Patrick Harris (Barney, Dr. Horrible), as I kept imagining to be inwardly smirking over his most serious lines, but that’s a minor quibble.
The movie spends some time exploring the question of who Nick Dunne is — a wonderful husband unjustly accused, a narcissistic philanderer who removed an inconvenient spouse, or something else? But it’s the movie’s opening question that grows to dominate the movie: Who was/is this woman named Amy Elliot Dunne AKA Amazing Amy? Gone Girl is ultimately focused on the questions of who we are, what we want, and who we will pretend to be in order to get them.