Fincher's Nightmare

Ben Affleck in Gone Girl
“Fincher’s Nightmare”
A Review of Gone Girl by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, R

USCCB Rating, O
Reel Rating, One Reel

            As I exited the theater after seeing David Fincher’s latest venture Gone Girl, a cheerful usher asked a dazed patron if she liked it. “I need a drink,” she flatly responded, perfectly summarizing the experience. The film is a dark and disturbing narrative about a bored Missourian housewife who goes missing and the insane fallout as her husband tries to find her. This scenario, however, only describes the first hour of a nearly 150 minute runtime as the plot descends into an array of twists and turns, upsetting previous assumptions and leaving the viewer unsure of even the most basic facts of the Universe. Like Fincher’s previous work, it is an amazing piece of craftsmanship with stellar directing, acting, writing, cinematography, music, and blood splatter effects. It is also incredibly grotesque, painful, and devoid of any catharsis needed to soften the blow.
            One morning in July, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) goes to a local bar he owns with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) simply entitled “The Bar” (great name) to contemplate his life and upcoming fifth anniversary. He returns home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing; the only clues are a broken glass table and a few small blood stains in the kitchen. He calls the police who quickly organize a hotline and press conference. Yet Amy is no ordinary woman. She’s white, blond, attractive, well educated, and her childhood was used – possibly exploited – for a famous fictionalized book series Amazing Amy, written by her parents. Her disappearance quickly spirals into a media frenzy with news pundit Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) convinced Nick is the culprit and twenty-something groupies commenting on “how hot he is.” Slowly and suspensefully, new facts and characters are uncovered. Pretty soon, it becomes clear both Nick and Amy are hiding a myriad of secrets, but is one of them really murder?
            On the surface, Gone Girl is a strong critique of amateur media investigations and the severe consequences of presumption. Gossip is one of today’s most prevalent sins brought on by the simple need to fill air time. There is simply not enough news to support a 24 hour cable news network (much less several). Thus, they must invent news through commentary and speculation. Pundits often make wild and unfounded presuppositions that can radically alter public perception of issues that are really no one’s business in the first place. Worst of all, it frustrates the judicial process and can compromise police investigations. At first, Nick feels powerless to do anything. Yet under the guidance of superstar attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), he begins to manipulate and use the media for his own agenda. They are only too happy to oblige because any press is good press.
            Internally, Gone Girl examines the modern marriage through the relationship between Nick and Amy. They originally fell in love at a party where he performs an elaborate setup to seduce her. Amy’s whole life has been a charade, pretending to be the real “Amazing Amy,” and she finds Nick’s strong but shadowy personality incredibly attractive and reciprocal. Yet once married, they are totally incapable of living a normal existence. She only wants to climb the social ladder as the perfect couple, while he is actually interested in settling down and starting a family. Their only real connection is elaborate sexual fantasies like trying to make love (lust?) quietly in a bookstore. She is a greedy monster pretending to be a nice, submissive wife while he is just an ordinary, fun Joe pretending to be a jerk. The tipping point comes when Nick’s mother gets sick, moving them from bustling New York to boring, backwater Missouri. Nick certainly is capable of murdering his wife, the only obstacle to a happy suburban life. Yet, Amy is equally despicable, maybe more so, in getting what she wants In a rare moment of clarity, Nick questions their lifestyle. “Why do we do this? All we do is cause each other pain!” he yells. “This is marriage,” replies without a hint of sarcasm. Both of them entered the relationship because they liked other and it fulfilled an outside need. Such marriages will always fail because, in the words of Fr. Barron, “they will always descend into egotism.” Love means wanting the good for someone else, not you.
            There is a troubling misanthropic thread that runs throughout all of Fincher’s films from Se7en to Fight Club to The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. His fictional world is full of awful people doing awful things to other awful people. No one is spared. Even when the villains are caught or exposed, they are rarely remorseful. Real life isn’t like this. Most people live perfectly normal, happy lives without stealing, murdering, or committing adultery. Yes, people sin, but not in the way Fincher images they do. Truth can be eclipsed, but not for long, and many of the wayward will seek repentance.

            Gone Girl is probably the worst possible movie to celebrate the opening of the Synod on the Family this weekend. The only silver lining to such an experience is the revelation of society’s true feelings regarding marriage: an impossible union that will only lead to the destruction of everyone involved. Any viewer will need a cold movie shower after, probably along the lines of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I recommend the episode where Rarity and Applejack learn to get along despite their differences. 

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on October 23rd, 2014.