I remember where I was the first time I saw Gone Girl. I was in a packed theatre with a close friend of mine. Moments before the film began I was texting my girlfriend at the time that the movie was about to start. I was in awe during the entire two and a half-hour run time. And then when it ended, he turned to me and made the same joke most people did after they saw the film “I’m glad I’m single.” He looked at me and realised I had already sent a text to said girlfriend informing her that the movie made me miss her. He, like most people, saw Gone Girl and thought it was a film that was warning people not to fall in love. He didn’t know that I saw what might be one of the greatest romantic comedies of the past decade. To be completely honest, I know what it sounds like — one of the most bizarre takes possible, but you’ll agree with me soon.
David Fincher’s filmography is a pretty grim one. Between Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, comedy is not a genre one would assume he’d tackle. Some of his films might have some comedic elements, but mostly out of a need for levity or release from tension. But Gone Girl has a lot of perfectly timed comedic beats. Comedic moments bouncing off super dark moments. Gone Girl is simply about searching for Amazing Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) after she goes missing, and the prime suspect is her husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and the media circus that is attached to this. However, since Amy has faked her kidnapping and literally gets away with murder, this film is nothing but simple.
Everything we learn about their relationship must be taken with a grain of salt. Only so much of the flashbacks are to be taken as fact. The flashbacks are taken out of Amy’s fictional diary and recollection of events. When it’s eventually revealed that it was all planned out, Amy states we must keep the early stuff, that parts real. The romance in their relationship was there — but eventually, it wasn’t working. All the aspects that make Nick look like not only a bad boyfriend, but a bad human (the abusive acts, the aggressive spending) were all fictional. But, Nick did cheat, and he used the same tactics that worked on Amy at the beginning but on a second woman.
Most romcoms follow a simple formula, and we all know it. There’s the meet-cute, the first kiss, the first time they have sex, a blossoming romance — and then there are the hiccups. Whether it’s due to the relationship becoming stale, or another person enters the picture, this is when the couple typically break-up. Eventually, all works out, and they live happily ever after, with marriage or a child. Or neither, but happy together nonetheless.
When we look chronologically at Amy and Nick’s relationship, we see and are told about all of these moments. We see the meet-cute at the party, the walk through the sugar cloud, the exchanging of gifts — and revealing it’s the same gift. “We’re so cute, I hate us. I want to punch us in the face.” These are all elements that we can assume are true. Nick then cheats on his wife with one of his students (the “I thought writers hated clichés” line makes me laugh every time) and then has an affair with Andie (Emily Ratajkowski). He swears to Andie that he’s going to break up with his wife for her. Amy responds by faking her kidnapping and planning on committing suicide so that she can frame Nick and get him the death penalty.
Rosamund’s spectacular cool girl monologue gets into another aspect about relationships, how we pretend to be something else to be liked more by our partners. Sometimes, we don’t notice it, or we don’t hate it the entire time. We watch things our partners like, or we listen to things they like — eventually, we forget where they end and we begin. And that definitely can be toxic in its own right. And I’m not saying that the core relationship isn’t toxic — but rather, that’s exactly what it is.
Fincher’s style doesn’t typically have room for romance, but rather this almost misanthropic personality that looms over the films. When Gone Girl was initially released, everyone talked about how Fincher is misogynistic, but that’s not true. He hates everyone. It’s as if while other directors are looking and showcasing the good in humanity, Fincher is attracted to the grimy underbelly of the human experience. When I look at Gone Girl through Fincher’s eyes, I see two gross flawed human beings in a relationship, that only deserve one another. Whether that’s them suffering together in an attempt of happiness or genuinely loving each other is yet to be determined. A cheater who has taken advantage of his wife and her trust fund, and a literal murderer. Not to state which is worse, but the alternative is what, start over? After the media circus that they’ve been apart of, they’d both look like the villain and the victim. Scoot McNairy’s character Tommy had been dealt a similar hand after his relationship with Amy, he has to register as a sex offender. In comparison, Nick will forever be known as the man who cheated on his kidnapped pregnant wife, and then leaving her after she killed her kidnapper to crawl back to her bad husband. There is no recovery, which leads to why at the end of the film, Nick tells his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) that he’s staying with Amy and Margo is stunned, making it clear that he could leave if he wanted to. That’s if he wanted to.
While the film is based on the book by Gillian Flynn, who wrote the script as well, there’s an obvious part of the auteur theory that comes into play. Had it been another filmmaker that adapted the novel, I might look less into it. But when a filmmaker that is so precise with his decisions on how everything is, or his choices on which projects to work on, I take a second look at what the story did for Fincher to get drawn in. Ironically, after Gone Girl, Fincher didn’t make another film until Mank, a movie written by his late father. Mank is a love letter to not only the early days of Hollywood in a studio system but also to the writers that make the films, the ones who often don’t see the spotlight and acclaim when the bigger name is the director. The same way we look at Citizen Kane and think of Orson Welles instead of Mank, we perceive the film to be Fincher’s Gone Girl, not Flynn’s.
I don’t think that Flynn looks at her novel or story as a romantic comedy, and maybe Fincher doesn’t either but watching these two falling in love, and despite everything, making it “work,” then maybe there’s hope for us all.
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