I will not go into detail so as to not spoil it for readers who haven’t seen Fincher’s latest endeavor, or the book by Gillian Flynn on which it is based. For those of you that have seen or read Gone Girl, bear with me: the final two acts of this promising feature produced abhorrent results. David Fincher is a director who, throughout his career, has created inventive but darkly realistic worlds, focusing on sociopaths and psychopaths, often offering claustrophobic insight into a character’s damaged psyche. Meanwhile, Flynn – who wrote Gone Girl’s screenplay – is known for creating similarly harrowing worlds filled to the brim with unsettling characters. Like Flynn, Fincher builds tension until the final moments before giving you the ‘big’ reveal (the most impressive example of which remains in Se7en). Se7en remains one of his early and most majestically minimalist works; it never borders on self-indulgent and even after its emotionally devastating climax it chooses to end on a silent, smaller (yet equally effective) note.
Fincher’s major problem in recent years (The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now Gone Girl), or maybe even since Fight Club, is that he has become too pompous, too obtrusive, and too radically sure of himself in certain respects – whilst in others refusing to let his audience figure out things for themselves. His films feature far too much exposition – and although I do agree that every film needs enough to set up the framework of its world and the characters that inhabit it, Fincher often goes over-board. He sets up a compelling mystery with tiny erratic clues hidden everywhere, but as this story takes off with its brisk pace, it suddenly offers radical amounts of exposition.
The ‘big’ reveal comes in less than halfway into the film, and although this twist may seem inventive and unsettling, it makes huge portions of the rest of the film tiresome to watch. Now, I know most will argue that the point of the film isn’t the twist but rather the exploration of the psychological state and suppositions of the wife’s internal psyche, as well as the marital relationship between her and her husband. I agree up to a point. Even if we forget the first part played out as an investigative, edge-of-your-seat thriller and then took a drastically different turn, the film still has many dilemmas. Until very late in the film, the viewer is still left to indulge in unnecessary plot-strands, over-long sequences, and wasted side-plots that rarely develop characters significantly or progress the story any further.
Finally, the film’s third act provides a huge gap in logic in terms of Flynn’s screenplay, which sets the film up to provide a vicariously disappointing conclusion. It attempts to tackle the concept of marriage, the ideological façades that are built around a degrading relationship in order to sustain it for the public image, and the fabrication and lies that exist and make up every couple’s foundation. This is a harrowing and deeply bleak viewpoint – and although it merely represents these elements on film, it never evokes empathy, emotion, or even a sense of recognition in the viewer. The ultimate conclusion is completely open-ended, in this sense mimicking the never-ending state of psychosis that its central characters are trapped within, and the endless pain the couple will end up inflicting on each other.
The film left a bitter aftertaste. Even if critics and fellow viewers now argue that this is the point, this simply can’t be all there is to film. Cinema is an art form for expressing profound meaning, from which further readings and similarities can be drawn about our life, feelings, experiences and a shifted view and depiction of society, whilst often discovering deeper moral and socio-political messages on the way. Gone Girl fits nowhere near this bracket – if it wants to simply serve as a depiction of a hollow marital relationship and this pair’s role in a wider, mindless public sphere, it works. Additionally, if the intention is to depict the unleashed psychological state of a psychopath, it works once again. In fact, one of the film’s most astounding, albeit most revolting sequences, is an incredibly bloody murder sequence involving Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris). This is one of the moments that manages to resonate with Fincher’s style and testifies to his ability in shooting a scene differently. It’s filmed with unsettling high angle and side-on takes, also with rapid fade-in, fade-outs in the editing being used to go between different angles of the graphic murder, rather than simplistic cuts. This projects not only the fragmented, deranged mental state of the psychopath involved but unsettles the viewer thoroughly, remaining one of the strange highlights of the film. However, if we go beyond mere effective representations, if the audience is left to look for more depth or meaning than the aforementioned aspects, they’ll be left thoroughly disappointed.
The film’s tagline is ”You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s…” implying that all the things we hold most dear are taken for granted until they are gone. Likewise, it further implies that the film’s layered with clues and meaning you won’t be fully able to grasp, even after the credits roll, therefore eliciting the need for multiple viewings. Nothing remains in this film that I’d like to re-visit. Despite how hard it tries to have meaning and multiple layers and complexity, mirrored through its diverse and ‘complex’ narrative structure, it fails to provoke any true deeper meaning that resonates with the viewer, or demands a need for multiple viewings.
To conclude this immense analysis, Gone Girl is a seriously underwhelming work from a talented, although extremely over-praised director, whose critical approval in contemporary cinema has far overstayed his welcome. Hopefully in his future works – including another collaboration with Gillian Flynn in an upcoming HBO TV Series – we’ll get a more nostalgic throwback to his earlier gems and long forgotten classics.
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