"And you may ask yourself, this is not my beautiful life!", sings David Byrne in Talking Heads' classic song "Once in a Lifetime". That, in a nutshell, is where David Fincher wants to take you - and keep you in - during Gone Girl, before pretty much cutting you loose into nothingness as a viewer. In many ways, it's as disorienting a trip as his landmark serial thriller Seven was, only done with a much sharper blade; this adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-seller (scripted by the writer herself) is a scathing indictment of an entire middle-class way of life and of its traps, conveniently and consciously disguised as the sort of prestige thriller where the star is presumed guilty until proven innocent.
But Mr. Fincher, whose taste for glossy, smooth surfaces has led many to think of him mostly as a glorified adman, takes it into the grey-area moral tales he has always been so fond of, exploring the skeletons in the closet of a supposedly happy marriage. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappears mysteriously on her fifth wedding anniversary, to the apparent astonishment of her loving husband Nick (Ben Affleck), but it soon becomes clear that their fairytale story (corn belt stud lands smart New York girl before family illness and financial recession force them to downsize and move back to Missouri) hides darker corners. Mr. Fincher has always enjoyed pulling the rug from under the viewer in his work, and he does so again here in a masterful piece of continuous misdirection and sleight of hand, constantly stripping the layers of paneled mirrors intricately inlaid.
Gone Girl trades in the director's trademark paranoia, that sense that everything is just that little bit off, that powered Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' minimalist, moody score helps enormously). But, this time, those mirrors are not just a simple formal device; they are purposely woven into the film's own fabric, as part of its scathing social satire on modern life. Everybody in Gone Girl is desperate to maintain a semblance of status and position, to keep up with the Joneses, just as the noose is being tightened around their neck; almost as if the facade that Mr. Fincher revels in depicting to its most minute detail but in hushed, blended tones elegantly rendered by DP Jeff Cronenweth is the actual theme of the film rather than the "official" plotline. Gone Girl's take on the way Amy's disappearance is made into a cause in cable news, daytime television and online social media is also a signal of the director's by now well-established moralism - not, say, like Eric Rohmer's gentle "moral tales", but more like a more detached, wry, disenchanted observer of a society that he sees as flowing down a cesspool.
That entomological, somewhat cynical approach, like a kid playing around with flies under a microscope, has seldom been as note-perfect for a film as it is for Ms. Flynn's tale of a man suddenly trapped under the bright glare of a media circus and of the woman whose absence has led him there. It's an approach that, here, also reminds of the late Claude Chabrol's delight in pointing out all the flaws and delusions of the well-off bourgeoisie, the almost juvenile sadistic glee with which the French director would set up traps for them to lose themselves into; Ms. Pike's scene-stealing performance as Amy has something of that mystery, coldness and danger that Mr. Chabrol's "heroines" (and occasional heroes) had.
The usual accusations of misanthropy and misogyny are certainly going to follow Gone Girl everywhere (even though the film was written by a woman), but the truth is nobody gets out of this film unscathed. Certainly not the Dunnes (with Mr. Affleck in a solid performance that unabashedly reminds you of his own tabloid circus years ago - and that obviously helped in casting him for the role); but neither the investigating cops (a sympathetic but suspicious Kim Dickens and a completely prejudiced Patrick Fugit), nor Amy's parents (who milked her childhood for all it was worth and never reconciled with her decision to move to "the boonies"), not even the closest friends to either party (Neil Patrick Harris' obsessed friend, Carrie Coon as Nick's sister, who often fail at understanding what's really going on).
By the end of Mr. Fincher's expertly wound clockwork mechanism, edited to within an inch of its life by Kirk Baxter, what started out as an apparently simple disappearance has become an unsettling, stifling, paranoid indictment of human frailty and the desire to be accepted, to fit in, to be true to oneself. It's all the more unsettling because it's all there for you to see, under the marble floors, behind the garage doors. This, indeed, is not your beautiful house.
Cast Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon
Director David Fincher; screenwriter Gillian Flynn; based on her novel Gone Girl; cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (colour, widescreen); composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; designer Donald Graham Burt; costumes Trish Summerville; editor Kirk Baxter; producers Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon, Ceán Chaffin and Joshua Donen; production companies Twentieth Century-Fox and Regency Enterprises in association with TSG Entertainment
Screened September 29th 2014, UCI El Corte Inglés 9, Lisbon (distributor press screening)