Sept. 30 2014 05:44 PM

David Fincher creates a big-screen relationship nightmare for the social-media age

GoneGirl
Ben Affleck’s in hot water.

Hollywood is constantly fabricating lies about intimacy. Still, we crave more, hoping for a chance to partake in our own ultimate storybook romance. The great simplification of love makes happiness seem easily attainable, leaving room for a dangerous shift in perception to occur. The alternate reality gets taken as gospel, and everyday life becomes equated with the constructed perspective of movie time. Quixotic expectations and inevitable disappointment follow. Hearts are broken.

Gone Girl takes gleeful pleasure in detonating this myth and exposing the sinister remains. Instead of allowing emotional entitlement to exist as a redeemable trait, David Fincher's hissing and venomous black comedy confronts the cost of living (and believing) in the me-first fantasy. Those webs usually woven behind closed doors become public property, blasted outward for the world to misrepresent and co-opt for its own selfish purposes.

Adapted from Gillian Flynn's mega-bestseller, Gone Girl centers on the mysterious disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), whose smug husband Nick (Ben Affleck) becomes the prime suspect after detectives begin to dismantle the couple's perfect façade. Multiple perspectives converge during the investigation, with Amy's voiceover framing beguiling sequences that piece together her relationship with Nick.

Placed like clues for the audience to discover, these flashbacks are crumbs in a much larger bread trail. During their first date, the couple walks through an alley, flirting and fawning amid a plume of sugar dust drifting out of a local bakery. Nick paints a white outline on Amy's lips before moving in for the sweet kiss. Despite the romantic intent, the moment has a morbid feel, her chalky and drained skin evoking the complexion of a decomposing angel.

As Amy's disappearance becomes a national news story and Nick's guilt is ordained in the public eye, Gone Girl turns into a savage examination of an America where perception and judgment occur 140 characters at a time. Technology's made everyone storytellers, but Fincher suggests that it's also turned us all into carnivorous feelers hoping to express ourselves more loudly than anyone else. Everyone from the news media to selfie-taking despair groupies help fortify this newly minted home front. 

Much of Gone Girl depends on salacious twists and manic revelations, but these are all in service of the film's grotesque view of modern relationships as an experience to be publicly consumed. "Once something is out there, there's no going back," says one character, highlighting the rapid pace with which our decisions are made available for condemnation. News vans and neighborhood folks encircle Nick's posh home like sharks sniffing for blood, occasionally yelling out to inspire new reactions or stories. It feels a lot like Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, another great film about the calculated manifestation of hysteria. 

Not simply interested in the way modern intimacy becomes skewered by the traps of technology, Fincher examines how we self-invent dramas within relationships in order to feign emotion to the outside world. Since we believe everyone else is watching our every move, it's a devious way to gain leverage over our significant others. Gone Girl traces this elaborate trajectory through a heightened and pulpy lens, letting a purveying sense of absurdity run through its veins like heroin. 

During one of the more tenuous moments in Gone Girl—which opens Friday, Oct. 3—Nick hilariously urges one of his confidants, "I need you to take this seriously." With people wearing so many masks these days, is this even possible anymore? Fincher's elaborate web of a film doesn't think so, suggesting that sacred vows like marriage and love are no longer personal, but new gladiatorial sports open for all to see. 

Write to glennh@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

Calendar

See all events on Friday, Dec 2