By Mike Palovcsik
Is it possible to love a film if you hate the ending? In my case, no. And that is a difficult realization to document. For years, I have felt that David Fincher can do no wrong, and this film had me captivated for 140 minutes. Then I left the theater in a foul, foul mood.
With a screenplay by Gillian Flynn, 'Gone Girl' is adapted from her 2012 novel of the same name. Flynn is on record as saying that the screen adaptation differs from the book (I would assume so, since it wasn't a screenplay). And admittedly, I have never read it. And I can now guarantee that I won't, because a good friend confirmed that the ending is indeed the same. And it was one of the most frustrating, unsatisfying, disgusting endings to a movie I have ever seen, or to a story I have ever heard.
The plot centers around Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, who returns home to find his wife Amy missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. After a series of unfortunate coincidences and bad judgement calls, Nick finds himself the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance, which looks like certain murder. Affleck is fantastic, playing the role of a guy you want to root for - warts and all - even while the suspicion mounts. There is no scenery chewing from any of these actors here, nor would we expect there to be with Fincher behind the camera. Both of these guys choose projects where characters live in a gray area between right and wrong...probably why I've been drawn to Fincher's work so much.
I had heard much about "the twist", which comes at the beginning of the second act. Alas, Amy (Rosamund Pike) is alive! She faked the murder in an attempt to frame Nick, who she had discovered was philandering. Amy, a trust fund baby, and Nick have been experiencing marital difficulties ever since they moved from the big city to Missouri, both lost their jobs, and saw their inheritance dwindle as Amy's parents need to dip into it. Children are often discussed, but not a part of their life yet, and Nick is spending a lot of time hanging out at the bar he runs with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). Kudos to all of the aforementioned, fantastic performances all around. Ditto to Neil Patrick Harris, as Amy's ex-boyfriend, Desi, and Tyler Perry, as Nick's attorney, who Nick retains after becoming convinced that Amy is alive and he is being framed.
The movie had me on the edge of my seat through all of this, desperate to learn if Nick would get his revenge, and if Amy would see justice. In the third act, I felt the story fell apart. [SPOILER ALERT for the remainder of the paragraph]. Backed into a corner after being robbed while in hiding, Amy is forced to take shelter with her ex-boyfriend, Desi (whom she had once filed a restraining order against?!) and, after seeing Nick plead for her return on a television interview, decides to "escape" Desi's generosity by murdering him and making it appear as if Desi had raped her. She returns home to the trap Nick had set for her, but the story twists again, as she has gotten herself pregnant on sperm that Nick had stored in a fertility clinic (let that be a warning to any men out there). I understand that in the book, more is made of the fact that Nick desperately wanted to be a father, and that would do a little more to explain why, after Amy confesses to murder, Nick still decides to stay with this woman who is clearly psychotic. The movie ends as they go on another TV interview to let the world know.
I cannot explain the anxiety I had in the final five minutes as I knew the movie was coming to a conclusion, and I could not see how it could wrap up in any way that I would find satisfying. A swarm of locusts descending on the house and carrying it off into outer space would have been more plausible to me. I walked out dejected. I loved 98% of this movie. Loved it. And I will never watch it again.
What I WILL do is continue to listen to the soundtrack, which I downloaded from iTunes several days before seeing the movie. This is Fincher's third collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and it is a beauty. The duo won an Oscar for their first Original Score, for Fincher's 'The Social Network' in 2010. That was a masterpiece, but I feel was bested by the nearly three-hour long headphone opus they created for Fincher a year later, for 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. And now they've done it again. An hour and a half of gorgeous, haunting melodies, intercut by ambient noise designed to elicit anxiety and remind you that nothing is as it seems. What I wouldn't give to watch any one of those three movies without the soundtrack, and see how different the experience would be. The music is like a character in these films, opposed to many movie scores that smack you over the head and tell you how to feel every 5-10 minutes. Listeners of the Spoiler Alert podcast will be in on the inside joke about my working out to the John Barry score for 'Out of Africa'. But no joke, there are several tracks from these three soundtrack albums that appear in my running mix.
Fincher is a genius. I wish he had picked a different story. And maybe had Aaron Sorkin adapt it. Check out Danny's take on 'Gone Girl' here.