Why David Fincher’s slick thriller Gone Girl is also one of the great romcoms

The film's structure of two halves is perfectly suited to its genre, which is arguably that of the marriage comedy. 

 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) is a  film bisected by the revelation that the crime committed by its leading man is not the one he is suspected of, but an  entirely different and more ordinary infraction: Nick Dunne, a former hunk and current also-ran played by Ben Affleck, is  not capable of murder; but he is not  capable of being an interested or attentive  husband either.

He was once a professional writer, but no longer writes; he procured a failing bar with his wife Amy’s money, but does not appear to do much with his time other than play videogames, and occasionally teach at the local college; he has named the bar, insufferably, “The Bar”, a sneering joke that is not interesting or funny; he has no idea  whether his wife has friends, or what she does all day other than “reading”, which he says she does “voraciously” in a tone so uninterested I would not be entirely shocked to learn that while Nick writes, he cannot actually read.

Most obviously and tediously of all, he has been sleeping with a student from his class, a 21-year-old played by Emily Ratajkowski who is described in the screenplay as “the girl with the giant come-on-me tits”. Andie, the student, does not seem to “read voraciously”, although since she eventually renounces Nick, it’s possible that she has read enough to know that mad wives sometimes haunt the attics of sad men.

Gone Girl’s structure of two halves – the first suggesting Nick might have killed his wife, and the funnier, sicker second revealing she has faked her own death in the hope that Nick will be presumed to be the killer – is perfectly suited to its actual genre, which is arguably not that of the thriller, but of the marriage or re-marriage comedy: a story about a husband and wife locked in intellectual combat, a dark battle of the sexes with a minor body count.

When Anne Hathaway described Gone Girl as an all-time great romantic comedy on The Late Late Show in 2017, to an awkward silence, it was a comment designed to generate interest on the internet, but it was also not inaccurate or misplaced. The film’s conflation between solving the dropped clues of a conventional murder mystery and figuring out the mysterious depths of one’s own frightening, murderous wife is, obviously, very witty.

Fincher’s casting, not just knowing but extravagantly meta, has his sociopath antiheroine played by Rosamund Pike, a former Bond Girl with a fearfully symmetrical Hitchcock-girl face ; the “doofus husband” by the famously philandering Affleck; and Amy’s rich, sleazoid ex-boyfriend played by a particularly oleaginous Neil Patrick Harris – nodding to his stint as the amoral playboy Barney Stinson in the sitcom  How I Met Your Mother with darkly  emphatic lines such as: “I’m not going to force myself on you.” Pike, in particular, has never bettered her performance here, seesawing wildly between dead-eyed vengefulness and throaty, calculated hotness. “I am so much happier,” she offers, lightly, speeding down the highway at the opening of the movie’s second half, “now that I’m dead.”

“Yes, I loved you,” Nick snarls, face-to-face with Amy after she has returned home to claim him back, “and then all we did was try to control each other, and resent each other, and cause each other pain.” Her response is very funny, very well delivered, and not technically untrue: “That’s marriage.” (Do note: when Amy “disappears”, the couple have weathered seven years together, making his affair and her faked kidnapping both scratchings of the famed seven-year itch. Needless to say, hers is the more imaginative move; Nick Dunne, who named his bar “The Bar”, is not the visionary type.)

Gone Girl does not necessarily have an answer to the question of what women, as a monolith, might want; it does suggest that men’s incuriosity about their interior lives could prove more dangerous than many husbands might at first assume.

When the hurly burly’s done, and Amy has first killed a man, then crawled home covered in blood to begin a family with her husband, we are left with the same image we began with: Amy’s head, almost phosphorescently blonde, resting on her husband’s chest.

A cold war has been ushered in, one in which any misstep on her husband’s part could lead to violence, something nuclear. If the stakes are higher than in a traditional sitcom household, the dynamic is still the same. “What have we done to each other?” Nick asks fearfully in voiceover, at the beginning and the end. “What will we do?” That’s marriage, baby!

“Gone Girl” is streaming now on Netflix

This article appears in the 25 September 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The autumn of discontent

Free trial CSS