Fikri Jermadi brings in the new year with a review of one of the best films he saw this past year.
Right from the very start, there is a sense that something is wrong. We are treated to an establishing montage of sorts, a shot by shot treatment of the neighbourhood where Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) lives with his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). There’s little wrong with what’s in the shots themselves, signifiers of American suburbia as we understand it. The issue is with the duration of each shot: it feels just a little short, a few seconds under relative to a more ‘normal’ editing rhythm. This metronomic quality makes me feel that while the superficial surface is an impressive one…something not quite right.
Another clue lies in another film. ‘Shattered Glass’ is a film that starred Hayden Christensen as a journalist whose lies very nearly brought down an established magazine. Near the end, a scene of his voice over narration was cut short as we cut to another scene. According to the filmmaker, Billy Ray, that was a deliberate choice, for by the film’s end, we are not as interested in his version of the events so much; that harsh cut, therefore, is our way of saying “No more lies.”
I do believe there is some relevance here; Nick returns home that same day to find his wife missing. The mystery of what happened to her very quickly shifted to what he might have done to her. Despite the fact that no body was found, there were enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that he did the dirty on her. The police, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), as well as the media and pretty much everyone else made his life a living hell. He finds solace and support (as well as tough love) from his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), his hotshot attorney. Together, they try to prove his innocence while finding out what really happened to Amy.
The film itself is based on a book, and the original author Gillian Flynn doubled down as the scriptwriter for the film, too. It’s an interesting responsibility to hand to a first-time scriptwriter, and I have to admit it is one that is done with much aplomb. As strange as this may sound, there is a clear vision of ambiguity here, of how something is not quite right. There is also a strong circularity with the narrative, an equilibrium of sorts that Tzvetan Todorov would be proud of. I’m keen to explain further, but I fear any attempt to do so may well compromise and give away much of the plot.
As an aside, the version I saw was not exactly complete, with much thanks to our authorities. No scenes were cut, but some of the more sensitive scenes were ‘reconfigured’ (apparently with David Fincher’s approval). Quite frankly, we didn’t see much of the sex scenes, but I did not feel as if the whole thing was significantly degraded because of it. I highly doubt I would change my opinion of the film much if I did indeed watch the original. Far from condoning censorship, I appreciate the fact that I am able to watch this film fairly close to the version as Fincher himself had intended.
That includes the music. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are fast becoming some of my favourite musical composers, simply because of the meanings they’re able to lace in their synthesised scores. Simple scenes of Nick and Amy, together in their home, enjoying breakfast, is filled with tension simply because…it just does not jive. A big part of the superficial sincerity I sense has much to do with the score. It’s a tense watching experience that does not allow for me tear my eyes away from the screen for a second, even with some of the more difficult scenes. This build up of emotions was done by the consistent and sinister beats in the background.
The background for the film’s production and reception, however, could not be more different. In researching both the film and the book after the screening, I discovered that there’s a firestorm of criticism the team has walked into, ranging from gender portrayals to how the film supposedly attacks the institution of marriage. It must be said that while the film makes certain things appear in a certain way, it’s difficult to hold up the film’s feet up to the fire simply because it does not ascend/descend to your perspective. The writer’s objective here is to surprise, which means that while realism is the base from which such efforts are launched, it’s a fallacy to expect everything to be ‘realistic’. Nick and Amy cannot and should not be seen within a simple black and white perspective. I am reminded of another film of Affleck’s, ‘Changing Lanes’, where a very similar grey area existed in determining who the protagonist and antagonist were.
It is reflective of the film as whole, for I believe that the subversion of expectations applies in almost all the areas of this film. I myself was caught out at a number of points. Again, without delving into too much detail, there are moments when you watch this and you think, “Hmm, what will happen next? This is a tricky situation.” In the next scene, though, something else happens that throws you off, and whatever solutions the characters have devised is now rendered almost useless…or is it?
There’s an almost imperceptible difference between the first and second half. The first had a strong reliance on a systemic utilisation of the flashback technique, going back ever so often to Amy’s diary and the events of the time. It helps to provide context for the present, but more to the point it became something to expect and look forward to. Just as you do, though, the rug gets pulled from under you, and the treasure hunt that we were on (Amy and Nick has a tendency of playing such games, leaving behind clues for each other) turns in a new direction. The second half is more straightforward, almost as if it is saying, “Right, now this is the truth as you can see and accept it.”
Is it, though? Think back to the sinister undercurrents I mention earlier, and we have now reached the final stage of Todorov’s equilibrium. There is an ending. Is it a happy one? I am inclined to say no, but not in the way you might expect. Therein lies the final twist, though, for in that, a grain of truth that could be measured against the reality as we know, rather than wish to be, could be found in the question of what we are thinking, how we are feeling and what we have done to each other.
Quite simply, one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
Of course, Fikri realises that by reading this review, you would probably be less surprised. ‘Gone Girl’ is nominated in the Best Actress category at the 87th Academy Awards. It was nominated in the Lead Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Director, Screenplay and Original Score – Motion Picture categories at the 72nd annual Golden Globes.
Feature image credit: The Organic Prepper