"Gone Girl" opens to Ben Affleck's Alex looking at the back of his wife's (Rosamund Pike) head as she lays down. He narrates. He wonders what she is thinking. He wants to bash her skull and unravel her thoughts. It is a curiosity that comes off lovingly, but with violent undertones. It is the question that drives the movie, and the answer is something hard for anyone to accept. Would you really want to know what your spouse is thinking? Would you love them more or less? Would you stay? Would you want to?
It is a thriller I could not step away from. I was wondering where it was headed and guessed back and forth. Once I knew where it was headed, I could not turn away from seeing if it would lead there. The couple is Alex and Amy. They are a couple whose past glory has faded, and the scenery of the town matches, as David Fincher shows in the opening. The day is July 5th, their 5-year anniversary. Alex comes home when his neighbor tells him his cat is out. He finds his cat outside, his front door cracked open, a glass table shattered, and his wife is missing. He calls the cops in confusion. There's hints of blood in unusual places.
The police question him and the new question holds the movie: how should he be reacting? He is obviously distant from his wife, as moves, jobs, and finances have troubled them. Should he be panicking anyway, or is he allowed to feel lost? Should he be patient and help the police, or should he mention he has to check in on his elderly father? At what point do you stop helping police when you're the only suspect?
The unraveling of the couple's private lives come as Alex must admit more and talk about his wife now that she's not around. This is separated by flashbacks of their past as told by his wife's diary entries. There's surprises here and there, and pieces that don't seem to fit when they fall into place. For a couple on unstable ground, she put alot of effort into their anniversary. If he murdered his wife, he comes off unprepared for many things that develop. If he didn't, he certainly looks like the prime suspect.
This fulfills the first act, as we learn Alex, a writer for a men's magazine, and Amy, who has a trust-fund, are very aware of society's expectations. It is their attraction in flashbacks. "I don't want to be that couple," one says and they agree early on. They're aware of the public eye and how they come off, so they avoid being typical. No wonder Alex is tired of the publicity of the search for Amy when the cameras are present and puts on a fake smile as if to say, "leave me alone." Or does this mean he's a shameless killer putting on a show? What does it say about Amy who comes off as just as tired and manipulating, given less attention when they move to care for his dying mother?
The second act reveals the mysteries of the first. The story continues as it answers questions, and while I refuse to give away spoilers, suffice it to say in three minutes of the second act, I felt I got my money's worth. As a mystery and thriller, the second act is its glory. I was unwilling to turn away. By the third act, the conclusion is not as powerful as the mystery and answers. I cannot think of a better ending, but it feels more tired, playing in the shadow of its best moments.
The film will no doubt be considered a male-rights activist's nightmare: the wife disappears and sympathy turns to accusations very quickly. Every aspect of their relationship becomes highlighted on daytime TV. As the one who didn't disappear, he is blamed for every fault in their relationship. Others will see it as a feminist warning: a man does not give his wife attention and suddenly finds himself a suspect because he can't recall what she does during the day or name a single friend of hers. The roles and casting come off as a feminist world. A female detective (Kim Dickens) comes off as intelligent, practical, and passionate about the investigation: always moving with coffee in her hand. She doesn't assume he is guilty, but he is the first place to look for answers. Her partner is a young man who stays silent for the most part, looking at Alex, judging. Alex's twin sister, played by Carrie Coon, is the voice of reason. She shames Alex for his private mistakes and tell him what he needs to do when he can't make sense of what's happening. Tyler Perry appears as a high-priced lawyer known for getting men accused of killing their wives off of death row. He shamelessly expects Alex to call him and instantly believes the wildest things of the story from Alex, a stranger he just met. How shameless must he be to defend wife-killers with the same skill and price? Are women really the subjected ones with expectations, or men who can be blamed?
In the end, we're well-aware of what each side of the couple were thinking without having to crack skulls. The mystery drives the story, the answers carry it home. Are women victims subjected to expectations, or are men who can be blamed so easily? Maybe it would be easier to miss his wife if she was still a mystery to him. It was certainly easier for the public to sympathize with him when he was a mystery. I know I'll think long and hard before asking my date what she's thinking.