"Gone Girl": A tale of love and darkness

David Fincher’s newest hit is another in the lineup up of Fincher-eqsue dark, bone-chilling mystery thrillers, with more twists and turns than “whitewater” river rapids. This weekend, “Gone Girl” led the box office with $38 million, with John R. Leonetti’s horror sequel about a demon possessed doll, “Annabelle”, just barely falling behind by $1 million. Without giving anything away, the film is about the search for Amy Dunne, played by Rosamund Pike, the missing wife of Missourian, Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck. Starting as a search to reunite a husband and wife, the investigation develops; the local community, the media, and the police soon point fingers at Affleck as the culprit.

That’s all the trailer really says so that’s all that I will say, because I would truly hate to ruin this probable award season nominee for those who haven’t seen it yet.

It should come to no surprise, though, that Fincher pulled out all of his iconic stops; clean-cut cinematography and editing, dim lighting for an enigmatic edge, a slowly unraveling thriller plot, quick-witted rapid-fire dialogue, a complex and extensive cast, and ethereal lullabies by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Though most of these elements are present in Fincher’s more recent films “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Social Network” and “Zodiac”, the plot of his latest smash has a number of contrasting and intricate themes presented in story. All of these are the brainchildren of the film’s scriptwriter and author of the bestselling book of the same name, Gillian Flynn.

“Gone Girl” made for an attractive feature, with a compelling voyeuristic view into married life where both spousal viewpoints are presented. Flynn’s juicy script examines a number of provocative ideas, including the truth about relations between the sexes, manipulation of the masses via social media, and the use of intimacy as a tool.

The exclusive, "perfect for each other" couple Nick and Amy start out like so many couples do, with lots of laughs, lots of sex and getting to know very little about each other.

We see both Nick and Amy's perspective of their marriage, and why it turned out the way it did. Amy manages to pin-point the reason why their relationship failed in her "Cool Girl" speech.

A "Cool Girl" is the girl you pretend to be in the beginning your relationship. For Amy, this is the girl who likes drinking cheap beer while watching sports games with the guys, the girl who's always down for blow-jobs and anal sex, the girl who doesn't care if you blow off a date without telling her. She doesn't mind, she's a "cool girl".

This was the "Cool Girl" Amy had to be in order to portray the sort of girl with whom Nick would want to "fall in love". Nick does the same thing in his own way.

This idea stretches across varying relationships. A girl trying to catch the eye of some hipster dooche in a Silverlake coffee shop for example, will claim to have a beloved cat named Gore Vidal and will endlessly reference random bands by saying, "You probably don't know them". She'll complain that the Cohen Brothers and Arcade Fire just aren't doin' it for her anymore. All the while, her favorite movie is "Mean Girls", she loves John Mayor, she's allergic to cats and she's absolutely onboard to tell American Apparel to screw off.

This is a rather fascinating concept about how the sexes interact with each other; no one is honest about who they really are. They try to trick one another into thinking they are exactly what the other one wants. They don't account for the fact that, at some point, the facade will reveal the relationship to be a hollow lie. Affleck's character eventually concedes to the point that he is not the man that Amy married, because he doesn't exist.

And its pretty clear that when Fincher really excels, as he did here, it’s directly because he has a story-line with complex concepts such as these, as well as an excellent cast to boot.

His cinematography team, headed by Jeff Cronenweth, featured all of his main and supporting characters as pristine porcelain dolls. Their skin, their hair, and their clothes are perfect almost to the point of looking obnoxiously staged.

Affleck’s character, after Amy's disappearance, constantly looks scruffy and lacking in sleep, expressing vulnerability and openness. The other characters remain in their porcelain perfection, only revealing to us little by little what they will allow us to know.

This seems to be a common pattern in Cronenweth-Fincher features. The central male character will usually transform their image multiple times, usually becoming more disheveled, constantly forcing the audience to alter its view of him. This is much like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in “Fight Club”, and Daniel Craig in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. In “The Social Network”, the concept is conveyed through the constantly chaotic changing environment surrounding the central characters.

There is an obvious physical transition of character through the plot that is not lost on us in “Gone Girl” as well, shifting our perception of this character.

Cronenweth sets up the ideal mystery thriller lighting as per usual; soft, but dark and menacing in the constant presence of shadows. His camera pans are slow, distinct and reveal much by moving little. It's Fincher’s direction and Cronenwerth’s revealing shots that bring these highly visual queues to fruition in a way that is reminiscent of Michael Curtiz, whose "Casablanca" remains the standard for use of light and symbolism.

For instance, it’s no accident that Affleck is holding the game “Mastermind” as he’s walking into a bar in the second scene of the film.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have been apart of the Fincher and Cronenwerth team since “The Social Network”, when the dynamic duo took home a Best Original Score Academy Award. Since then, the two have been churning out soundtracks that are highly recognizable, and by now, a staple for Fincher films.

Their music for Fincher’s thrillers is generally a sympathetic piano lullaby paired with lingering ethereal background noise. The lullaby presents a kind of sadness, sweetness and even simplicity, however the looming sounds behind it convey an element of unsettling dissonance.

Reznor and Ross's score in “Gone Girl” reveals much of the film’s nature, and requires the audience to continuously second guess their first impressions.

Performances from the main and supporting cast were, without a doubt, the highlight of all of their careers on film, even including the somewhat surprising roles played by Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris.

Rosamund Pike has finally come into her own as an actress with her performance as the highly complicated, fascinating, and ever-perfect, Amy Dunne, the missing person in question.

Looking at Ms. Pike’s previous performances, her stone-faced, beauty helped develop the characters she is best known for so far, such as Jane Bennet from the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice” and Queen Andromeda from “Wrath of the Titans” in 2012. Her stunning Grace Kelly-esque beauty and, much like Kelly, her carefully measured facial expressions have been a hallmark of her acting career.

In “Gone Girl”, Pike uses every bit of this natural beauty and collectiveness to her advantage to create the character of Amy Dunne, a character that will surely stick with Pike for the rest of her livelihood. She manages to convey so much though she changes her facial expressions so minimally.

Affleck too, gives a surprisingly good performance as the very believable doofus husband, who is attributed many stereotypical characteristics of the unsatisfied and unhappy spouse.

Most of the supporting cast play upon the story’s dark humor outlined by Flynn, and embrace key roles in moving the plot forward.

Ellen Abbott, an overt portrayal of CNN’s Nancy Grace, played by "Missi" Pyle, depicts the key part of the media in escalating the accusations and insinuations often present when domestic murder trials are brought to a head in society.

Tyler Perry plays the gung-ho attorney and the last hope for Dunne to avoid lethal injection.

Carrie Coon, previously a stage actor who crossed over to HBO’s “The Leftovers”, plays the witty voice of reason as Nick’s twin sister. Serving as the angel on Nick's shoulder, their highly unique bond as twins creates meaningful banter and furthers character development.

Perhaps the only weak supporting character is that of Neil Patrick Harris, whose creepy, forever-doting stalker role as Desi is honestly just too much. As was his excessive and totally inspired fate.

In the end, we learn from him as well as everyone else in the story that we are all expendable pawns in Amy’s world. And that's just the way she likes it.

Who's the "cool girl" now?