A movie that’s sure to make you feel better about your marriage, Gone Girl begins and ends with the screen-filling image of a woman’s head, viewed as if through a haze of powdered sugar. First, for a long moment, you see only the puzzle of her piled-up hair. Then she turns and reveals her face, which is lovely and clear-eyed but tells you nothing, except that she’s looking back at you from her pillow. Meanwhile, in voiceover, a man speaks reflectively about the impenetrable mysteries that lie at the heart of his marriage. (Gone Girl is definitely the man’s story, even though a whole series of women will vigorously contest the narrative.) These same mysteries confront every spouse, he proposes: What are you thinking? Who are you?
Yes, the viewer responds, assenting perhaps from personal recollection and perhaps from recognizing a great literary theme. Didn’t Gabriel Conroy, too, learn to his sorrow that he had understood far too little about his Gretta, who mourned for poor young Michael Furey in the gasworks? And didn’t this knowledge make Gabriel’s sympathies expand beyond himself, into the world where the snow fell (like powdered-sugar lighting) upon all the living and the dead?
You have about one second to dwell in the illusion that David Fincher’s new movie means to unite you with all humanity, including the wives and husbands who fumble toward mutual comprehension. Then the voiceover continues, and you understand in a breath that you are not in the gaslit and gossipy moral universe of James Joyce’s “The Dead” but the cable-news-obsessed America of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl. What did the speaker want to do with that beautiful young female head we’re looking at, and that’s looking at us? Crack it open, he says, and “unspool” the brain.
Sprung on you even before the credits blink across the screen, this abrupt leap from dreamy meditation to brutal admission is only the first of the cascade of shock effects that Fincher gleefully sets tumbling through the chutes and corridors of his Gone Girl. Working from a screenplay credited to Flynn, he has turned the novel into a funhouse maze of chronological switchbacks and perspectival shifts, deceitful clues (some with the word “clue” hand-lettered on them) and multilayered masks, artfully suggested scenarios of violence and equally artful depictions of bloodletting.
Like Fincher’s Zodiac, though without that film’s palpable unease and defiant lack of resolution, Gone Girl revels in its own complexity. Like Fincher’s more recent The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—though without as blatant an appeal to the more brutal mass-audience appetites—Gone Girl is also a thoroughly efficient thriller that never wastes a shot or fails to make a scene pop from within. (This honesty of construction compares well with the strained first-person narration of the novel, of which it might be said: trust a suspected murderer to have a supposedly fancy prose style.) You chase excitedly, and willingly, through Fincher’s labyrinth, and when you get to the center, you are not cheated of a monster.