The institution of marriage, being a foundation of civilization since the dawn of man, has adapted to subsequent eras but, in some aspects, not necessarily improved. Problems between men and women abound regardless of the type of their relationship, resulting in various commentaries and insights as to possible solutions, either temporary or permanent. Yet, the central question remains: can two people, often complete strangers when initially meeting, remain faithful to one another and build enough trust to establish a meaningful and fulfilling relationship? There have been several notable examples but, as time seems to reveal, knowing more may result in understanding less.
At last, we have a cinematic representation of the perilous ups and downs of the journey from courtship to romantic climax to marital pitfalls, all within the context of an increasingly cynical social construct. Certainly, the subject of strained marriages is nothing new to the movies, but David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel goes deeper, bleaker and more harrowing than any other film of its kind. Fatal Attraction was a childish affair compared to the Dunnes.
As the film opens, with a rapid and nervously jumpy energy, Fincher gives a masterclass on how to establish mood in a thriller. Every scene is impactful, every shot built to further the tension and tighten the air. The conclusion seems fairly certain, and Fincher wants us to want that conventional denouement. After all, wouldn’t that be easier and safer to digest than anything else?
Yet, Fincher refuses to gratify our simplistic expectations. Flynn, in adapting her own novel, tightens up the pace and slightly alters the ending to create a remarkably paced and exquisitely fashioned narrative, but it is Fincher’s trademark cool, detached visual style complete with complex shadows and hints of blue and gray that put the finishing touch on this experience. One simply cannot look away from this film. At the halfway point, the ‘reveal’ utilized deflates any and all expectations we may have had, only to overwhelm us with endless questions as to how, what and why. The rest of the film covers those inquiries, yet still retains a level of ambiguity and forlornness. We continue to watch because it is in our interest as thriller-fans to do so, but on a subconscious level, there is the knowledge that conventionality is out of the question.
Fincher’s stylistic, sometimes smug, modus operandi is exemplified through his extraordinary ability to cast perfectly. Long understood as an overtly-handsome, sometimes aloof actor, Ben Affleck carries this film thanks to the control and forced exactness of Fincher’s directing. His aloofness, as several critics have noted, is utilized here to the greatest effect, causing the character of Nick Dunne to remain an enigma and a sympathetic man simultaneously. Very few actors could pull this off, but Affleck makes it look easy, using his broad, muscular body structure, puppy-dog eyes and down-turned smile to keep everyone guessing as to his true motive.
Motive is more crucial here than in most thrillers. Flynn’s story questions the deepest expectations and assumptions we make about other people, particularly those we think we would like to spend a significant portion of our life with. Affleck can reflect this as can Rosamund Pike, whose Siamese eyes, creamy skin and sultry voice give nothing away about herself, keeping our guesses constant throughout. Early scenes between Nick and Amy, showing their attempts to win each other over, can only truly be understood in light of the entire film, an aspect of Flynn’s novel Fincher exploits particularly well. If nothing is as it seems, what are we supposed to presume could or will happen?
As the authorities track the clues as to the whereabouts of Amy Dunne and Nick’s involvement, the notion of the simplest answer being best arises. This is frequently a logical error, yet on a certain level that may be the best method of approach. Applying this train of thought to the director, it has been argued that nearly all of David Fincher’s films have been an attempt for him to overcome the frustrating and creatively-retarding experience on his first feature, Alien 3. While remaining a simple critical tool to find thematic relations amongst an otherwise diverse career, this notion is tempting to grasp. If there is any truth to it, it may be that Fincher has finally gotten the quality of clout needed to be able to make exactly what he envisions. He has often said he usually gets about 70% of his vision on screen, the rest being compromised out. Somehow, this film feels uncompromising. It is exceedingly dark, foreboding in its attitude not just towards marriage but humanity in general. Questions will abound, but answers often remain just out of reach.
7 out of 10 stars