David Fincher’s meticulous anti-murder-mystery is a curious marriage of thriller and romantic comedy.
When glancing at David Fincher’s filmography, romance may not come to mind. There are the gruesome murders in Se7en, the unsolved mysteries in Zodiac, and the rise of social media titans in The Social Network. In 2014’s Gone Girl, adapted for the screen by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, Fincher dives deep into the marriage of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a picturesque couple suddenly thrust into the national spotlight when Amy goes missing.
As the film unravels, it becomes clear that Amy orchestrated her disappearance to teach the philandering Nick a lesson. Amy and Nick may have deceived each other, but the real master of deception Fincher. Gone Girl is packaged as a psychological thriller, but it’s also Fincher’s most romantic film, the director flirting with us by using both the conventions of the thriller and rom-com genres. As a result, it woos the audience with a twisted love story.
Giving credit where it’s due, the idea of Gone Girl as a romance gained traction during Anne Hathaway’s appearance on The Late Show with James Corden in 2017. Corden asked Hathaway about her favorite rom-coms, and she mentioned her affinity for Gone Girl. Corden was perplexed and the Internet was buzzing—could Gone Girl really be a romantic comedy?
Gone Girl ticks a lot of boxes in the rom-com territory. There’s hopelessly in love couple Nick and Amy complete with witty banter meet-cute at a swanky New York party and a cheeky proposal. Then there are the cutesy anniversary scavenger hunts that turn them into that couple Amy “wants to punch in the face.” Their love is saccharine sweet; their first kiss literally occurs in a sugar cloud on the street. Most of their courtship is told through flashbacks from Amy’s diary, taking us through their past as Nick frantically searches for Amy in the present day. Fincher and Flynn marry conventions of the thriller with conventions of rom-com, creating a game for the audience to follow along the way.
Helping Fincher’s deception was the meta-casting of Affleck and Pike. Both have rom-com experience, including Affleck’s starring in 2003’s Gigli and Pike as Jane Bennet in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. Affleck and Pike were excellent choices, inhabiting both roles of the public and private couple. For the former, they smile and gush over each other in television interviews. For the latter, Amy declares in a fight that Nick won’t be happy with a nice girl, and deep down he knows she’s right. Using established rom-com actors lets Fincher wink to the audience as if he’s sharing a joke. He knows we want to see the perfect couple. He also knows we love to see the “tragedy porn” of said perfect couple imploding.
Rom-coms have their leading cast, but the supporting characters are just as important. Nick’s twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) is his confidante, sharing most of his secrets. Det. Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gil (Patrick Fugit) are the quirky sidekicks, providing some comic relief and friendly bickering during intense moments. And no rom-com would be complete without rival love interests like Nick’s mistress Andie (Emily Ratajkowski) and Amy’s ex Desi (Neil Patrick Harris). Sure, some of these characters are suspects in Amy’s disappearance, but the real goal isn’t to solve the mystery of her vanishing. It’s to reunite Nick and Amy, and they all play a role in getting the couple back together.
There’s still the familiar trappings of a David Fincher work, with slick editing from Kirk Baxter, clever cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth, and a haunting score from Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Using these frequent collaborators in Gone Girl could also be Fincher’s way to project the best version of his work and seduce audiences, much like Nick and Amy present the best versions of themselves to seduce each other. Fincher gives us some wonderful sequences, such as Amy’s big reveal, the blonde cruising down the highway with the bouncy “Technically, Missing” playing as she narrates her plan to frame Nick. Amy’s seduction of Desi glows with warmth and pulsates with the track “Consummation,” all reaching an epic climax when Amy slits his throat during sex.
The most chilling scene however towards the end. Reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard, Nick leads Amy down their home staircase by hand as onlookers gaze up, with a reprise of “What Will We Do” scoring the moment. Whereas the descent of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard is hallucinatory, the one in Gone Girl is all too in touch with reality. Nick and Amy, aware of the roles the media have assigned to them, accept these roles at the top of the stairs, willing to descend into deception together. They’ve become, as Nick puts it, “partners in crime.” However, it could easily be Fincher at the top of the stairs, waiting for the audience to realize the cold truths of the director’s romantic tale.
The film ends just as it begins—Nick stroking Amy’s hair, Amy looking up at Nick with a haunting stare. Nick’s voiceover asks the following question: “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” Nick and Amy may never cease to taunt each other, but it’s Fincher taunting the audience. He’s challenged our perception of a happy ending—a couple reunited, a marriage strengthened, and a baby on the way—and is looking at us, asking us, “What will we do?”
It’s almost a warning, a “beware what you wish for.” A tidy Hollywood happy ending may come with risks attached. Fincher challenges us just as Amy and Nick challenge each other to be better versions of themselves. If we’re going to couple up with Fincher and be the audience to his films, he’s challenging us to be better, ready for whatever he throws at us next.