Written by: Gillian Flynn, based on her novel
This spring, I’ll reach an important milestone: my 27th wedding anniversary. Crazy, isn’t it?
In my mind, I am way too young and cool for that. A perimenopausal matriarch’s delusion.
Marriage is an amazing and difficult journey. A couple starts out young and hopeful, and at some point — or at multiple points — in the relationship, each person has a jarring realization.
Each of them has married a stranger. When they look at each other, they see reflections of their own projections, hopes, expectations, and fantasies, not a true flesh-and-blood human being. Perhaps each partner has also been playing a role, trying to fulfill each other’s expectations. They may resent each other simply for being who they are rather than embodying each others’ preconceived fantasies.
At this point, the relationship may crumble. Or this is the time where it gets real, and a true marriage — based on honesty, acceptance, hard work, and genuine love — really begins. But I suspect most people never get past the illusions.
Beautiful Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike) is about the celebrate her fifth wedding anniversary with her husband Nick (Ben Affleck). Growing up, Amy was the model for her parents’ wildly successful series of children’s books. “Amazing Amy” was the heroine of the series. Amy’s uninvited alter ego exceeded all her parents’ hopes and expectations. Although the royalties comprised a generous trust fund for real-life Amy, she resented it. She grew up playing a role, hiding her fractured personality.
Amy is exceptionally smart, charming, and ivy league educated. She meets Nick, and he feels challenged to measure up to her. He likes who he becomes when he is with her. Amy, in turn, is well versed in being who he needs her to be. Pair this with a hot, sexy romance, and they have something that can work, at least until life becomes more difficult.
After losing their jobs, Amy and Nick leave their life in New York City to set up household in a small town in Missouri so Nick can be near his dying mother. The marriage is on tenuous ground, so when Amy disappears on their anniversary, Nick is a logical suspect. A flurry of media hype ensues, creating a narrative about what Nick did to Amy. But what is the truth?
This “he said, she said” tale, which is strikingly faithful to the novel, makes brilliant use of the unreliable narrator device. Everything we see on screen, especially in the first half of the movie, is filtered through Amy’s and Nick’s perspectives or the stories they tell. Their stories, and the tales woven by the media, have created a brittle, false world around them. At times we see the dark underworld under the surface. In one scene, which takes place in an abandoned mall, that underworld is — in a sense — conjured for us visually. That was one of my favorite scenes in the novel, and I’m glad the movie did it justice.
This film, gorgeously shot and brilliantly directed by David Fincher, measures up to the novel. It works on the level of a well-crafted thriller, despite a few plot holes pointed out by my clever In-House Consultant on All Things Related to Law Enforcement. It is also effective as a thought-provoking satirical commentary on intimate relationships, gender differences, the narratives we create for ourselves and about the opposite sex, and the false reality we’re fed by the media.
Every single actor in this movie is outstanding, including a fabulous performance by Carrie Coon, an actress I had never seen, as Nick’s twin sister Margo. But Rosamund Pike stands out, stealing every scene she’s in. She truly shows the range of her ability to create a character on-screen, and she is mesmerizing.
This film can be enjoyed on the level of a tense, well crafted mystery, a Hitchcockian thriller, or as something richer and more complex. It is worthy of multiple viewings and offers tremendous fodder for discussion, especially when paired with a reading of the novel. This is one of Fincher’s best films, and it leaves me hoping he and Gillian Flynn will work as a team again at some point in the future.