The upcoming film adaptation of Gone Girl will be the tenth film David Fincher has done in the twenty two years he’s been making features, making him one of the more prolific filmmakers of his generation. With each film, he’s cemented himself as a director of craft, intelligence and quality… though he has his own admitted exceptions *cough*Alien3 *cough*. That’s not even counting the various music videos, commercials or television episodes he’s done before and during those two decades, all of which manage to have the typical Fincher stamp of recognition.
But, what does that stamp of recognition entail? How can someone watch two films as diametrically different as The Social Network and Se7en and think “Yeah. Those are from the same director”? What qualities do both share that makes them Fincher-esque? And more over, are any of those qualities present in the 2012 novel from Gillian Flynn that Fincher has turned into his latest production? Well, given that I’ve recently read Gone Girl over the summer and I’m a sizable Fincher geek, I think I can explain what exactly draws people to Fincher’s work and how those draws make Gone Girl the perfect source material for him to develop into his tenth feature effort.
A major aspect of Gone Girl is its sense of timeliness. The book is largely set in 2012, with the heavy cloud of the 2008 financial crisis looming overhead. The main characters Nick and Amy Dunne are both jobless writers who move back to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, which has become a ghost town of broken dreams in the wake of the economic downturn. It’s an overcast environment of dread and regret that mirrors the lack of passion and spark in the marriage of Nick and Amy. All of this makes the setting perfect for David Fincher, with plenty of visual opportunities to cast the sky in the familiar limited lighting of grays and greens that have been his trademark for so long. If Gillian Flynn keeps those time based themes in the scripted version of her novel, Fincher could be one of the first filmmakers to take full advantage of this current economic climate cinematically.
In fairness, the importance of time period isn’t a new thing for Fincher. He’s always loved to tackle subjects where time period is a key factor. For example, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button manages to cover every time period from the end of World War I to the first moments of Hurricane Katrina. That span of time manages to give context for Benjamin’s long life span, but also showcases how Benjamin reacts to the changing world around him. The Social Network brought a story of betrayal and arrogant genius to the time of a burgeoning revolution in social media. Fight Club directly addresses the late 90s stagnation of traditional societal values that were passed on from earlier generations, leaving a generation lost. Zodiac is steeped in the cultural paranoia and confusion of a post-Vietnam America. David Fincher loves to keep his time period firmly at the forefront when the story demands it, usually as a way of placing his audience in context of what’s going on around the main story from frame one. It’s a recurring context that Fincher could definitely use to his advantage with Gone Girl.
Many of David Fincher’s works also deal with themes of isolation. Whether it comes from a place of societal outcast (Benjamin Button in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), ego fueled superiority (Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Frank Underwood in House of Cards) or being passed the prime years of their lives (Somerset in Se7en), many of the characters feel a sense of detachment from societal norms. This detachment often times leads to paranoia, loneliness and tragedy for the characters involved, resulting in a palpable yet harsh depiction of the reality these people live in. Oddly, despite the various differences in motivation, the effects of this solitude away from society has lingered in similar behavior from Fincher’s characters. The detached bitterness of Nicholas Van Orton in The Game is still echoed by the time Lisbeth Salander awkwardly attempts to show her affections for Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s a cyclical thematic element, but one that takes on different shades of gray (both in terms of diversity and literal color palette) in David Fincher’s work.
Similarly, the Nick character in Gone Girl has a detachment brought on when he becomes the most eyed man in America following the media fall out of his wife Amy’s disappearance. Despite all of the cameras and reporters stuffed around every corner, Nick becomes more and more separated from the outside world, being fenced off from the public in his house as they wrongly accuse him of killing his wife. His desire to prove his innocence develops more and more into a losing battle for Nick, as his attempts seem less like seeking justice and more like a PR spin. This earns Nick scorn and ridicule not just from the media, but also his family and friends who start to question him just as much as the news outlets outside his window, driving Nick to drastic measures. This type of situation is perfect fodder for Fincher’s knack for introspection on characters and their environment, especially following a traumatic event and media blitz that could mix the price to fame story of The Social Network with the crime thriller intrigue of Se7en.
Given those rather dark themes, it’s appropriate that David Fincher naturally has a disposition towards subjects with moral ambiguity. Often times, the characters in David Fincher films will have questionable motives and actions that make them untraditional subjects for most works, but perfect matches for Fincher. Is The Narrator of Fight Club, with his purposefully underwhelming life and crazed desire to find something wrong with his life in order to feel something, the type of hero you’d normally want to follow? Of course not, but neither is the Machiavellian political manipulator that is Frank Underwood in House of Cards or The Social Network‘s brilliantly cold Mark Zuckerberg or Lisbeth Salander’s emotionally distant and terrifyingly sociopathic nature in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. They’re all layered three dimensional characters with motivations that can be selfish & destructive, yet at the same time fascinating & even admirable in a darkly engrossing sense. One doesn’t usually start a David Fincher film rooting for the main character, but they’re almost always compelling.
In that vein, many of the characters within Gone Girl aren’t always the most traditionally drawn dispensers of traditional moral values. Specifically, our main characters of Nick and Amy Dunne are very much unreliable narrators. Both have an equal amount of time as raconteurs of the events at play, filling us in with varying reports on their marriage and who is growing more distant as time goes on. It’s a dynamic that’s tricky to translate from book to film, as the book is filled with written diary entries, an ambiguous since of time & a lot of interior monologue. Much of the intended effect is made to be delivered via a very personal perspective, with the motives not being obvious until later in the novel. It helps shape the complex weaving of various story elements to draw you in before the second half’s elaborate twist, which could be a challenge for Fincher to properly adapt cinematically.
Of course, twists do tend to be Fincher’s forte. Se7en. The Game. Fight Club. All of them have giant twists in the plot that turn the reality of their respective films on their heads. Now, the genius thing about Fincher’s ability to use twists is simple; the films don’t solely rely on them. In order for those turns in the plot to authentically work, Fincher had to firmly establish a natural reality to the setting before introducing elements that completely destroy your sense of reality. After all, would the actions of John Doe be nearly has horrific if we didn’t get to know Somerset and Mills as both detective partners and individual humans? Would the relationship reveal between Tyler Durden and The Narrator blow our minds if we didn’t see how seemingly opposing they are as people? Hell, The Game manages to pull this effect every fifteen minutes, constantly setting up and knocking down our perceived notions of the rules and characters of the film. The same goes for Zodiac and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, both of which rely on persistently developing investigations to give more suspense than their somewhat disappointing resolutions.
So, what can David Fincher do with the plot twists in Gone Girl? Well, as seen with Fight Club, the adaptation of narration isn’t impossible to make cinematic, though the examples of Edward Norton talking about being “Jack’s inflamed sense of rejection” or the issues of his life are far less extensive than the methods of Gone Girl. In order to authentically weave together the dense narrative of detail, Fincher will probably have to make extensive use of flashback and reenactment, both of which he’s clearly familiar with based on the painstaking detail he exhibited in Zodiac and Se7en. David Fincher also knows how to dynamically shoot scenes of exposition between people trying to decipher clues, which Gone Girl features several of. Amy in the novel places a huge amount of emphasis in her diary entries on building a mystery for Nick each year on their wedding anniversary, scattering clues around town for him to find and figure out in order to lead to the next one. After Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, these elaborate gestures of love become the only hope for Nick’s innocence and finding Amy. Fincher has it in him to make every clue stew in the mind of his viewers so that each and every riddle can build up to Gone Girl‘s shocking narrative turn (which I dare not reveal a single detail of here). It’s all part of his usual movie magic.
Undoubtedly, that movie magic is essential for a project like Gone Girl. Nick’s last job before the financial crisis was as an entertainment magazine writer. He constantly references pop culture and it serves as a sort of darkly comedic reference point for him as his real world crumbles at his feet. Amy, meanwhile, is inherently tied to an influential piece of pop culture in the universe of the novel, given that her parents made a fortune off a series of children’s books titled Amazing Amy, which Amy always perceived as her parent’s ideal version of her. Both characters are simultaneously comforted and haunted by pop culture, to the point where their lives become the sort of thrilling mystery they’d watch on Law & Order. It’s a thematic way of illustrating the sort of artificiality the characters often display in order to hide themselves from both the world and each other, much in the same way pop culture doesn’t often go into the true emotional depths of a twisted mystery that threatens the well being of Nick. It’s themes like this that make me think Fincher works perfectly for the film, as everyone of his characters tends to hide behind a facade of some sort.
Plus, David Fincher is a man whose works are often heavily doused in pop culture ephemera that’s used to represent the characters. Se7en and Zodiac are firmly entrenched in the mystery thriller genre, but to different ends. Se7en emphasizes far more on grotesque horror for a bleakly themed story of two detectives that see how far depraved humanity can be, while Zodiac has its first more traditionally toned first half of an early 70s serial killer thriller to a second half that slowly dismantles its main characters into misplaced & despondent would-be crime solvers who are haunted by a lack of real closure for their obsessions. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes the fantasy premise of a man growing from old to young as a metaphor for time and how it breads both beauty and tragedy. The Social Network took a fairly recent revolution in computer technology and twisted it into a modern day thematic reminder of Citizen Kane. Even a few of Fincher films exist firmly in their genre roots, whether it be the B-movie style thrills of Panic Room or the constantly twisting nightmarish energy of The Game. Hell, Fincher’s works themselves have become a part of the pop culture zeitgeist; Fight Club has become an iconic depiction of transgressive American culture, Se7en‘s “What’s In The Box?” line has been instantly recognizable for the last two decades or so and, even for all it’s faults, Alien³ still managed to make a memorable (if completely misguided and ultimately poor) mark in a series as famous as the Alien franchise.
With all this in mind, it’s no real wonder why the themes and storytelling of Gone Girl would naturally appeal to David Fincher. His pension for morally complex characters, period focused examinations on humanity and authentic build up to satisfying twists makes him the perfect contender to adapt the Gillian Flynn novel. Of course, this article is being written before the film adaptation is released to theaters and, despite all the very positive early word, it’s still entirely possible that somethings from Gone Girl will be changed, potentially leaving people who read the novel (like myself) disappointed. Yet, no matter how much of the novel is lost or truncated in the process, I know that I’ll still be seeing another work from a director like Fincher, who has consistently brought his gorgeously grotesque sensibilities to themes as diverse as crumbling mental states, the ugliness of humanity and the lingering horror of obsession. In other words, it’ll fun for the whole family.