I didn’t read the book, so I went in mostly… blind. That’s a fitting place to start a review of a film that is basically about the covers we put up to hide our true selves, and the secrets no one else knows. Written by the former Entertainment Weekly editor, Gillian Flynn, the film is based on the bestselling novel about the aftereffects of a woman’s disappearance and the focus on her husband as the main suspect. The best picture I’ve seen this year, it’s more than mildly disturbing, incredibly suspenseful, and a lens by which we might examine our relationships… especially married ones.
Amy (Rosamund Pike, in a stunning, screen-chomping role) and Nick (Ben Affleck) should be celebrating their fifth anniversary, but Amy isn’t there. Where is she? What does Nick know? [It’s ironic that a notorious playboy (once upon a time), Affleck plays a role hounded by the paparazzi and press, answering questions about why his relationship is in tatters.] The truth is that Amy and Nick appear to live an idyllic, honeymoon-laced marriage, but both of them have secrets, and both of them threaten the other’s happiness.
Because I watch a lot and read a lot, I pieced together where this was going before it got there, but that made it no less tense and suspenseful. There’s a thin line between reality… and violence… and we are made to feel by David Fincher’s direction and Trent Reznor’s (Nine Inch Nails, The Social Network) score that life hangs in the balance. I felt the dread, the pent-up energy, of films like A History of Violence, Prisoners, or Drive. You know that this is headed somewhere bad, but even when you see it coming, it’s still a punch in the gut.
The film ends up challenging what you think you know about Amy and Nick, and it may make you consider what you know about your spouse or yourself. Do you know the person? Do you really talk about what you need and what you’re feeling? What is your relationship/marriage built on? Is it honest, open, sacrificial, or controlling, manipulative, and secretive? What masks has life (because this isn’t all about these two people but also their extended families- Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick’s sister- and the expectations around them) put up over your true self?
I know psychologists could have a field day with this one. I’m content to say that it’s a) the first film that even has word association with “Oscar” for me this year and b) that it makes me want to make sure I’m neither manipulative nor false. Honestly, if a film can get you to change, then I think it’s done its job. Bravo to Fincher, Affleck, Pike, Tyler Perry, and Flynn for putting in the work: it’ll grab you and it won’t let you go.