Film Review: Gone Girl, and Celluloid vs Digital

BONUS POST! Recently I watched Gone Girl at the cinema…

Gone Girl is a lurid, despicable film, crafted to perfection. In the hands of a lesser director, the material would be squishy and rotten, a ludicrous, melodramatic soap. It is a huge testament to Fincher’s supreme vision and control that the film rises above its own content, elevating what should be a Saturday-matinee or video-nasty into a genuine piece of art and an engrossing, absorbing piece of cinema. It never once feels its near-three-hour length, starting as a tense, suburban drama, cocooning into a twisty thriller, and finally crystallising as a brutal, compelling satire on relationships, the media and gender stereotypes.

Unless you’ve read the bestselling source material (by all accounts, the film is faithful to the book), it’s near impossible to get a handle on the narrative, as it proceeds – via flashbacks and time jumps and POV switches – to consistently tear apart your perception of the truth. The uneven tone is unsettling as the film jumps between pitch-black comedy and outright horror. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ sublimely subtle score tightens around you, perfectly synchronised to the clinical editing and buzzing relentlessly as the tension mounts, yet never providing release – not even in the movie’s one horrifyingly cathartic and climactic scene.

Ben Affleck gives a strong, nuanced performance as a man whose life begins to fall apart after he is implicated in his own wife’s disappearance. Rosamund Pike is nothing less than a revelation, hungrily devouring her role for Oscar and all his friends to see. Supporting roles are filled ably, fleshing out minor characters into yet more real, really messed up people. But the most important performance here is Fincher himself.

David Fincher has classics peppered throughout his filmography, with both Seven and Fight Club marking high-points of his earlier work. In the last decade, his style has become more tightly defined, as he finds his place as one of modern cinema’s master auteurs. Since 2007’s Zodiac, Fincher’s films have had a certain look: this was the year he switched to digital.

The celluloid-digital war is raging across Hollywood. Leading the celluloid charge is Quentin Tarantino, frothing with rage as he denounces digital as the death of cinema and makes empty threats (the cruel would substitute ‘threats’ for ‘promises’) to throw in the towel in the face of celluloid’s slow demise. For what it’s worth, he has a point: films shot in celluloid are warmer and therefore somehow kinder, they seem more wholesome and more dreamy, and they awaken memories of cinema’s classics through the years. Digital is colder, almost hyper-real, and does not look like the cinema that the audience remembers.

Tarantino may or may not be fighting a losing battle (digital is cheaper, so probably), but he is fighting a pointless one, consumed – as with his films – by a near fetish for nostalgia. There is room for digital, and David Fincher is one of its most fervent proponents. Yet where this disadvantages those whose films are proclaimed cold, it plays directly into Fincher’s strengths.

Because Fincher’s films are cold. His cameras stand back and dispassionately document the rotten innards of America. His cinematography is bleak and beautiful and filled with disturbing detail, probing and dissecting his stories with precision. Fincher’s characters are flawed and weak and obsessive. This is evident in Zodiac and in the masterpiece that is The Social Network. And never more so than in Gone GIrl.

Gone Girl is a dark film. Digital brings out the best in the literal dark, allowing film-makers to find beauty and clarity in low lighting. Meanwhile Fincher brings out the best in the thematic dark, structuring his films just so, allowing the viewer a glimpse of evil but never over-dramatising, letting the characters and the script and the scenes play out without judgement.

Gone Girl is not as much about the problems with relationships as it is about the problems with the ways relationships are perceived. This is seen from within the relationship, but also from outside, as a terrifyingly-not-that-big-a-caricature of the media does all it can to build a fiction that sells. There are complex, even controversial, gender issues that could be discussed here, but it rather feels as if that may be missing the point. Like so much of Fincher’s best work, the film exists to observe: moral sentencing is nowhere to be found.

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One thought on “Film Review: Gone Girl, and Celluloid vs Digital

  1. Pingback: Fof’s Top 10 Films of 2014 | Fof's Off

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