It’s always the husband. In the funereal hush of a candlelight vigil crawling with TV crews, police detectives, and somber neighbors, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is about to address the crowd regarding the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Jack Reacher’s Rosamund Pike). He has quickly become the prime suspect, so his goal here is to appear grief-stricken and slip out of the glare of guilt. He will fail. ”I may not behave the way the cameras want me to,” he says. ”If you need to mock somebody, mock me. But please don’t turn this investigation into a circus.”
”Where’s your wife, Nick?!” a voice shouts from the dark. ”What did you do to your pregnant wife?!”
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster novel, burst into the public consciousness in 2012, polarizing readers with its bleak view of modern love and America’s criminal justice system, as well as its jaw-dropping third-act reveal. The film, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network), presents the story as dueling narratives: a clammy crime procedural mixed with flashback scenes of a marriage going straight to hell.
In the book, Nick and Amy?s fairy-tale romance unfolds in an intoxicating swirl. Until, that is, the characters lose their New York City magazine jobs and are forced to relocate to Nick’s Missouri hometown, where individual resentments calcify into hostility. Nick is revealed to be hot-tempered and self-absorbed: a hasbeen with no small number of shameful secrets, quick with a well-timed lie. Meanwhile, Amy—a Big Apple glamour girl with a Harvard degree who assiduously chronicles her bend-over-backward homemaking attempts in her diary—never acclimates to small-town America.
So when Amy vanishes in a flourish of broken glass and mysterious arterial splatter on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick becomes the investigation’s central person of interest. His alibi is shaky at best, while Amy’s diary, discovered by police, paints him as increasingly desperate. But in the absence of a corpse, it’s uncertain whether Amy is dead or just?gone.
For Fincher, who screened a few scenes from the film for EW, the project provided more than an opportunity to play with a prestige potboiler plot that thickens faster than wet cement. It allowed him to explore gender roles and relationships—what he calls ”the idea of marriage as an extension of narcissistic seduction” (whatever that might mean)—and to arch an eyebrow at our 24-hour media culture, where murdered young women such as Laci Peterson and murderous young women such as Jodi Arias have become a profitable commodity on broadcast news.
If tabloid TV confirms one central narrative in American lives, it’s that homicide begins at home. ”I liken it to a National Lampoon record that was put out in the mid-’70s called That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick,” Fincher says. ”That’s the tone! You have to kind of be going, ‘It isn’t funny—but it is.”’
Two years ago, Reese Witherspoon optioned the film rights to Gone Girl with the plan, she says, to play the role of Amy herself. But when Fincher expressed interest in helming the movie, he also expressed his uninterest in her doing that. The director—who has historically cast relative unknowns like Kristen Stewart (Panic Room) and Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) in career-making roles—prefers to do things on his own terms, with his own team. ”I think it would be awkward to have somebody who is starring in a movie and producing it,” he says now. Witherspoon says she understood. ”He told me a vision for what the characters were, and it was very clear that I was not right for his vision,” she says. ”But talk about matching a director to the material! I can’t imagine somebody who could create more tension and a more interesting telling of a marriage than Fincher could.”
With Witherspoon still on board as a producer but with the material now entirely in his control, Fincher, 51, hired Flynn to write the screenplay, her first. As preparation, the two discussed the Stanley Kubrick classics Lolita and A Clockwork Orange as touchstones for the mixture of substance and scabrousness they wanted to inject into the script. ”Those films are extremely dark but have weird, surprising moments of creepy humor to them,” says Flynn, 43, a former EW writer whose 2009 thriller, Dark Places, is also being adapted into a film, starring Charlize Theron. ”Fincher and I talked about how much we like that kind of feeling where the audience is looking around, going, ‘Am I supposed to laugh here?”’