‘Gone Girl’ director Fincher goes by the book

Ben Affleck is shown in a scene from "Gone Girl." (Photo credit: 20th Century Fox)

Ben Affleck is shown in a scene from “Gone Girl.” (Photo credit: 20th Century Fox)

By Steven Rea
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“I know, I know, I can’t come up with anything new,” David Fincher said with a mock sigh, responding to the observation that with “Gone Girl,” the twice Oscar-nominated director has tackled yet another mega-bestselling book. His take on Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” steeped in murder, mystery, and Swedish meatballs, opened in 2011.

On Friday, Fincher’s hugely anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel — 94 weeks at or near the top of the combined print and e-book lists — opens everywhere. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are Nick and Amy Dunne, the not-so-happy couple relocated from New York City, where he’s lost his job (it’s the peak of the Great Recession), to his Missouri hometown.

On their fifth anniversary, she goes missing. The cops are called. In the days and weeks that follow, Nick becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. Did he kill his wife? He used her money to open a bar, he upped her life insurance, he doesn’t appear upset.

For Fincher, the readers’ expectations, the casting-news grumbles (“Affleck? Too old. Pike? Who?”), none of that matters.

“I’m extremely myopic,” said the 54-year-old filmmaker, on the phone from Los Angeles the other day — just 11 days, in fact, since he delivered “Gone Girl” to Twentieth Century Fox. (“In digital terms, it’s still wet.”)

“I have a power of concentration that borders on sociopathic,” Fincher joked. “I want to be conscious of the literary experience, and do the literary experience justice. But I also know that the cinematic experience is wholly other, that you have to really be diligent, and vigilant, to make sure that it works in a box, in the dark, and works at a certain rhythm and a certain length.”

That said, Fincher calls his film — with a screenplay by Flynn (her first) — “an extremely true adaptation.” He and Flynn had to figure out how to take the novel’s tricky narration, the “magic of being privy to the characters’ thoughts,” and make that work in a visual medium.

“Now it has to be legible, discernible behavior, and that’s an awkward transition to make, and my hat is off to Gillian, who was more than capable. … To be honest, I read the book and I thought, ‘There could be something in this, this could be interesting, call me when you have a script.’

“I didn’t roll up my sleeves, as it were, until she had done the heavy lifting. … And when I read the first draft I really thought” — he made a whistling sound — “she can do this. This is somebody who is capable of slaughtering their darlings.”

Fincher, whose 1995 serial-killer thriller, “Seven,” put him on the map, has played with audience perceptions and protagonistic point-of-view before, to punchy effect in “Fight Club” (1999), with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. In his “Zodiac” (2007), Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal, reporter and cartoonist, respectively, go looking for another, real-life, serial killer. In “The Social Network” (2009), Fincher traces the incubating days and intrigue behind the launch of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Is there a thread here? Maybe the way in which people are drawn to violence, to money, and drawn to jumping to conclusions — the media rushing in to find the perps, to assign guilt.

“It’s about tragedy vampirism,” said Fincher of what happens in “Gone Girl.” “It’s not tabloid journalism, it’s not sexy at all. It’s that thing that happens when righteous indignation gets stoked to the point where we become a lynch mob.”

For Fincher, the movie is also about the nature of courtship, and the institution of marriage — an institution that can be built on shaky ground.

Early in “Gone Girl,” there’s a flashback to Nick and Amy’s first meeting at a party — smart, snappy chatter, eyes honing in excitedly.

“In trying to seduce a mate, we are projecting an edited, more attractive version of ourselves,” Fincher said. “We tend not to take into account that they may be doing the same thing.

“There is this sort of tension that comes, that you could call the seven-year itch — call it the ‘three-to-five year itch’ — there’s something that happens when one or more parties that are in a contract basically, through their actions, announce that they’re no longer interested. …

“And that sort of narcissisitic crap is what Gillian really put her finger on. … And it was all there. There’s nothing that’s said in the movie, really, that wasn’t said in the book.”

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