Gone Girl: Slow decay of a marriage

Stars of Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, at the world premiere of the movie in New York last month.
Stars of Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, at the world premiere of the movie in New York last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tipped as a favourite for the Oscars and other major awards, director David Fincher's film Gone Girl begins with Nick Dunne coming home to find his wife Amy mysteriously missing.

But what follows is less a whodunit and more a subtle exploration of the slow decay of a marriage - from both the man's and woman's point of view - and the things that long-term couples often hide from each other, the cast tell Life! and other press in New York.

Stars Ben Affleck, 42, and Rosamund Pike, 35, say they thus went from pretending to be madly in love to barely speaking to each other on the set of the film, which is adapted from Gillian Flynn's widely praised novel and opens in Singapore tomorrow.

"We really dissect and put a marriage under a microscope, don't we?" says Pike, who is pregnant with her second child with partner Robie Uniacke.

"It seems to me that it's about the wonderful things that can come with intimacy and the treachery that can come with intimacy - when someone knows you so well that he can just screw every little sort of nut.

"When we were on set, we would go from the early romantic scenes, when we were having a laugh and chatting, to barely speaking when we got into the more toxic stages of the movie."

Affleck, who has been married to actress Jennifer Garner since 2005 and has three children with her, aged two to eight, says: "What was really interesting was that the book asked hard questions about marriage and relationships. It didn't sort of want to gloss over the things that we don't like to look at in others and ourselves, and sometimes you find out ugly things when you ask hard questions - and that's why they were hard.

"We wanted to sort of give truth to this really dark look at marriage and David's subversive take on that," he says, referring to the acclaimed director of films such as The Social Network (2010), Fight Club (1999) and Se7en (1995). Gone Girl earned an estimated US$38 million (S$48.6 million) to top the North American box office in its opening weekend.

Writing the screenplay herself based on her own 2012 best-selling thriller, Flynn wanted to make a point about how the media react to personal tragedies such as Nick's. And so the movie has the sensationalist media stalking him and feverishly speculating about his role in Amy's disappearance.

The 43-year-old former television critic says: "It's a movie about storytelling and the stories we tell ourselves, that we tell other people, and the media is a kind of Greek chorus that's been blown up large, and I thought to really magnify it.

"It's the idea that someone else's tragedy is something that we are consuming - that we are consumers of tragedy when we tune in to these shows, and what it means to package and produce someone else's tragedy and how immediately somebody becomes the villain and somebody becomes the hero and how they are sort of cast against our will."

The storytelling motif is also explored through the stories that Amy and Nick tell each other to sustain their relationship, and with Amy, Flynn wanted to show how a woman can use this to manipulate a situation even as she feels trapped by it.

"I see Amy as someone who knows all the tropes - she is someone who knows all the stories and has seen the Lifetime movies, everything that is supposed to be about being a woman, and she's not afraid to use that to her will.

"And she's someone who can play any kind of role she wants, from the cool girl whom men want to hang around with, to the woman that men are very afraid of, and she's willing to kind of go there. That's what I felt was at the centre of Amy, which was basically nothing - someone who is made of a bundle of stories that were kind of pulled together at the ears."

Pike, who has become a frontrunner for several Best Actress awards because of her powerful portrayal of this complex woman, says it was a joy to play someone "with a very fragile sense of self", but who has "a very, very good idea of all the different selves that she can try on".

Despite the fact that it is considered risky to portray a movie heroine as unlikable and potentially controversial these days to show a woman using her wiles to get what she wants, the actress found it "really fun to be able to be sort of every kind of woman that you can put out there and know that she's veering on palatable, compelling, confounding, all those things".

"For me, it goes beyond like or dislike. They say, 'Do you like her?', and I say I don't know. I understand her, and like or dislike doesn't really come into it," says Pike, an English actress who in the movie channels is the same icy Hitchcock-blonde persona she has become known for with films such as Die Another Day (2002).

"But I am really interested in the fact that I don't think she could have been a man. That the way her brain works is really, purely female. People don't want to hear that or like me for saying that, but I think it's true.

"And a lot of the time, a strong woman in a film tends to have qualities of a man, but she's female or she uses her sexual power to get what she wants. And Amy can do that, but it's not her modus operandi to use sex, it's just one of the things that she can try on."

Affleck, too, sees the movie as an interesting exploration of "the subtle differences between some men and women".

The Oscar-winning screenwriter (Good Will Hunting, 1997) and film-maker (Argo, 2012) notes that "women and men have a very different reaction to my character", whom viewers are kept deliberately unsure about for much of the film.

Most of the female journalists who have interviewed him about the movie have even asked him, "What was it like playing a d**k?", he reveals with a chuckle. "And most of the men kind of just go, like, 'Yeah...'", he says, feigning a commiserating shrug.

"I have seen different reactions to the Nick character and I think that it's complicated - he does change, but a lot of it has to do with the audience's perception of him changing as they learn more about him."

Ultimately, his responsibility as an actor was to do his best to convey Nick's redeeming qualities and to do so, he had to reserve judgment.

"I don't think you can play anybody that you think is a d**k, because then you are not going to do a very good job. My job was to empathise with him."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Gone Girl opens in Singapore tomorrow.