Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in ‘Gone Girl’
Whether consciously or not, David Fincher is drawn to many of the same themes as Alfred Hitchcock. The split personality of Norman and Mrs. Bates in Psycho echoes in The Fight Club, The serial killer of Frenzy haunts Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac. The suspected wife-murderer of Rebecca shares a guilt trip with Ben Affleck in Fincher’s latest, Gone Girl. Fincher is one in an army of filmmakers — including Francois Truffaut, Brian DePalma and M. Night Shyamalan — who have queued up to be named heir to the Master of Supense.
Yet no one replicates the Master’s movie DNA as closely as Fincher’s done in Gone Girl, where he twists all the familiar Hitchcock tropes into a double-helix of tension and release. Working from Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own bestselling novel, Fincher gets into Hitch’s head by gene-splicing many of the Master’s themes together. Call Gone Girl the most Hitchcockian thriller in years.
Alfred Hitchcock and his daughter Patricia
Hitch would have approved of the actress who plays the titular gone girl Amy, Rosamund Pike. She’s a calculating beauty of the Grace Kelly genus (see Hitch’s Rear Window and Dial M for Murder for reference) and a cool, classic “Hitchcock blonde.” He would have smiled at Gone Girl’s assumption that, as comedian Chris Rock once so nicely put it, “If you haven’t contemplated murder, you ain’t been in love.” Hitch might have been taken in by the movie’s MacGuffin, a diary written by Amy. And he might have been jealous that Fincher could be more explicit about matters both sexual and violent than Hitch was ever allowed to be
In a movie that could be titled The Lady Vanishes, Fincher plays with a theme very dear to Hitch’s heart: namely, the story of the man who jokingly wishes his girlfriend or partner was dead (see: Rear Window, Strangers on a Train). And when his wish precipitates events that might lead or have led to her jeopardy, he feels as guilty as if she died by his own hand. “More tears are shed,” said Truman Capote, “over answered prayers than answered ones.”
Flynn and Fincher (should we say Flincher?) underline in Gone Girl a motif only hinted at in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and The Man Who Knew Too Much: The sinking disappointment when couples discover that courtship is a performance that grows stale in marriage. In the opening scene of Fincher’s film, we hear Nick (Ben Affleck) ruefully utter the question spouses rarely ask, “Who are you? What have we done to each other?”’ Those are the questions The Girl (Joan Fontaine) in Rebecca wonders of her white knight, Max (Laurence Olivier), when she learns he may be a murderer. And one that Jo McKenna (Doris Day) wonders in The Man Who Knew Too Much of her doctor husband (James Stewart) who has pressed her to trade her musical career for marriage.
Who are Nick and Amy? Initially they are actors reveling in their parts during the high romance of their early days, but who, in the marital long run, are estranged. These fair-weather spouses can’t make it work when they lose their jobs and their sparkle during the Great Recession. Like Max in Rebecca, Nick is a suspected murderer. Like Jo, Amy feels diminished without her own career. What have they done to each other? They blame their partners rather than themselves for their misery. By framing the unhappy Nick and Amy from slightly lowered angles, Fincher shows how walls and ceilings appear to be closing down and in on them. Not only are Nick and Amy trapped by their Missouri McMansion; They’re in a power struggle even more explicit than the one Hitchcock creates in Dial M for Murder, where a husband frames his wife for offing the hitman he hired to kill her.
Watch a clip from ‘Vertigo’:
At least Nick is not like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, molding his new love into the spitting image of a prior one. The same cannot be said of Neil Patrick Harris in Gone Girl, whose character Desi plies hair dye and fetishy clothing on Amy to transform her back into his carnal ideal. Because of the Production Code, which forbade explicit depictions of nudity and erotic relations, Hitchcock couldn’t show sex. But Fincher can. And the effect of watching a man making love to a woman he has coiffed and dressed is creepier than the suggestion of it. When James Stewart makes his lady over, he looks obsessive. When Neal Patrick Harris does it, he looks pathological. Yes, Flynn’s novel has several Vertigo references (such as one where Amy takes the name of a Hitchcock character on an Internet chatroom). But her screenplay and Fincher’s direction takes the Hitchcock one step further, with chilling ramifications.
How Hitchcockian is Gone Girl? It even has a “shower scene,” like Psycho. In the 1960 Hitchcock film, Marion Crane cleansed herself of her sin of theft, while Norman Bates purged his sin of sexual desire. Gone Girl’s scene is similar in that the two characters ostensibly are cleansing themselves of their transgressions while regarding each other with gimlet eyes and murder on their minds.
Watch a clip from ‘Psycho’:
When Flynn’s novel was published, one of the cover blurbs described it as “Scenes from a Marriage as directed by Hitchcock.” The movie is Scenes from a Marriage as filtered through Hitchcock and distilled by Fincher. It’s an anniversary toast to marital blitz.
Question: Which Hitchcock homages and situations am I missing? Weigh in in the comments below.
Photo credits: AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Merrick Morton, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images