What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
–Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
“What Have We Done to Each Other?” opens the Gone Girl film soundtrack in the same way that the above passage, taken from page one of Flynn’s bestselling novel, lures readers into the tangled web of married couple Nick and Amy Dunne: on a note of disquiet. Beautiful, ethereal, unnerving, the reverberant siren calls elicit a spine-shiver of detachment — How well can one know another person, especially the person that they love? — but also a dreamy, unearthly remove, a feeling that so often comes with drifting away from reality and back into the recesses of the mind. The call and response sounds are evocative of lights bobbing in separate orbits; ghosts passing each other in the night; a body floating Ophelia-like in the water for a stranger to find. And that’s just the beginning.
Trent Reznor is no stranger to darkness. Besides fronting the heavy metal band Nine Inch Nails for more than a quarter century (yep, 26 years), Reznor and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross have teamed up with Gone Girl director David Fincher on two previous films — 2010’s The Social Network and 2011’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — that also relied heavily on moody, well-crafted soundscapes. The former film, which won Reznor and Ross an Academy Award for Best Original Score, has an urgent, post-industrial anxiety running over its dark, slow burn of bass tones and digital blips; the latter, which won a Grammy for Best Score for Visual Media, is less insular and more aggressive, raw, agitated. Their Gone Girl soundtrack, which includes 24 tracks and spans almost one and a half hours, falls somewhere in between the two: still creeping with paranoia, but more subtly so.
Gone Girl is all about mindgames, and with these tracks, it’s clear that Reznor knows how to play them. In an interview with USA Today, Reznor revealed that the tonal inspiration for Gone Girl came from an unsettling experience of Fincher’s (“David was at the chiropractor and heard this music that was inauthentically trying to make him feel OK, and that became a perfect metaphor for this film … The challenge was, simply, what is the musical equivalent of the same sort of façade of comfort and a feeling of insincerity that that music represented?”) and that his primary aim as the film’s composer was “to instill doubt” and “remind you that things aren’t always what they seem to be.” On these counts, Reznor succeeds, creating an atmosphere in which anything is possible: from the layers of distortion disguised as calm in “Sugar Storm”, to the more ominous keyboard of “Empty Places”, to the full-on horror movie clangy disturbia of “Something Disposable”.
Ross deserves just as much credit for his production, which layers sounds in some ways more ingenious than any of his and Reznor’s previous works. Listen, for example, to “The Way He Looks At Me” and try to separate all of the eerie elements at play: the fuzzy licks; the jittery electronic freakouts, circling back over themselves in loops; the faint sound of a woman’s moan punctuating the middle section. Then move to “Technically, Missing”, which begins simply enough — a synthy, meandering ‘80s vibe — until the background begins to buzz, building with the insect-like hum of staticky electric guitars. Many of the tracks end on controlled breakdowns, crescendoing and then suddenly splicing out, like scissors through a wire.
Is the score representative of Nick’s mind, or Amy’s? To those who’ve read the book and/or seen the film, it is obvious who Reznor and Ross are channeling. With compositions that are at turns chilling and serene, the Gone Girl soundtrack is as psychologically intense as its source material, and just as unpredictable. And, as a meditation on voyeurism, deception, and psychopathy, it works exactly as intended, boding well for a twisted cinematic thrill ride only this team could construct.
Nick and Amy’s marriage may be unraveling to the tune of a dark ambient nightmare, but fear not: The cinesonic union of Fincher, Reznor, and Ross is stronger than ever.
Essential Tracks: “The Way He Looks At Me”, “Technically, Missing”