Best of 2014: Cinematogrpher talks Desi's death scene in 'Gone Girl'
Even fans of the book were in for a surprise while watching David Fincher’s Gone Girl. They might’ve known that Desi Collings didn’t survive the story—but the scene in which Collings, played by Neil Patrick Harris, was murdered still left viewers in a state of shock.
As a refresher: Amy (Rosamund Pike) slit Desi’s throat while having sex with him, getting him to climax just before he dropped dead. Covered in his blood, she then returned to her husband claiming she’d been kidnapped the entire time she was missing.
In the book, readers didn’t watch Desi die. But after watching the film, viewers can’t forget seeing it—which is why the moment has made it into our Best of 2014 coverage. We talked with Gone Girl cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth about what it took to film Harris’s big scene.
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Before Desi could die, the Gone Girl team had to build a headboard that would play a central role in the scene. “We lit it very cosmetically and almost seductively, in total contrast to what was actually going to happen,” Cronenweth said. On the headboard, there’s “this really nice, soft, very complimentary light, and then we let the rest of the room fall off—which helps mentally lull an audience into a false sense of security.”
Once the lighting was set, the crew turned to what ended up being one of their biggest challenges: The sheer volume of blood involved. Cronenweth estimates they shot between eight and 12 full takes of the scene—and because it was so “messy,” as Cronenweth put it, there were days of rehearsals and demonstrations. “[There was] research done into everything, from how long before skin is stained, to the clothes, to makeup, to carpeting, to the bed spreads, to the bed itself,” he says. “By the time we actually got to doing the scene, we had all had a lot of experience with the actions that were going to occur.”
Shot over two days, the scene asked a lot of both Harris and Rosamund Pike. Not only was it physically demanding—they were also nude through much of it. “It’s an exhausting scene for the actors, and they’re very, very exposed. It’s always tough when you’re in those circumstances, especially when one of those circumstances turns into a murder,” Cronenweth said. “It was working out the physicality of that and maintaining respect [while] knowing the amount of shock that we wanted to accomplish, and keeping it as real as possible.”
In the spirit of making the scene as real as possible, the team used very little CG. On the day of shooting, Harris had two pneumatic hoses running down his back and off his leg that then led to crew members who remained off-camera. When the time came, they would manually pressurize the canisters of fake blood. The only thing the team handled in post-production was blending the prosthetic into the scene, detailing the inside of the incision, and making sure the color of the blood was right.
The scene’s camera angles were also vital. As most viewers probably recall, when Amy slashes Dezi, the camera is looking up at him—making it seem as though the blood is going to fall directly onto the viewer. “In something like that, she’s beneath him and you want to see her perspective,” Cronenweth said. “I think it’s far more terrifying when you’re part of it, as opposed to just being an observer. When the first slit comes—because at that point no one has any idea what she’s doing with this blade—it’s a great angle. And of course his performance was fantastic, and the sheer volume of blood was horrifying. [We wanted] to make it as first-person as you possibly can with a camera, so you feel more involved and really appreciate the violence.”
Cronenweth also explained why Amy chose to kill Desi during sex. Yes, she was trying to make it look like he’d raped her—but her strategy also had something to do with the amount of blood the scene ended up using. “In a prison gang, if they’re going to take someone out, they love to get them outside in a pick-up game of basketball or something so that your heart’s beating very fast—as his would be when he’s making love to her. So that when you do do a slit like that, you bleed out in a few seconds, as opposed to two minutes. They do it in the prison yards because, by the time anybody gets there to help, it’s too late. So that is part of her sociopath knowledge.”
That’s essentially what the film’s team wanted to get across with this scene: Amy is a sociopath. “At that point in the movie, [we wanted] to lull the audience into this area and then shock them,” Cronenweth said. “But more importantly, we wanted to truly show Amazing Amy’s colors, and see the sociopath that she really is. As bright as she thinks she is, she’s just as easily manipulated as she manipulates everybody else. So that was the task at hand. Obviously it’s a pivotal scene in the movie, and certainly one that people don’t forget.”