Set in New York, the story chronicles David (played by Gosling) through his relationship with his wife Kathryn (played by Dunst), career, and their eventual demise as mountain psychiatric symptoms cause him to have a breakdown which presumably leads to the murder of Kathryn. The story is based on a real life socialite, and I vaguely remembered the story when I originally watched the trailer on Apple.com months ago. At the time, what drew me to the story was how happy the couple looked and how it was clear that David loved his wife yet he ended up doing something so horrible to her. That was very difficult to understand.
Once the movie started playing I started to realize that the story was not about a relationship gone wrong but one of the toll mental illness takes on a person. David watched his mother commit suicide and not only struggled with that trauma but also his own symptoms of rage, depression, and paranoia. His marriage was a bright spot on a privileged but troubled life. As the viewer watches David's descent into madness you are scared for his wife and generally think he's acting like a jerk, but as more bizarre behaviors crop up you start to realize there's more going on than two people growing apart. David's repeated bad behaviors are not excusable, but as a mental health professional I couldn't help but feel bad for the character as a lack of proper care and social support early on in his life led to such a horrible chain of events.
Gosling is amazing in this film. I know that years ago women fell in love with him as the 2000s version of Jack Dawson because of The Notebook (a movie that makes you cry regardless of whether or not you are in a relationship), but the last 3 years have really shown that Gosling truly is the new Jack Dawson. Just like Leonardo Dicaprio, he has done nothing but try to prove that he is a serious talent. And Dunst, after taking a lot of time off for bad behavior, is no slouch either. I wouldn't be surprised if after this and Melancholia if she has a career resurgence (or at least I hope so).
While I'm biased because the movie takes place in New York City and Westchester County, the scenery is captured gorgeously. The more movies I watch the more I realize that cinematography is very important to me and this film does a good job of showcasing some of the New York metro areas finest views. And it doesn't hurt that the set design and costumes are top notch for a film set in the 70s and 80s. Highly recommended all around.