dir: David Fincher
It’s enough to make you afraid to get married, ever.
As if guys and girls weren’t scared enough of commitment as it was. Now we have a movie come along, based on the bestselling potboiler, that explodes the myth of the Happy American Marriage in this age of social media, infidelity and dubious motivations.
What it boils down to is this: how much can you ever really know about what’s going on in the mind of the person next to you, no matter how much you think you know them?
The answer is, if the person next to you is a meticulous psychopath, not a whole hell of a lot.
The next question is, which one of the main characters in this flick is which?
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, perfectly suited to playing a big galoot who may harbour murderous tendencies) comes home to find that his wife is not where he expects her to be. As in, his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is the Girl who is Gone.
You’d naturally suspect the husband in a circumstance like this. A lot of the path much of this story follows is that of the Scott Peterson case, of a handsome young guy whose pregnant wife goes missing under dubious circumstances.
In Gone Girl, an attractive blonde white girl goes missing, and within a day she’s a national celebrity, and the knives are being sharpened for her doofus, perhaps evil husband. We don’t think at first that he had anything to do with it. Other than seeming a bit glib at times, like it’s all a bit of a joke, he doesn’t quite seem like the murderous type.
Stuff starts to poke through, though. We start getting little tidbits of information that counter his narrative. Half of the time, we’re also hearing another narrative; Amy’s, leading up to her disappearance, and it paints a very different picture of the state of their marriage.
There are parts that aren’t in dispute. They met in New York, they were fascinated with each other, they were both writers, and thus were obviously horribly self-involved people. But they were alive, and glowing bright, and thoroughly awesome.
Then they lose their jobs, their money and their awesomeness. Then they moved from the metropolis to Shitsville, Missouri, where Nick’s mother is painfully expiring from cancer. All of Amy’s money is expended providing the semblance of a life that isn’t really real. They live in a massive McMansion, they own a bar called The Bar, and they’re pillars of the community.
But Nick isn’t happy. And Amy is definitely not happy. Some people take their unhappiness out on themselves. Others take it out on the world. Nick and Amy have very different ways of dealing with their frustrations. Very different indeed.
Perhaps taking a somewhat Clintonesque route, Nick finds solace in the arms, breasts and vagina of a local student (Emily Ratajkowski). When we find out about his affair, it’s the shamefaced explanation a friend would give another friend: “Look, I know this sounds really bad, but trust me, it doesn’t mean I killed my wife”.
Sure it doesn't, buddy. Sure it doesn't.
We’d be fools to believe anyone’s version of events in this story. The truth, justice, the facts become incredibly irrelevant in the face of what a person can do to manipulate their image or the image of their ‘opponent’ in the media. The police, in the form of a local detective (Kim Dickens) pursue the facts, they look at stuff from a forensic perspective, but the evidence, such as it is, has been manipulated itself, and goes on being manipulated after the fact.
Is the point ultimately that the ‘truth’ is what you can assert the most conveniently, rather than being anything that is objectively provable? I doubt it. It comes down more to people so desperately wanting to believe particular narratives that they’ll abandon all common sense or judgement in the face of it.
There is a crime at the centre of this flick, but it’s not the crime we think it is at first. I read the book when it first came out, and so the film didn’t really hold any mysteries for me, as it would for someone coming cold to this material. All the same I don’t see the value of spoiling it entirely, even if the nature of what’s going on shouldn’t be too hard to guess from early on.
What is harder to spy is the magnitude of the deception going on, the breathtaking scale of the manufactured narrative at its core, and how even that perfectly orchestrated construction has to shift and change according to circumstance.
All the actors in this are perfectly cast in their roles, not that most of their roles are that complex. The characters of Nick and Amy are the only complicated ones, and Affleck and Pike do wonders with their roles, especially in Pike’s case. She will definitely be nominated for Best Actress for this role, and if Meryl Streep isn’t nominated for whatever she might have done in the past year I daresay Rosamund Pike will walk away with it.
It’s hard to explain exactly why I think her performance is so great, but it’s mostly because she has to play a role within a role within another role, and she has to do it perfectly right, as in, it’s an almost impossibly hard balancing act, and she pulls it off with great style. She also has what I would argue is the hottest / most macabre sex scene of the year, and she even looks great during that.
There is much within this story you could rightfully argue is implausible, or a plot hole, and I’d argue that that’s wrong way to approach the story. Nick and Amy are fighting a battle, not just for their lives, but also to be understood, to be seen for who they really are. Getting there requires hearts and minds, and hearts and minds can be swayed your way or against your opponent if you know what you’re doing.
Nick and Amy don’t always know what they’re doing, but they know they want to win. ‘Win’ in this context can mean different things. To ‘win’ could mean to force someone to apologise. To ‘win’ could also be to avoid the death penalty, or to not end up dead. These are worthy goals, and the media wants to do all it can to help you out or destroy you when you’re a hot property.
Amy’s backstory includes her loathsome parents, one of whom carved out a career as a hack writer passive-aggressively gifting the world with the Amazing Amy children’s books, in which a version of Amy who does everything her parents want ends up a champion, as if to get revenge on Amy for every disappointment she ever furnished her parents with by disagreeing with them.
Oh, are they odious, and like almost everyone else in the flick, they know, like every American seems to know how in this amazing age we live in, exactly how to play the media game as well.
Everything you do, or don’t do when a camera’s on you now has the greatest significance. Smiling during a forced photo now equals being a murderer, which is a profound update on Meursault from Camus’s The Outsider, who ultimately gets convicted for murdering some guy on the beach because Meursault didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral.
Apart from the central question of what happened to Amy, there’s Nick’s race against time to try and figure it out before the cops do, or to at least pretend like he’s trying to figure out, what happened to Amy. This goes against all common sense and makes this seemingly convoluted but relatively straightforward plot propulsive, and, dare I say it, kind of thrilling. Sure, I wasn’t always certain whose side I was on, and, in fact in the end you decide that no-one’s side is the best one to be on, but this kept putting a shocked kind of smile on my face as it played out, and towards the end I was chuckling and shaking my head side to side with what ultimately happens.
Tyler Perry, of all people, is great as a lawyer who you think would be a shyster, yet is the one who gives Nick the best advice that he never listens to. Much of his advice comes down to word choices, as in Nick’s defence lives and dies based on which words he uses whenever he speaks on camera. Nothing to do with the truth: semantics rule above everything else.
Doogie Howser/Neil Patrick Harris is also in this flick as a truly creepy individual, even creepier than the Space Nazi he played in Starship Troopers, but at least he gets to have a sex scene with Rosamund Pike. I wonder how his real life husband felt about it? Wonder if he’s seen it? Could be an interesting night when he finally does.
David Fincher has made some exceptional films in his career, and a bunch of indifferent ones. He’s considered to be a very cold craftsman who will get actors to repeat takes endlessly in order to gets ones where they’re acting the least. Rumours have surfaced of occasions where he’s asked actors to repeat takes hundreds of times. And not just shitty D-list actors: I mean like stars and stuff! I don’t know if that happened here, but the construction is far more important than the individual acting performances, good as they may be. That’s why this flick probably has more similarities with his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo adaptation than it does with his other works like Fight Club or Social Network.
On the other hand, this flick is a long slog. All Fincher flicks tend to run long, but this goes on and on, and while I enjoyed the journey, there were probably chunks that could have been excised. They’ve changed the last part of the story substantially. Hey, they could have changed more, if that was the spirit they were approaching the film with.
It’s enjoyable, and it’s probably the closest Fincher will ever come to making a ‘fluffy’ trashy flick, in that it’s about the trashy and toxic American media environment, but isn’t, in itself, trash. I wouldn’t say it’s serious, whatever the stakes, even though the ending is fairly macabre, but it’s definitely a film whose moral seems to be the clear enforcement of the Eleventh Commandment: Though Shalt Not Take Thy Wife For Granted, Lest All the Forces of Hell Be Unleashed Upon Thee.
It’s the only commandment worth taking seriously.
8 times Gone Girl is not the prescription for a healthy marriage out of 10
“When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” – yeah, good luck with that – Gone Girl