If I may be so bold as to begin with this suggestion, I think David Fincher has completely lost all inspiration since Zodiac (a project he was accidentally perfect for – he had lived in the area during the actual murders). For the years since (and kind of prior as well), he had been a gun for hire on works that were for the most part enjoyable if not great, but not a single work of his didn’t have a cold separation between viewer and audience that left it emotionally stinted on his directorial behalf (though facets like Jesse Eisenberg’s acting in The Social Network or Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or such sometimes allowed for a little output). If people accused Stanley Kubrick of being cold and uninvolving (a popular notion I half-disagree with), Fincher is pretty much cold, uninvolving, and worse, he does it with stories that beg and practically work for themselves in emotional involvement, in spite of being a precise perfectionist who tries to pick shots for a reason.
And I don’t think it’s that people don’t recognize this about Fincher’s work. I think they recognize it just fine and that some people are into that type of filmmaking style. It just depends on the story on whether or not it runs by me.
And so we come to the film adaptation of the novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a story that does in the end require you get yourself a hell of a lot more involved than the film allows you to be and of course, most audience members have no problem eating up a very to-the-point airport read of a story.
Much like the last fiction novel Fincher decided to make onto the big-screen, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it took me a long ass while to finish – this time, not so much for its verbose manner and very ill prose, but the fact that on paper, this story shouldn’t be as engaging as it is on screen. But, in the end, to be honest, I found myself enjoying the novel as simple literature than I did enjoy it as a feature film.
So, before I go on, I want to get two things out of the way. This is not going to focus on the aesthetics of Gone Girl. Not hugely. We’ve all come to intimately know how Fincher works and for, let’s be fucking real, it works. Even if the film itself is in the end not very great, we can’t deny that Fincher got his gun-for-hire status on the fact that he knows exactly what to do with a camera and a set and his mercenary crew hanging with him, from the steadicam deliberation of Jeff Cronenweth (who’s signature is so distinct that I recall one time being unlucky enough to see The Cat in the Hat and recalling an opening Steadicam shot and knowing before the credits even admit that it was shot by Cronenweth. Poor guy), rapid-fire on-point beats of editor Kirk Baxter and, most recently, the streamline of underscore provided by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, makes for a pretty much pitch-perfect representation of the same very capable and confident atmosphere-letting that Fincher’s films have for the most part kept providing.
But, no, there’s no need to go over the very unsettling and overcast perfect pictures that get provided by Gone Girl‘s efforts. No, instead, for possibly the first time, I’m going to talk about the story telling and how it makes me very much in the middle of where I stand with Gone Girl as a film.
Based on the best-selling thriller novel by Gillian Flynn, the movie focuses on two separate plotlines involving the giddy-turned-unhappy marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike). The present day plotline has to do with Amy’s sudden disappearance as Nick deals with juggling the efforts to find her safe and sound and the mounting and mounting evidence that Nick is responsible for her murder. Under the pursuit of Detectives Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) and the ire of America as a whole, Dunne only has himself backed by his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry).
That’s my summary of the plot… anyway, before I go any further, I’m going to be even further honest… You can’t talk about this movie without spoiling it. You simply cannot. So, if you have a problem with being spoiled for the movie before having seen it, close this tab now. I won’t take offense. Go ahead.
Alright, who’s ready to talk about what the movie does that bugs me? Or rather, what people seem to think it does that rubs me the wrong way?
As you probably would guess, that plot description I gave makes it a juicy possibility for some severe examination of marriage and how far it goes between the male and the female to hold control on each other over the course of their spiraling lives. And to the book’s effect, it does for a brief while during the first act, go ahead and provide a pretty accurate lens into how relationships struggle under financial duress, especially in the still relevant zone of the 2008 economy collapse. And in addition to that, the movie and the book, both written by Flynn as an attempt to concentrate all the major plot points of her thriller while apparently making amends for a third act that wasn’t received warmly so much as lukewarm, give way halfway through the story for a semi-rantish monologue by Amy that focuses on the “cool girl” mentality and gender roles that are forced upon a couple before they even start being a couple that is pretty empowering while not being half-as-standoffish or out of its way to broadcast a feminist theme. It’s not just a mode of screaming out about the expectations of two people who only need to be in love, it’s also a very blatant motivation layout for Amy’s actions.
And before I go further into it, I need to get something semi-apparent out of the way. I have been in relationships. I am not a relationship guy, however. It’s hard enough to qualify me as a people person, but when it comes to intimacy, I’m on another planet. To give example to this, my first viewing of Gone Girl (it took me two viewings before I felt I could write this) was during a date during which I continuously walked out of the theater to fix typos on one of the previous Motorbreath articles that bugged me (also, Gone Girl as a date movie, heh). To further illustrate, the previous date that occurred with someone else, I postponed… twice before it ended up happening.
I’m not a relationship guy and I’m very very comfortable with that in the case that I don’t have to try and end up making other people uncomfortable with my deliberate separation. So you would not be wrong to take what I say next about the movie’s themes with a grain of salt. But I’m going to say it anyway.
That aside, I understand Flynn’s intentions but the problem with approaching the movie as a whole for being about relationships is that there’s a severe disconnect and imbalance with who is right and what the final message of the film is. By the end of the movie, we understand that Dunne is a dishonest husband, but we also discover that Amy is a psychopathic liar and murderer. They’re not exactly made for each other and the ending scenario plays out as a hostage situation than any actual answer to questions of whether or not I’m with the one or who I am becoming with every new moment with this girl/guy. They don’t exactly provide a capable straw man argument for how relationships or marriages work.
This is only in addition to the fact that both the cat-and-mouse delivery of the film’s second half and the heightened acting of both Affleck and Pike – Affleck is at his career best and I would argue his first decent performance (the climactic interview scene eliminated any doubt from my mind that he could play Batman and I had a significant amount of doubt) – sort of vie for the affection of the audience and as such, the movie is placed at a crossroads of whose side you take in the end. And either side comes off to me as sexist. If you pick the side of Nick, you undo every bit of character development that has taken shape into this role of Amy, an cynical and very ruthless but understood antagonist, and make her into a simple villain. You excuse Nick’s infidelity and you dismiss the fact that most of Nick’s decisions are what pushed Amy to her edge in the first place. If you take the side of Amy, you ignore how many lives she deliberately ruined, how close she was to ruining one more, and her murder of Desi Collings (whom the film paints slightly less threateningly but still creepy – thanks Neil Patrick Harris), just to go ahead and prove one man wrong. Neither side is right, but you can’t be exactly happy with the fact that they decide to live with each other. There’s actually a school of thought to me that the ending statement of the film (bash her head in… what will we do to each other) is an implication that Nick will murder Amy for real, but that’s just how I personally read it and I don’t think anyone else ever had the thought pop in their mind.
But, in the end, no, I don’t buy the story as a lens into marriage. Certainly media – through the performances of
Nancy Grace Missi Pyle and Tyler Perry giving a very cartoonish but applicable representation of how the media takes the public attitude and sways it in whatever contortion they need it to be for their own gains – whether tv ratings or court winnings. In general the movie provides a great supporting cast for a character study… if not every character is as real as Coon’s Margo, they are all pretty alive. And it’s even a pretty surprisingly humorous movie – again undercutting the idea that this movie has anything more to say than just giving an interesting thriller that one could easily read on a plane ride.
You want to know what I really think the movie is about? What I honestly believe people ignored in the center of Gone Girl just to pretend it is all about marriage?
It’s about identity to me and pretending you have something to hide.
Part of what makes me allow Affleck’s performance in spite its flaws is how obviously inconsistent he goes from smug. To guilty. To repentent. To sweating. To certain. All over the spectrum. And all at least somewhat convincing. But these are all different faces that he utilizes for when its usually necessary to maintain his innocence, to prevent himself from being directly self-incriminating. It actually does well enough to convince me that the character might actually have killed Amy, even in spite of the fact that I’ve already read the book.
Nick keeps putting up a front, even prior to the disappearance when he didn’t need to. He stands off to his wife, he lies to his sister, he makes all these acts to get his dream girl and then other acts to just try to shrug her off, just so that the divorce does not need to get ugly.
Tanner Bolt is all about appearances, like making Tyler Perry not appear distracting. He is so used to presenting covers for guilty clients probably that when he actually has a client he knows to be innocent, he retains the same tactics that require that Nick pretend he has to hide what he is hiding just because it is the only way Tanner knows how to play.
Margo had to pretend she actually tolerated Amy’s presence, Amy’s parents had to pretend they thought Nick was actually good for their daughter.
And then there’s Amy. Amy, after a life of mostly being herself and living in the shadow of literary character based on her and finding how far that took her (she comes off as a “cold bitch” by pretty much everyone who is not her parents), ends up taking different acts to keep her plan in line to the point that lying and protecting her lies becomes the only thing that can keep her in the public favor other than actually disappearing and dying.
Rosamund Pike gives a very methodical approach to Amy in every way and, while it’s an average performance, puts herself at the center of the show so much that even when she’s not in the scene her presence is felt, to make this constant lying become at first a discomfort and then such practice for her… from pretending to be from “Nau orleens” to becoming shockingly tasteless from false rape cries to incriminating her own victims. And in the third act is really her crowning achievement in the film, where she takes her new self and makes it such a sociopathic calm that makes us realize she’s made a home in this skin she has shed and that she’ll use it to whatever advantage.
She even gets the last laugh of the film by showing us their announcement on
Nancy Grace Missi Pyle’s talk show (I forgot Missi Pyle’s character’s name… but it’s Nancy Grace as far I’m concerned), even while the audience knowing the true circumstances of that announcement and ends up just as devastated as all the losers of this film.
None of this is again more potent than the very very exciting moment of seeing Nick on the tv providing his own. Calamari cold approach by Fincher or not, if you don’t smile at Nick’s very impressive big-fish-ass lies, you probably hated the movie to begin with. Me, I’m still in between. It’s still in the end, just a fancy pants thriller that people inject more meaning into than actually is there, but I at least found some thematic anchor to it, which might get me to give it one more view.