' Cinema Romantico: Gone Girl

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gone Girl

“Gone Girl” opens with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) advising in voiceover how he frequently dreams of taking the head of his lilting wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) and cracking it open in the figurative hope of seeing what psychological remnants come spilling out. This restrained reading of gruesome dialogue helpfully establishes Nick as someone with a possible motive for having murdered his spouse if she were to, say, go missing, which she will. It is also helpful, however, because it puts forth the film’s foremost question – what is going on inside Amy’s head?

The same could be asked of Nick, but Nick is a guy and guys are so simple to read, whereas women, to quote master of observation Jerry Seinfeld, “are working on a whole other level.” Amy’s working on a whole other level, so much so, in fact, that by the time this two-and-a-half hour pulp-plus extravaganza concludes, the philosophical contents of her cerebellum remain inaccessible, possibly because they were non-existent outside the motives of the film's dueling creators.


Point of View is everything in “Gone Girl”. For the first-third of the film, in fact, it’s two separate films running concurrently, one seen through the eyes of Nick and one told explicitly by Amy. In the present, Nick wakes one morning in North Carthage, Missouri, a place fresh off the subdivision cookie cutter, standing by the garbage at the end of his driveway, as if his sense of self-worth has been put out with the trash bags. After an afternoon of beer and board games at the bar he runs with his twin sister (Carrie Coon), he returns home to find the front door ajar, the glass coffee table smashed and his wife missing. He summons the authorities, Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit). They detect something amiss. Nick seems a little too at ease. He emits too chipper an air in public and the media, represented by Missi Pyle doing a barely not-at-all veiled Nancy Grace impression, seize on this liveliness to paint him, in their sensationalist opinion, as a heartless bastard with something to hide.

Meanwhile, the other movie, told in flashbacks building toward the now, something feels even more amiss. Speaking in voiceovers supposedly culled from a journal she authors with a pink fluffy pen, Amy chronicles the romantic rise of her marriage to Nick and its subsequent fallout. As a trust fund baby on account of a bestselling line of kids book – “The Amazing Amy” – written by her parents, she is the bread-winner, until an economic downturn that causes this storybook story to morph into a beautifully shot Lifetime Movie with her as the Battered Spouse and he as the Potentially Violent Husband. But these sequences, perfectly worded, softly lit, and scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross in an awesomely caustic lampoon of a stock Love Theme are purposely too polished to be true.

It is here when the film’s mystery assumes a different shape, and also when it enters that rich, sprawling territory of Spoilervania and so, as your faithful reviewer, I am required by hazily defined critical “law” to refrain from specifics. Thus, I proceed cautiously, if a bit recklessly, and suggest that at this point the two interlocking stories converge with a lion’s roar and a fairly compelling whodunit? emerges momentarily as a transcendent Sleater Kinney cinematic anthem of female empowerment, Amy Dunne metamorphosing into Fay Forrester by way of Ellen Berent. It is also, however, the moment when the story Amy Dunne has been telling is co-opted, a la “The Amazing Amy”, by David Fincher, the director, and Gillian Flynn, the screenwriter, and also the writer of the novel on which the film is based.


The book, which I have not read, has elicited accusations of principally being trash, and while the film is most assuredly full of trashy elements, it also strives for something topical. It's a meme generator in movie form, the film that will (has) launched a thousand op-eds, a morality play as told by sociopaths, outside of the high-priced blood-sucking defense attorney (Tyler Perry) who, in the film's biggest joke, comes across pretty darn decent. It is attempting to re-fashion marriage as a sadistic battle of the sexes by filtering it through the framework of a standard-issue thriller replete with insane twists and re-boots of the playing field. It repeatedly tilts the winds of favor back and forth between Mr. and Mrs., thereby alternating between anti-feminism and feminism, deliberately offering ammunition to each faction.

Tucked within its girth is an intriguing idea of how all humans suffer a sort of break from reality, how a person's point of view is created and distorted by his or her wants and needs, and how every person is an unreliable narrator of his or her life. Amy might be an unreliable narrator, but Fincher and Flynn eventually are proven unreliable too. They make the missing woman of their film's title jump through so many hoops and undergo so many personality shifts that she ceases to be a real person, and the answer of what is knocking around inside her head is never answered.

In this romantic crusade, the film winds up falling, more or less, on the side of Nick, even if it portrays him as inattentive, hot-headed and obtuse, primarily because it transforms his bride into a psychotic android made to do whatever the narrative requires to check another item off the Issue Rolodex. Yet, paradoxically, even if Amy comes across as fictive, she is still the character with the most life, as if she's the automation in “Hugo” in need of her own twisted variation on that heart-shaped key. I yearned for her to find that key. I yearned for a breach of protagonist protocol, for Amy Dunne to throw off the shackles of the Auteur Theory, unlock the restraints of the Schreiber Theory, reclaim the story, open a vein in her forehead, and bleed all over the screen.

1 comment:

alleyesonscreen.me said...

I always enjoy reading your reviews, Nick, even if I've already read several reviews on the same film. It really does feel like a battle of the sexes when watching it.

I read the book prior and had quibbles here and there, but overall, I can recognize it as an accomplished film.