Gone Girl

October 3, 2014

I don’t know how to write about this film without extensive spoilers, so watch the film before reading.

 GONE GIRL Movie HD Trailer Captures00004_1_1

Gone Girl runs from relationship autopsy to eerie mystery to chess match thriller to absurdist melodrama, all the while holding up a satirical flare and a cold, wily grin as it straddles it’s many tonal shifts. It’s one of the finest examples of craftsmanship of the year, and it’s also one of the most cynical motion pictures in quite some time.

Relationships have always been a part of Fincher’s films, though his worldview is not one for romance. The most obvious love story he’s made, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, never lets you forget the temporary nature of that most celebrated feeling, even as we’re treated to the brief window of romantic bliss it’s main characters share. The only truly happy ending for a couple in his work comes in Fight Club, where the severely damaged (both physically and mentally) characters only come together briefly as they stare out onto the anarchic destruction of society or, more directly, capitalism. Taking on Gillian Flynn’s bestseller about a man who’s wife goes missing and the scrutiny it puts on their marriage is, then, a natural thematic area for the director. The flashbacks to the beginning of the relationship of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Anna (Rosamund Pike) are rom-com meet-cute scenes with a dash of the Gift of the Magi, and always contrasted with a harsh cut to a present day counterpoint of the end result: a failed marriage between two people who don’t like each much at all. The question then becomes just how much they don’t like each other.

It would be easy for the film to slip into a shrieking, overwrought potboiler considering where the story goes through it’s numerous, sometimes illogical twists. As has been mentioned by many, there’s a Verhoeven-esque luridness to the material that’s hard to ignore. Fincher’s coup is to present it with a minimum of fuss and his subtle visual flair – we’re presented with events in a matter of fact manner, even as they’re all skewed by perspective. Like Verhoeven, however, there is a biting, satirical bent that raises its head fairly early and never lets up. The characters are not believable but they’re also never to be believed. They’re the product of contemporary understanding of gender roles and consumerist desires and, most importantly, a Hollywood understanding of the supposed romantic ideal that it’s possibly they could never have registered as relatable human beings. The side characters are even more cartoonish, especially the (admittedly too easy target) of the Nancy Grace stand-in Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), the obsessed ex Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), and the pathetic suburban neighbour Noelle Hawthorne (Casey Wilson). The only two people that come off as remotely human are the lead detective, Rhonda (Kim Dickens) and Nick’s twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coons, giving an incredible performance that is the sole source of genuine traumatic pain in the whole film). It’s safe to say that Flynn probably doesn’t like any one of these people very much, and Fincher certainly doesn’t.

Having not read the book it is difficult to parse who is responsible for the tone, and though Flynn’s script moves briskly it suffers from a first-time screenwriter’s desire to tell more than show – Fincher’s camera and editing are more than enough to make certain lines feel painfully redundant. The twists are fun, if that’s the right word, and expertly executed on screen without ever feeling like audience manipulation just for the thrill of it. They key to its success is how well it functions as a thriller when it needs to without ever sacrificing its unifying perspective, however crude and damn near nihilistic it may be. Thin characters work because the world depicted is one slimy façade after another. The most telling sequence is a relatively minor one: the two detectives venture to the derelict mall where the homeless and drug dealers congregate. When the bedrock of a relationship or a society are built on the successes of an economy, the failure of the same will cause the false front to fall away and a certain empty reality will take its place. Nick and Anne’s troubles begin when the recession hits and they both lose their jobs and they can no longer easily maintain the ideal life they thought they wanted. When the mall goes out of business, it becomes a black market hub for a more honest misery.

In a sense, there is probably less “depth” here than in Fincher’s best works. The script spells out everything more or less and there’s less to puzzle over in the nooks and crannies of the story than in something like Zodiac or The Social Network. It’s no wonder it’s already proved problematic to some, and good cases have and will continue to be made for a thread of misogyny as well as the implications of the uncomfortable sequence where an ex-boyfriend explains how he was framed for rape and had to settle in court. Still, if you’re looking for “truths” this film does not have them, but what it does have in spades is perspective, albeit a cruel and unabashedly heartless one. It doesn’t so much as poke a stick at the corpse of the modern American affluent ideal of romance as it viciously rips it apart, though in an impressively controlled manner (which is not to say a subtle dissection, as this film is certainly not that). I do not share the perspective of Gone Girl or of Fincher, but I greatly admire the way it presents it. There’s honesty in its depiction of lies.

-M

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