Oct 20, 2014

Gone Girl

This twisted tale about a marriage on the rocks, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, is given the neat, brisk polish of a David Fincher production. The plot is rather outlandish, but what is interesting is the context. Nick and Amy Dunne seem to be the perfect couple. Yet anything can conspire to bring hardship into a marriage. In their case, the loss of a job, a parent's illness, money problems, moving from New York City to a generic town in Missouri, arguing about whether to have kids, the usual stuff that stifles romance in the privacy of home. Things turn sour.
Amy is the daughter of two creepily successful parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) who turned her young life into a series of children's books a la Madeline. Amy (Rosamund Pike) claims that all the ideal things that happen to her in the books were imaginary improvements upon her real life. The movie is too a story about the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we make up for others, and the stories that others make up about us.
Nick comes home one day to find Amy gone, apparently under the threat of violence. He cooperates with the local police, who do not arrest him, probably because he's white and lives in a big house. As played by Ben Affleck, Nick is sympathetic, but flat. He doesn't pander to the media circus that wants him to play the grieving husband, and some of his habits should be cause for concern, such as having whisky for breakfast.
I don't know if Nick is supposed to be a cipher, but the movie and the character would be richer if we could see more of the wheels turning in his head. As the story evolves, a lot is revealed about him but Affleck's performance is not layered, and Nick seems a hollow man. Pike is very good as ice queen Amy, but I wish there were more ambiguity to her, that we could sympathize more.
The plot has many fun twists, but I found the idea of a man suddenly hunted by the media more interesting than the pulpy story. Nick seems to be oblivious to the demands that the omnipresent media places on any citizen who gets thrown into the spotlight. Not so his parents in law, whose media savvy borders on the sinister. They know just what kind of show to put on. Histrionic newswomen (Missy Pyle and Sela Ward, both pitch perfect) crucify Nick over the disappearance of his wife without regard for evidence, crafting the clichéd story they think the public wants to hear: a simplified tale of a victim and a villain, which they use drum up ratings and egg on the whims of public opinion.
Eager townspeople relish their part in the morality play, doing mediagenic searches and vigils: the American penchant for putting on a spectacle of empathy every time somebody (usually white) falls down a well. I really liked this about Gone Girl. It has a brittle view of the American media circus and the public as a willing accomplice to its excesses.
Who is to be believed? First we hear Nick's side of the story. Then we hear Amy's. It's more than a he said/she said thing. Gone Girl is a dark metaphor for the pitfalls of marriage taken to extremes. How do we act as a couple, in public, in private and with one another?  Do we really know our better halves? What are the acts we put on to keep the marriage going? Is it all a performance, a sham?
Neither Nick nor Amy are as wholesome as they would like to seem, but our perception of them changes as the point of view shifts. Our sympathies tend to lie with the person telling the story. They may switch as we hear the other side, only to find out that the versions contradict each other. Now we don't know who to believe. Rashomon meets Fatal Attraction.
Flynn and Fincher handle the shifts in perspective with economy and precision. Fincher tamps down his customary glossy style, as if he's trying for an Anywhere, U.S.A kind of vibe. But the film has a strain of wry, dark humor that separates it from a made for TV movie. It has some bitter ironies, from their pious and unapologetic participation of the public in the demonization of Nick and the canonization of Amy, to the grotesque karmic stuff that befalls her, which is very funny, if it weren't so violent,  and all the perverse turns which I won't spoil here. Except for a visit to a crystal meth den that seems too photogenic to be real, Fincher keeps an elegant grip on the story. I wish the main characters were less dispassionate, more messy, more made of flesh and bone.

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