Monday, September 29, 2014

Gone Girl

A few years ago, I came across a news show run a woman by the name of "Nancy Grace".  I found myself captivated by this woman immediately.  There was a magnetism to her that can only be found in the greatest of geniuses or the most dangerous of psychotics.  She was fascinating in all of the worst ways:  the self-assured crusading, the unceasing fiery anger, the clear insanity in her eyes, so obviously marking her as deeply deranged.  I was certain something had gone wrong.  There had been a mix-up, some mistake.  The anchor of this program was wearing a straight-jacket in a cell somewhere while a madwoman off her meds was being allowed to rant unhinged on national television.  The movie "Network" had come true.  Instead of Howard Beale we had Nancy Grace.  Still just as mad as Hell.

I remember grinning ear to ear.  This was all the validation I needed.  Nancy Grace did her wild song and dance against Scott Peterson or Casey Anthony or any of the other poor people she had set her sights upon.  Furious in her unproven certainty, she simply would throw out ridiculous claims.  Logic or evidence were not required.  I don't know what she used to get her "facts" - gut instinct, woman's intuition, coded crossword messages written by the aliens of Planet Zeta-9?  It did not matter.  She was abuse and rail against whatever creature she had in your paws.  She delighted in destroying people.

And the legal system shuddered before this woman and her army of self-righteous fans.  She had reinvented the media circus.  Grace stared boldly through the television set, triumphantly screaming whatever whim came into her mind.  People listened and nodded slowly in agreement.  If I ever needed proof that American society was rotten from top to bottom, I could not have asked for more.  Nancy Grace is on television, and she is allowed - nay, encouraged - to profit off of tragedy.  We love her because she tortures people both innocent and guilty for everybody's amusement.  You don't need to be without sin to throw the first stone anymore, you just need a Southern accent and a worldwide audience.

"Gone Girl", both in book and film form, is an examination on the effect Nancy Grace and her kind have on real people.  The hero of this story is the typical "bad guy" in the narrative that Grace uses so often to sell her moralizing diatribes to her legions of hungry fans.  This is the usual story of a rich White woman, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) disappearing without a trace.  Slowly everybody begins to suspect her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck) as the killer.  And all the ersatz Nancy Grace in the movie needs to call him a killer is a single selfie taken by a random woman, and a misplaced smile at a press conference.  Forget the actual truth or the real people involved, the Lifetime Original Movie template has very specific tropes.  Everybody has to play their part.

Since "Gone Girl" is directed by David Fincher, a man whose career has accumulated plenty of legendary twist endings ("Seven", "The Game", "Fight Club"), things are not going to carry on exactly as they appear.  "Gone Girl" is not a cut-and-dry thriller, it is something far more satirical, and so much more deliciously twisted.  It is already shoving Nancy Grace insideout, but it is also a disturbingly funny take on marriage and gender relations.  The Nick and Amy marriage (cynically referred to as "The Nick and Amy Show" by one of its members) is one of intense repression and distrust.  They are both wearing a false mask.  But will they like what they see once those masks come off?  In the first act you are unsure of whether Nick actually kidnapped or even murdered Amy.  It only grow more perverse from there.

Open-mic night at the media circus.
21st century David Fincher has been fond of very cleanly shot movies, and "Gone Girl" is no different.  This movie is so immaculate that it becomes strangely clinical.  The cinematography is almost passive aggressive.  It is the incessantly pleasant voice a shrewish wife will use to slowly torture the husband who forgot to take out the trash.  Trent Reznor's score adds to the mood.  It is all low hums and entirely forgettable undertones.  The music clearly does its job in setting emotions, yet it is so lacking in the little personal details or creatively that are required for true artistry that it becomes unnerving.  Even the art design is hiding itself from us, holding itself back into the shadowy color scheme.

So much of "Gone Girl"'s success comes from the layers of the narrative unfolding outward; of illuminating the muted hues in every scene.  The first act of the movie is divided between the present, where Nick is working with the cops to find his wife, and flashbacks to when Nick and Amy first met, narrated through Amy's journal.  It all seems like such a magical romance.  Two pieces of the great endless puzzle that is humanity fitting together so perfectly.  And then in the present Nick cannot even name a single one of his wife's friends.  He bitterly plays a game of LIFE* with his sister, Margo (the "Leftover"'s Carrie Coon) while complaining about Amy the morning she disappears.  However, things are not as incongruous as them seem.  You have to start to wonder where your information is coming from about this couple, and what possible ulterior motives they might have.

The tragic part of reviewing "Gone Girl" is that my very favorite parts, and the finest moments of acting in this film are all hidden within the deepest layer of spoilers.  Any fans of the book will happily learn that Gillian Flynn, the author of the novel, also wrote the very faithful screenplay.  I can only tell you that the cast starts out well, and becomes absolutely brilliant by the end.  Ben Affleck is excellent as this somewhat dumb man, trapped without a hurricane of sensationalism and rampant rumor.  Rosamund Pike goes from being the perfect girlfriend to revealing a very different side to herself.  Amy's nature is very complex, and Pike manages to capture every side, even the more evil ones, with solid work.  This is one of the best performances of the year.

Can you ever truly love somebody if your eyes are closed?
I think your judgments on these two characters is going to boil down to what gender you sympathize with.  Nick is not a very nice guy.  He's swallow, he's inconsiderate, he's selfish.  Amy is a character whose entire life has been built on fiction and performances.  Her parents deprived her of a childhood in order to sell her life story as a series of children's books called "Amazing Amy", always giving their fictional daughter far more love and affection.  To woo over Nick, Amy recreates herself as the "Cool Girl", a biting comment on modern relationships.  The "Cool Girl" is the girlfriend who will play your video games and won't demand improvements out of her man.  She'll be your best friend and your lover.  But marriages cannot be built on pretending to be somebody you are not.  Something had to give.  Something does.  Some people might see Nick as a monster who deserves what's coming, others will be terrified of Amy.  I think it might be true love.

Once the mysteries of "Gone Girl" are finally pulled open, the last act of this film becomes the blackest of comedies.  David Fincher takes us across genres.  We start at thriller, we branch very close to horror with an extremely creepy character played by Neil Patrick Harris, and the stuntcasted but effective Tyler Perry allows for farce.  However, we conclude at hilarious macabre.  Once the cards are on the table, we are left with a preposterous situation.  Nancy Grace is still watching every moment, and even when you know the truth, you still need to play your part.  The housewives buying your story inside sleazy magazines from the checkout aisle in ShopRite want a happy ending, you have to give it to them.  You never want to incur the wrath of the tabloid press when you don't play your character right.  Read your lines, smile for the camera.

By the end, at least the illusions are gone.   Marriages/relationships, even the successful ones, are usually mysteries to us all.  How well can you actually understand another person?  Well, Nick and Amy understand each other now.  The characters can finally stare at each other in an honest way, for the first time.  No masks, no personas, no schemes, and just enough manipulation to keep everybody on board.  What was the kidnapping, the headlines, the twists, the turns, the murder, all for?  This was all just two people working out their troubles and learning to recognize who the other really was.  Honesty is the foundation of any happy marriage.  "Gone Girl" was couples therapy.

* LIFE, the perfect ironic board game for a failing marriage.


  1. Having had finally gotten around to seeing this yesterday, I can simply say "Wow" after the thing was over. I usually don't mind spoilers, but in this case I am very glad you spoiled as little as you could. Thanks.

  2. Great movie! 5 stars all the way. I will buy the dvd when it comes out. Best Affleck movie for sure.