I saw Gone Girl last night and I very much liked it. David Fincher’s films are among the most beautifully crafted and visually appealing of any director working, and though his stories tend be divisive, I like almost all of them.
That said, the least interesting question that exists in any discussion of art is “Do you like it?” Liking or disliking a work of art rarely begins to explore the value that art objects contain. One can, for example, hate something with every fiber of their being, hate a story and the people in the story and by extension the people who told that story, and that reaction can be the very reason an art object succeeds.
Anyway. It’s safe to say that while I liked, Gone Girl, I also hate Gone Girl.
In case you are unaware: Gone Girl is a mystery about a missing woman. Briefly: on the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy Dunne disappears. Her house has a highly staged scene of violence, and she is believed to be murdered. Her husband Nick Dunne has been having an affair and he is the prime suspect. He seems to know nothing of his wife’s life, and flashes an asshole-smile at all the wrong times.
The story is told in and around the marriage of the Dunnes, in flashback and in journal entries, on the national news, by the townspeople. There are two detectives on the case, and a defense attorney brought in to work with Nick and his twin sister Margot. Around the edges of the story is also the lingering high-school ex-boyfriend of Amy, Desi Collings.
There are many plot contrivances and twists, some successful and others less so. If you know them you know them. If you don’t, none are revealed here.
“We’re so cute,” Amy says, “I want to punch us in the face.”
Every word uttered in Gone Girl is packed with uncertainty. During the film’s first two hours or so there is no violence, only the redoubtable pugilism of words, written and spoken. This is most obvious in the flashbacks, but this is a David Fincher movie about social performance, identity and violence, and such an utterance as Amy’s cannot help but transport us to Fincher’s other movie about social performance, identity and violence: Fight Club.
Amy’s comment is a reminder that David Fincher has a keen sense of humor (Gone Girl is actually one of Fincher’s funnier movies, believe it or not), but also that the worlds he creates are not our own. Gone Girl is, like Fight Club, a fantasy and a satire set in a parallel universe. If you’re not careful, it’s possible to be seduced into seeing the world of Nick and Amy as reflective of our own, but it is not so. The Dunne’s live in the fantasy world of David Fincher, where the sheen of reality is penetrated by a post-modern injection of distinct unreality.
Among some of the critical response to Gone Girl has been the notion that the film is, as Rex Reed put it, “pointless.” Others used similar descriptors that in essence seek to erase any value that might comprise Gone Girl. Kevin Jagernauth called it Fincher’s “slightest film to date.” Wesley Morris called the film “anti-imaginative.”
This isn’t new territory for Fincher; Fight Club was met with a similar (though much more vocal) casual dismissal. But the response from critics in this regard points out how simliar Gone Girl and Fight Club are. Both are social satire, both engage in satire through moments of hyper-violence, and both have third acts that elucidate the myths of their foundations through plot twists that for many are simply untenable.
As a rule, whenever a social-satire is reviewed with such vitriol by Rex Reed (he really really hated this one, calling it “Preposterous, illogical, senselessly over-plotted and artificial as a ceramic artichoke) you know it’s something you gotta go see.
Amy’s speech about The Cool Girl is acerbic and alive. As a social critique its scathing and as a character moment it is one of the few rich developments for Amy. It makes me want to read the book.
But I probably won’t.
In description, Gone Girl might seem like a drama–a married woman disappears on her fifth anniversary and her husband is suspected of murdering her; did he do it? is she dead? detectives are on the case–but as a David Fincher film Gone Girl doesn’t really make sense as a drama. It is not a movie about understanding a relationship in order to solve a crime. It is not about Nick and Amy trying to “make it work.”
The notion of “making it work” is actually the comic underpinning of Gone Girl. Viewers are able, encouraged even, to hold on to the story detail that “this marriage was good once” and correlate their own lives around it, even as they watch the entire historical/romantic/practical/social notion of the word “marriage” crumble around Amy and Nick.
Before Gone Girl I was not aware of the actress Carrie Coon, who plays Margot Dunne, Nick Dunne’s twin sister. Her performance was memorable in what is probably the film’s most complicated role. I look forward to searching out her work.
The images that pass on-screen in a David Fincher film are a lesson not only in how to craft a movie, but how to do so in dialogue with the history of the art form itself.
Film is a conversation and few participants are more eager to interact than David Fincher.
The impulse to get away from the world is one of the reasons audiences end up hating David Fincher’s films. He is a hate-love director, the kind whose work is indisputably accomplished but often reviled. This is because Fincher films require the audience linger in the emotional presence of individuals we dislike. We are required to swim in the river of evil and when we get out on the other side we must remain soaked to the bone.
Gone Girl makes it clear immediately that we are in the realm of unpleasant fiction. The film opens with voice-over carrying us into the mind of Nick Dunne: “When I think of my wife, I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains, trying to get answers.” Amy and Nick are essentially deplorable even before the machinations of this plot unfold, and in the wake of what happens, neither become even momentarily redeemable.
I maintain that Gone Girl doesn’t make sense as a drama. It does not reflect our world, nor does it pretend to be a portrait of a real marriage. But if this is so, then what kind of movie is it? Leaving the theater my mind searched the interconnecting lines of movie history and the pulses sent from Gone Girl did not reach out to other difficult domestic dramas exploring marriage and the darker instincts of human psyche, like Revolutionary Road.
They shot instead towards Under the Skin and The Shining. I cannot shake the comparison of Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne to that of Scarlett Johansson in Jonathon Glazer’s Under the Skin. That too is a “difficult movie to watch;” a story of violence in a fantasy world that resembles our own. It stars a woman who has little to no motive for her action. Under the Skin resembles Gone Girl less in story than in the visual and emotional construction. What befalls the women in these movies is not similar, but the spirit of the both performance and direction provides a valuable analog.
If you best want to re-create that feeling in your stomach that comes after watching Gone Girl, go to the domestic stories of the horror genre.
The anxieties upon which David Fincher builds his movie are present in the real world. Hopelessness in marriage, the impulse to violence, domestic abuse, the reality TV-style exploitation of contemporary news media, these things are all intertwined with Gone Girl. These are issues that are prevalent in life and for many the very things viewers want to escape when they go to the movies.
The reason I hate Gone Girl is the same reason Nick hates Amy: he never gets inside her brain. He never gets his answers. Finally, we are left wholly unsatisfied by the words that are spoken and the person who speaks them: “That’s marriage.” The reason I like Gone Girl is the same: we never get answers, and are haunted by the horrible words that are hanging over the film: “That’s marriage.”