Review: Gone Girl

Obligatory spoiler warning.  Plot details contained herein.

The margin between the public and private faces we wear has always seemed to interest David Fincher, who is perennially concerned with the inner rot of seemingly shiny surfaces. Thus, his adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel, Gone Girl, is ripe territory for the director. It is the mystery of a seemingly perfect missing wife, and the husband who may be involved with her disappearance.

Gone Girl is, as its many shuffling viewpoints might suggest, a thoroughly postmodern work which is by turns a murder mystery, a relationship drama, and perhaps primarily, a tragedy of unrealistic expectations. Like Fincher's last great film, Zodiac, it uncoils at a serpentine pace; chilling, downbeat, and poisonously humorous in such a way that the laughter often dies in your throat.

Filtered in a coolly distant, grayish light, everything in Nick and Amy Dunne's life has a sort of dull glimmer to it. From the glass-clinking Manhattan soireés where their romance first blooms to the picture-window suburbia of middle America -- they seem like the ideal successful couple. The potboiler material of Gillian Flynn's novel is elegantly reconstructed here, fashioned into some kind of perverse mirror held up to romantic relationships.

Of course, the film is hardly a chamber piece on the foibles of married life, but it does seem to tug at the normality of marriage to suggest a psychosis beneath. It hints at the dozen smaller ways in which we all lie to one another.  In spite of their wry jokes and aversion to stereotype, two individuals dominate, bully, and manipulate each other endlessly. Fincher blends an apparently objective eye with a knowingly overwrought narrative, right down to the symbolic husband/wife clichés. Amy is a J. Crew-wearing, icy blonde perfectionist, and Nick is a blandly handsome slacker -  a philanderer who masks his ego with shuffling diffidence.

And yet, the gendered power dynamic that runs uncontested through Gone Girl is deeply troubling. By reversing the narrative of female victimhood in matters of sexual assault and domestic violence, it undermines the overwhelming extent to which such crime is exacted by men on women. Both the book and the film run close parallels to the horrific 2002 murder of pregnant Californian woman Laci Peterson, where the media circus was shockingly similar. Her husband and convicted murderer Scott Peterson even bears a passing resemblance to Ben Affleck, to nicely tie the meta flavour of Gone Girl to real-world events.

And even with an allusion like this one, the narrative steams straight ahead, presenting women as the driving force behind their own abuse. Amy, with her two elaborately-faked rapes (in which she even damages herself in shocking ways), is like the ultimate male chauvinist imagining of a villainous female. Even the exceptionally creepy Desi, played by Neil Patrick Harris, has his stalker-esque behaviour played down in contrast to the outrageous evil that Amy is capable of.

At a crucial point in the film, Amy justifies herself with Flynn's much-discussed 'Cool Girl' diatribe, taken nearly verbatim from the novel. In an on-the-nose monologue, she angrily talks about what modern men expect of women. Paraphrased, guys want girls to eat cold pizza, drink beer, watch sports, maintain a size 2 and be willing to offer a constant supply of blow jobs. We can feel that Nick, on some level, deserves her wrath - at the very least for being so predictably macho. For a few minutes, it feels as though a righteous streak of feminine anger has elevated Amy into more than a villainous shrew. Yet Fincher pulls the rug out from under her; her actions become so OTT psychotic that any valid statement she makes about gender relations are totally subsumed by that psychosis.

A casual trawl through certain corners of the Internet - Men's Rights websites, to be exact - will reveal some of the disturbing reversals Gone Girl wallows in. The supposition that women can ruin men's lives by falsely accusing them of rape. Or that women can act as victims of domestic violence where they will always get the benefit of the doubt. They can even use pregnancy as a bargaining tool and force men to stay with them out of guilt. Because of this litany of crimes against Nick, what little sympathy we have must remain with him - boring and smug though he is - because his is the side of sanity. Whatever may have been intended, Amy ultimately becomes a Men's Rights Activist's paranoiac vision of a 'conniving bitch' come to life.

Having said that, it's also fair to say that, technically speaking, Fincher is one of the finest commercial directors dealing with genre material today. His emotional intelligence, his pristine sense of construction, his subtlety, and the screenplay's viciously ironic humour - help to elevate Flynn's novel in a teeth-grindingly gruesome way. And in spite of seemingly regressive impulses in Gone Girl, there are odd, winking traces of self-awareness that chafe against simple value judgments. Fincher is a purposeful director; little onscreen seems accidental.

Chiefly, the case against Nick plays out as an uninterrupted news cycle, forcing him to undergo a trial-by-media that is mostly a matter of expert timing and putting one's best PR face forward. Amy's disappearance is essentially a public witch-hunt, and for both Nick and Amy, a matter of navigating a false persona. That Amy turns out to be much better at this than Nick - in spite of Nick's hotshot defense attorney - is telling.

It might be easy for Amy to hide who she is because she's a psychopath; but it might also be easy for Amy to hide who she is because she's used to it. She's a woman, after all.

Now Showing at Cineworld Nottingham + Broadway Cinema Nottingham


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