So apart from the minor fiasco of The Grandmaster, I haven’t been to the cinema for some time. The latest Woody offering, with its luke-warm reviews, was not particularly compelling, and ultimately was not even on for long enough for me to ponder seeing it; and I thought I’d skip the latest Ninja Turtles reboot. However, for some reason Gone Girl grabbed my attention a few weeks ago. It seems to have enjoyed a cross-over from populist blockbuster to cultural discussion point, and was certainly intriguing enough for me to want to see it for myself.
I have to say that knowing I’d never read the Gone Girl book, I did read a bit about it; which meant that I went into the film already aware of the big twist involving unreliable narrators. I’m not sure that this really affected by enjoyment of the film though, as the reveal is relatively early on. So, Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy (a cuddly Ben Affleck and a brittle Rosamund Pike), whose perfect New York City marriage starts to disintegrate when they lose their jobs, and move back to Nick’s Nowheresville home town. When Amy suddenly disappears on their wedding anniversary, Nick makes a quick transition from cute, concerned husband, to target of vitriol, and eventually to murder suspect. Gone Girl does an excellent job of satirising the popular media, with its rolling news and random Twitter comments. On the evidence of an accidental loony grin by an appeal poster, suspicions about Nick start to arise, fuelled by random ‘news’ hosts and expert commentators who have never met him. But as you start to sympathise with Nick, it turns out that he’s not actually squeaky clean and has been having an affair with one of his teenage students. It then emerges that nothing about Nick and Amy’s life is really what it seems.
The director, David Fincher, moves the story of Gone Girl along at a perfect pace, and for a two and a half hour long film it not did feel at all like an endurance. Many elements of Gone Girl contain some quite caustic swipes at aspects of contemporary society, which I thought were done very well, but at the end of the film my immediate reaction was that it was pretty stupid (if enjoyable). The central premise, though interesting, seemed to have delivered a plot full of holes; and what I thought might be a considered analysis of a modern marriage seemed to have two main characters who were in the categories of cute but dumb (him) or psycho bitch (her). However, after overnight reflection, I have amended my opinion somewhat. I still don’t think that Gone Girl is an amazing film, but it does have a lot more subtlety to it than some of final blood-soaked drama would lead you believe. So here are some additional thoughts (spoilers ahead).
Having seen a few David Fincher films, I am aware that there are number of tropes and visual themes that run through his work. I have missed all the food references though, so apparently when a Dunkin Donuts coffee is prominently in shot this is not annoying product placement (as I thought) but a purposeful visual clue. The aspect that I did pick up on though, was Amy’s relationship with food. I noted that whenever she is pleased or content she is eating (usually sweet things)- in the car post disappearance and in disguise at the motel it appears to be kitkats; and watching Nick making his appeal to her whilst at Desi’s it appears to be a creme brulee type pudding (two of them in fact); she also refers, in her litany of complaints about Nick/(all men?), to staying a size 2 while he eats junk. Once free of Nick, Amy indulges herself with food, in way that appears to be quite gender-specific. I don’t think this is particularly misogynistic, but it does seem to make a subtle point about women and their relationship with food, as a sideline to the main plot of the film. Mid-way through the film, Amy launches into her justification of why she had to punish Nick, and the theme of having to be the ‘cool girl’ emerges. Amy feels that she/(all women?) has had to pretend to be something other than herself whilst with Nick; the cool girl who loves sports, eats junk food (but stays slim- see above), and laughs at his stupid jokes- all just to keep the interest of her man. This monologue is filmed with Amy at the wheel of her car, and at mentions of ‘cool girls’ Fincher cuts to shots of other women in surrounding cars, laughing, acting vaguely goofy, implying they are the cool girls Amy despises. And yet, none of these women are with men. They are all either alone or with other women. I would suggest that Fincher is purposefully undermining Amy’s worldview- these women aren’t being ‘cool girls’ to impress the men around them, they just are cool girls. For me this scene undermined Amy as a potential feminist crusader, righting male injustice, and started to reveal her as the non-empathetic psychopath that she is.
Since watching Gone Girl, I have also learnt that Fincher is a big Hitchcock fan. Having recently read a pretty comprehensive Hitchcock biography, one of things that emerges strongly is that the master of suspense really wasn’t very bothered about plots or troublesome plot holes. For Hitchcock, it was all about the visual look of the film and the effect on the audience. I sense that Fincher is of this school too. There are numerous logical problems with Amy’s story, for example wouldn’t the security footage show her arriving (willing) at Desi’s after several days, rather than the ‘kidnapping’ she alleges? But Fincher does not dwell on any of these as explaining them away would be pointless and ruin the pacing of the film. You basically have to accept this story at face value and go along for the ride with it. I also think Amy’s icy blonde look might be reference to Hitchcock too. When Amy disguises herself with drab, brown hair, she is weakened- robbed at her motel, and having to call former boyfriend Desi in distress. At her blondest she masterminds a fiendishly complex revenge plan, murders her most ardent admirer, and returns to Nick as part of a miracle.
I don’t think any of this makes Gone Girl an amazing film. It is still a very schlocky, kind of stupid, but enjoyable film. But I do think there are several more layers to it than are immediately visible, and picking through them has been fun.