What do you get if you mix Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage with Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and put it in a modern post-recession day and age? The answer is: Fincher’s Gone Girl, superbly adapted for screen by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote a novel by the same name. And, having read the novel, I can easily say that the film works even better than the book – which is not something that happens often (if ever – I haven’t seen an adaptation this good since Haneke’s The Piano Teacher). Like Scenes from a Marriage and Eyes Wide Shut, Gone Girl reveals (to quote Richard Brody from The New Yorker): “the core of unredressed resentment, unfulfilled desire, inescapable duplicity, unrelieved anger, unresolved doubts, unrevealed secrets, and relentless self-abnegation on which the life of a couple depends“. But Gone Girl goes much deeper in exploring the darkest corners of a marriage. Yes, it’s dealing with problems of sexual cooling-off and with the inability to communicate with each other, which results in mutual resentment and finally – in infidelity. But it also explores the problems that arose with recession, with people getting laid off from their jobs, getting their dreams crushed by the economy, having to deal with the unemployment and money issues. What will all the compromises and sacrifices do to a semi-successful couple accustomed to a certain lifestyle that is forced to move from their luxurious New York apartment to a god-forsaken town in Missouri? Nothing good can come of it. Especially if one of the partners is a pathological narcissist and borderline psychopath.
The spouses we’re talking about are Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck’s best role to date) and Amy Elliott Dunne (brilliantly played by Rosamund Pike – a performance you won’t easily forget). The dual narrative introduces us to two (entirely different) perspectives of their marriage: one story, happening in the present time where Amy mysteriously disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, is from Nick’s point of view, and the other, happening in the past, is full of segments from Amy’s diary, that introduces us to how the couple met, how they fell in love and how they were (almost too) happy until the economy screwed them over and they started to blame each other for the boring, mediocre life that their marriage had become. But the stories they’re telling are somehow inconsistent. Who is telling the truth? Is it him? Her? Or are they both lying?
This is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long time (this is really Fincher at his best – he hasn’t done a film this good for years), which is why you should stop reading to avoid any possible spoilers if you haven’t yet read the book or watched the film!
The answer is: they’re both lying. There’s no good guy/bad guy dichotomy here – there is no one you could root for. They’re both bad people – and they’re surrounded by people who seem to be even worse. He’s a liar and a cheater and she’s a porcelain-looking psychopathic femme fatale, a real bad-ass villain. All that drives her is vengeance towards her cheating husband, if not towards all men that ever hurt her – which makes her kind of a modern-life Medea. I’ve read over and over again about the problematic misogyny in this film – and yes, I agree. This film “depicts a men’s rights activist’s worst nightmare come to vicious, bleeding life“, as Todd VanDerWerff discuses in his article:
Amy Elliott Dunne is a woman who fakes rape to get men who displease her punished, aims to control her husband to the slightest gesture, and reacts to the news that said husband is cheating on her by faking her own death and framing him for the murder. But open up Gone Girl and dig around in its guts, and you find something surprising. This is perhaps the most feminist mainstream movie in years, a forthright depiction of the ways that society controls women and forces them into certain roles, then lets men basically do whatever they want. Amy Dunne might be a monster, but she’s no sui generis psychopath. No, she’s Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together by a husband, parents, and a social order that demanded she be certain things, rather than who she really was. And in destroying her husband’s life, she’s symbolically taking back power for women everywhere.
Amy’s childhood story (that we get to know through her diary flashbacks) somehow explains her crazy reaction to her husband’s infidelity. She’s an only child of famous authors of children’s book series Amazing Amy; series that was inspired by her life. Not just inspired, but (to some extend) copied, with just one (but crucial) difference – Amazing Amy always did everything right, while the Real Amy had flaws and sometimes didn’t manage to exceed in everything she did. It’s clear that her parents wanted a daughter that would be as smart and successful as Amazing Amy. Considering all that, it is actually no surprise that she gradually became a person without her own identity, always acting in a way she thought the other person wanted her to act. Which is why she became a Cool Girl when she met Nick – she became the exact person he wanted her to be. But the act couldn’t last forever – because when you’re married to someone, all the masks we’re wearing eventually come off.
What we’re dealing with here is therefore not so much misogyny as it is misanthropy – Gone Girl is a very pessimistic, cynical portrayal of human relationships. Yes, I know, everything is exaggerated to the point it’s almost satirical, but the message is still clear: we’re all wearing masks and there is no way you can ever really know another person. It doesn’t matter if it’s your spouse, sister, daughter or a neighbour. We’re all playing a role, all the time (sometimes even different roles, depending on the company we’re in), we’re all putting on an act.
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry
Running Time: 149 minutes
List of references:
- Brody, Richard. 2014. David Fincher’s Portrait of a Marriage. Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/david-finchers-portrait-marriage
- VanDerWerff, Todd. 2014. Gone Girl is the most feminist mainstream movie in years. Available at: http://www.vox.com/2014/10/6/6905475/gone-girl-feminist-movie-david-fincher