David Fincher fall movies

Gone Girl Review: A Satire for Our Days

Friday, October 03, 2014 Rob Samuelson

Gone Girl


Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

In our culture, overreaction saturates us. It's everywhere. If you boot up the internet or turn on cable news, you're confronted by face saving to extreme degrees, and you can be coerced into going along with it. Something bad happened in another part of the world and it doesn't actually affect us? Scorched earth policy. Let's get 'em. A drunk celebrity upstaged another celebrity at an awards show? He's a sign of the disintegrating fabric of society. Ben Affleck got cast as Batman? Someone needs to die.

Speaking of Ben Affleck and people dying, let's talk about Gone Girl.

Director David Fincher's latest film internalizes those cultural anxieties and our poor reactions to the surprises life throws at us. Affleck and Rosamund Pike, who turns in a performance that yanks stardom away from the ether, play a married couple with problems. Pike's character, Amy, writes about them in her diary, which provides a running narration for the movie. They get pretty big. Scary big. And then she's gone, which you might suspect would happen given the title of the picture.

But what happened? Where did she go? Is she dead? Did her husband, Nick (Affleck), kill her? What's with him not knowing about her friends, her activities, her blood type, their money problems? Why does he sneak around with a second cell phone?

Cable news makes up its mind quickly. Nick did it. He's a sociopath who couldn't wait to get rid of her. He's the scum of the earth and there is nothing anyone can do to change the story. Case closed.

Then the rest of the movie happens. The audience is clued in to the truth, but Fincher, and novelist-screenwriter Gillian Flynn, are concerned with the way the conversation evolves via the media and the way media manipulates those who are exposed to it in any way, whether through direct consumption or dealing with people who do directly consume it. The longer the cable talking heads harp on the man in question, the easier it gets for the police – personified by the film as investigating officers Kim Dickens (Deadwood) and Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) – to believe that version. The court of public opinion sways them despite some suspicious indications that maybe not all the facts are in.

And it's funny. It's meant to be. This is not the dour, obsessive, Fincher-by-numbers (
Seven, Zodiac) the trailers make it out to be. Fincher and Flynn find each leaked piece of evidence to the press, and the ensuing grasping at narrative straws, to be hilarious. The culture's need to create a narrative, any narrative, is funny to them. Anyone portrayed on a television in this movie is looking to craft a particular story. Even when Nick does a one-on-one interview with a journalist who's out for blood, it's not about him telling his side of the story or trying to get out the truth. He's telling a carefully constructed narrative in order to reach a specific goal. This is not what he does in the “real world” scenes. In those, he's desperately attempting to make sense of a bizarre and unsettling situation while trying not to get caught for lesser misdeeds. But once those bright lights and TV cameras turn on, he's in control and on message, a suave devil. He's playing a role the media predestined for him. Everyone in this TV world has their own role, and each plays it without a hint of remorse for any mistakes made in pursuing those goals. It's all about that creation, that cultivation of story, and not about the truth, which is miles more fascinating.

But it's not just the media that overreacts and manipulates. It is the pair at the heart of story, too. Amy is upset about their move to small-town Missouri after both lost their jobs in New York during the recession, followed by Nick's mother getting sick. Nick manipulates Amy into the move and she “just wish[ed] he'd asked.” Things go south from there. Fights get worse, they stop communicating their thoughts and feelings with each other, and their relationship sours to the point of toxicity. But instead of being honest with themselves and each other, they don't divorce. Amy tries like crazy (key word) to shape and mold Nick, just as she had the previous men in her life, like Neil Patrick Harris's Desi, who is simultaneously eager to do the right thing and menacing nonetheless. Nick retreats into a haze of laziness and resentment, never caring for Amy's day-to-day life, or is she hiding that life from him? For all the talk about how hard they knew marriage would be, the simplest solutions stare them in their faces: either end it all and move on or actually tell each other what bothers them when it bothers them and avoid a festering issue of control and deceit.

But no, Amy and Nick let (force?) disaster, and a media circus, strike before going in the healthiest, safest, most efficient direction.

If you think that doesn't make Gone Girl one of the most dynamic, essential discussions of modern American culture, go improve on it. I'd love to have more great movies to see.

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