Saturday, 4 October 2014

Gone Girl

Lurid murders, deceptions and betrayals, shocking twists – David Fincher is in familiar territory adapting Gillian Flynn’s hit novel Gone Girl. Following an unnecessary remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the ill-fittingly twee Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it’s a relief to see that Fincher is still masterful when it comes to noirish thrillers like this.

As reflected by its two-and-a-half-hour running time – which is nonetheless gripping thanks to a zippy pace and frequent twists – Fincher has been careful to retain as much of the source material as possible, whilst also solving the potential narrative problems of telling the story on-screen.

In the first section of the film, for instance, the contrasting points of view from husband Nick (Ben Affleck) and wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) are depicted through a division of scenes between the present, where he react to her  apparent abduction, and in the past via her diary entries, which document the earlier times of their relationship and marriage. Whereas Amy’s recollections present an idyllic view of love and marriage, it’s clear from Nick’s eerily cold, almost indifferent reaction to her disappearance that this early passion has since rapidly dissolved.

This first part of the film expertly builds tension as suspicion builds over Nick that he may in fact be responsible for the abduction. But this mystery is resolved surprisingly early, and the narrative focus lurches from ‘whodunit?’ to ‘what-happens-next?’, upon which proceedings become more and more melodramatic.

It’s important to remember this melodramatic tone Gone Girl appropriates when considering the question of misogyny in the film. An ungenerous reading of the film would state that it defends men who have been accused of violent crime, whilst redirecting the blame towards women via the worst kind of psycho-bitch, bunny-boiler stereotype.  

But the characters and plot are handled in a far more nuanced way than this reading suggests, while exaggeration and melodrama render it far more satirical than realistic. Instead, the film seems to be documenting a paranoid male fear of empowered women who call him out on his mistreatment of his spouse.

Tellingly, virtually all of the characters who interrogate him are women: the shrewd detective Rhonda investigating the disappearance (Kim Dickens), his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon), the witch hunt-inducing news network host (Missi Pyle), his mother-in-law (Lisa Barnes), the formidable TV interviewer (Sela Ward). Most are portrayed sympathetically and Rhonda and Margot in particular are drawn as multi-dimensional, so that when Nick utters the line ‘I'm so sick and tired of being picked apart by women’, it sounds too self-conscious on the film’s part to be taken as a sexist stance against nagging women.

When defending herself against accusations of misogyny, author of the novel Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay) explains how she has ‘grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books’, and ‘mourns the lack of female villains’. It is certainly refreshing to see a woman given license to behave as villainously as, say, Kevin Spacey in Fincher’s Seven, yet she still retains certain clichéd traits that have burdened female characters for years – she twice resorts to the problematic ploy of faking sexual assault, while her motives are defined entirely by her relation to other men. 

It says a lot for the layers in Gone Girl that this question of misogyny is just one of several issues asking to be picked over. There’s a wry satire of media circuses and the way broadcast journalists like Nancy Grace work, and of course the institution of marriage and the delusions that surround it is a very prominent theme. With so much to ponder over after leaving the cinema, there’s plenty of substance to back up the glossy style and crowd-pleasing thrills. 


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