Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Gone Girl

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 7:52 am—Film

Gone Girl (USA 2014, Drama/Mystery/Thriller), Writer: Gillian Flynn; Director: David Fincher

[Spoiler Alert: I touch on some of the film’s pivotal plot points, although I keep the ending itself a bit vague. Unless you’ve read the book, you may want to see Gone Girl before reading this entry. If not, consider yourself warned.]

I haven’t read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the book on which David Fincher’s latest film is based. From what I gather, the book contains many of the elements I found lacking in the movie, so maybe it would be best if I read the novel before writing this review. But I’m not sure when I’ll get to it, and given that it’s been nearly four months since my last confession—just kidding, my last blog entry—I’m going for it.

In the film, Gone Girl examines what happens when Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), and fingers start pointing at her husband.

I’ll just come out with it: I didn’t love the movie as much as most people seem to. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to admire about Gone Girl. It’s skillfully shot, and features a buffet of solid performances, including one of Affleck’s strongest, and another stellar turn from Pike, who always impresses (see the Barney’s Version review from February 2011). Fincher has a particular gift for drawing out greatness from his actors.

The director also has the smarts to keep collaborating with artists who can deliver. Fincher brings his The Social Network (see The Social Network review from October 2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo composers, Trent Reznor and Attitus Ross, back to score Gone Girl, adding an extra layer of creepiness. (I’m playing the soundtrack while writing this and it’s really affecting my mood.)

Technically and artistically, Gone Girl gets a lot right. My issues with the film have more to do with the story itself and the messages it presents.

From the opening shot of the back of Amy’s head (which plays out as Nick explains in voiceover that he often thinks of cracking open her skull to see what really goes on in her mind) and the film’s abrupt conclusion, you get the impression that Gone Girl purports to explore how marriage, or merely coupledom, perverts us as people, makes us put on masks and pretend to be something other than what we truly are—or even want to be. But much of the rest of the film undermines that notion, treading instead into murky and even dangerous waters that have a sexist undertow, and that made me more than a little uncomfortable.

[Again, SPOILER ALERT!]

As Nick and the police piece together what could have happened to Amy, we learn that she staged her abduction, and presumed murder, to frame her husband as a means of revenge for his cheating (and generally ruining her life, as she sees it).

In some ways, Gone Girl appears to explore the way women are trapped into fulfilling ideas of who they’re supposed to become, for their partners, their parents, and society at large. There is a strong case to be made there, but in this case, I’m not buying it.

If we’re going to have a strong female character who bucks the trend and wants to take over the reins on a system that tries to manipulate her, why does she have to be a homicidal lunatic with antisocial personality disorder? It would be nice to see that strong woman as someone who can’t so easily be discredited.

It’s interesting that Flynn adapted her own novel for the screen. I’d like to know what direction she was given on which parts to remove for the script, and why efforts were made to align the audience’s sympathies more with Nick than with Amy. My elder sister, who read the book and saw the movie, says the novel portrays both Nick and Amy as sociopathic, rather than casting Nick as the victim, and creates a more believable scenario in which they could stay together as a couple. For me, that plausibility is sorely lacking in the film.

As it becomes clear that Amy staged her abduction, is also comes to light that this isn’t her first time up to bat. She has a history of manipulating and framing men, including fabricating a rape to set up an ex-boyfriend. So she certainly isn’t above contriving domestic abuse at Nick’s hand, via false diary entries left for police to discover (all part of a wedding anniversary treasure hunt, an ode to marital romps gone awry; it’s all fun and games until someone stages a kidnapping and murder).

Amy’s actions are among the ugliest a woman can commit; they discredit the many women who legitimately claim abuse, and malign men who aren’t guilty—at least not of the vile crimes she accuses them.

Last year’s excellent Danish film The Hunt (see The Hunt review from August 2013) offers a far more sensitive exploration of a man falsely accused, and takes pains to look at why those accusations might come about without any real malice. Then again, that film examines very different sociological phenomena than Fincher’s thriller.

In Gone Girl, it seems as if we’re meant to follow along as the filmmakers investigate gender roles, as well as the very fabric of marriage itself. But their investigation lacks substance, and the emphasis on Amy’s “evil,” for lack of a better word, doesn’t help the cause.

There are fleeting examples of Nick’s father being a misogynist, but his role feels like an underdeveloped holdover from the novel. Nick’s mother has passed away, so we don’t get to see his parents’ dynamic. Maybe Nick’s father’s behaviour is meant to imply that history repeats itself in Nick and Amy—and that Nick will go on to become his father—but the film has too many other storylines to pursue, and that one falls by the wayside.

Amy’s parents factor in more prominently. Their hugely successful book series, Amazing Amy, is based on Amy herself, hijacking her life for profit (not to mention passive-aggressively shaming her for not living up to expectations). Her parents “improve upon” her milestones; real-life Amy quits the violin, so fictional Amy sticks with the instrument and turns out to be a prodigy. Perhaps worst of all, fictional Amy walks down the aisle in Amazing Amy and the Big Day, while regular ol’ Amy remains unmarried into her 30s.

That kind of family dysfunction goes a long way toward explaining adult Amy, and I would have liked to see it better dissected. (There isn’t time, though; Gone Girl is already too long and crams in too much.) But it seems clear that it’s Amy’s parents, not her husband, who set her down the path of striving for impossible standards, constantly wrestling with the knowledge that she can never be good enough.

Again, this might also be a case of history doomed to repeat itself, but the impact of Amy’s parents’ marriage and how it distorted their child, as opposed to their parenting itself, isn’t properly examined. I suspect this is better explored in the book, but for now, I can only go by the film, and it doesn’t make a clear case for her parents’ marriage as a culprit in Amy’s dark ways.

What is clear is that Nick and Amy’s marriage never stood a chance. Aside from Amy’s falsified account of Nick’s abuse, his only real affront against her is being unfaithful. He comes across as a good-enough guy who hit rock bottom when he and Amy lost their jobs, and didn’t adjust well when they had to relocate to the burbs when his mother got ill. (The only exception is a brief moment of violence at the end of the movie, but that comes as a result of Amy’s heinous manipulations and murderous ways, so can’t be used to justify her behaviour.)

Amy, on the other hand, distorts the truth and deliberately misrepresents herself from the beginning. She acknowledges that she played the role of “Cool Girl”—a woman who waxes her nether regions and “eats cold pizza while remaining a size 2”—because she knew right away that was the kind of girl Nick wanted. Yes, that is one of the roles imposed on women in our culture, but here, Amy uses it to her advantage, manipulating Nick to get what she wants and dooming their relationship by rooting it in falsity. Becoming “Cool Girl” was her deception; it hardly seems fair to blame that on men or marriage, particularly when she never gave Nick the opportunity to know the “real” her (if Amy even knows who that is).

Speaking of prescribed roles for women, it’s telling that Nick’s affair is with his barely-legal student Andie, who fits perfectly into the “busty and libidinous co-ed” category. Adding even more pack to the punch (or insult to injury?), Andie is played by Emily Ratajkowski, who starred in Robin Thicke’s frightening and asinine display of sexism and ignorance, otherwise known as Blurred Lines (see the Don Jon review from September 2013 for more on this). I don’t know if her casting was a deliberate reference to the objectification of women, but regardless, it’s hard not to reflect on that, given the context.

So Andie is played by Ratajkowski, Nick is played by Amy, Amy is (eventually and briefly) played by Nick, the public is played by the media; in Gone Girl, everyone gets played. But Amy clearly emerges as the winner, and I think that’s a problem. With the Dunnes—with men and women—positioned as rivals rather than partners, there’s no room for equality or respect. It’s a dangerous game, and not one I want to play.

If Gone Girl is meant to explore and expose gender issues and societal expectations, it needs to present a more balanced scenario—one that doesn’t victimize Nick or vilify Amy. The film starts with a fascinating premise, and maybe the book does a better job of exploring it. But as the movie shows it, there’s too much emphasis on the thriller side of the narrative, and not enough insightful reflection on marriage, gender roles, and how both men and women perpetuate stereotypes. Instead, Gone Girl presents a problematic dynamic between a man and a woman; or really, between Amy and anyone unfortunate enough to cross her path.

It isn’t even that I didn’t like the film. It’s that its depiction of Amy is so disturbing and potentially harmful, and that it wastes an opportunity to present a more balanced and perceptive exploration of gender expectations and relationships.

Gone Girl was produced by Reese Witherspoon’s company Pacific Standard, which is also behind the upcoming Wild, another adaptation of a woman’s novel, though this time autobiographical (and one I’m really looking forward to seeing, at Cinemablographer’s wholehearted endorsement). I saw a clip of Witherspoon endorsing the two films and saying that she plans to continue depicting such strong female characters. Let’s hope that in the future, they’re less vindictive, sadistic and manipulative than Amy.

*            *            *

In tribute to the greatness of Reznor and Ross’ soundtrack, a couple other musical references…

It was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Brilliant Disguise’ that ultimately prompted me to write a review of Gone Girl:

I want to read your mind
To know just what I’ve got in this new thing I’ve found
So tell me what I see
When I look in your eyes
Is that you baby
Or just a brilliant disguise

I want to know if it’s you I don’t trust
‘Cause I damn sure don’t trust myself

Now you play the loving woman
I’ll play the faithful man
But just don’t look too close
Into the palm of my hand
We stood at the altar
The gypsy swore our future was bright
But come the wee wee hours
Well maybe baby the gypsy lied
So when you look at me
You better look hard and look twice
Is that me baby
Or just a brilliant disguise

And another reference, regarding women who turn conventions on their heads: Tori Amos’ album Strange Little Girls, covering and repurposing a series of songs written by men. Here’s her take on I’m Not In Love by 10cc.

4 Responses

  1. Pat

    Interesting thoughts! I’d be really intrigued to hear more if you read the book, because my relationship with Nick and Amy changed dramatically with the film. I was totally on Amy’s side while reading the book (even after the twist), but I was on Nick’s throughout all of the film. And I didn’t buy the ending of the book at all, but I think it works in the film because Nick seems to accept a degree of culpability. (re: Affleck’s line reading of ‘We’re partners in crime’)… For all its faults, ‘Gone Girl’ is quite the conversation piece! (And yes, make sure to see ‘Wild’!!!)

  2. Vanessa

    Your review really articulates well the limits of the movie and there are similar limits with the book. I picked this book up for light reading during a getaway weekend celebrating my first wedding anniversary. :):) Amy the main character is really a psychotic sociopath while I think Nick is “just” a sociopath. I like how you explore how this movie (or novel) could be more, very thought provoking.

  3. Rebecca

    Great review. Two points: most reviewers who touch on the book/movie disjoint say that Fincher, rightly on wrongly, chose to make Nick the narrator of the movie, a choice that in a visual format almost inevitably lends him authority (unless you’re willing to indulge in sitcom-esque flashbacks.) The books establishes them both as unreliable narrators. Second point is that in the book Amy uses the exact techniques to manipulate and terrorize a female classmate – who remains scarred decades later – so it’s less of a “scary bitch lies about abuse because the wimminz do that to men” and more of an equal opportunity emotional terrorism. It was perhaps a poor choice to use the NY friend she accused of rape, instead of the female friend she had expelled for stalking, if Fincher felt he had to omit one vignette.

  4. amanda

    Thanks for joining the conversation, all!

    Rebecca, good points! It definitely sounds like the book is more fair, nuanced, interesting, etc. Obviously they couldn’t pack everything the book covers into the film, but it seems as if they could have made better choices to avoid maligning the woman/women and fueling the battle of the sexes. (Ugh.)

    Vanessa, lovely choice for anniversary reading. 🙂

    Pat, I do think I should read the book, after all this. Who knows, maybe I’ll insert an addendum afterwards. 😉 Interesting that you found the film’s ending believable. I didn’t find Nick’s shift to be plausible; it happened too quickly. Definitely felt like something that was rushed in the film, but developed better in the book.

    Wild is on my radar, no worries there! I was debating whether to read the book first, but heard mixed reviews. Curious to know whether you recommend the read.

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