What is marriage?
In the newest effort by director David Fincher, it is both a mystery and a chance to engage another person in a sustained and obsessive combat masquerading as love, or what both parties believe to be a reasonable facsimile thereof. In consenting torture, I thee wed.
Fincher’s been down this road before, except he’s mostly done it with marginal, left-of-field characters from the anti-social and messianic geeks of "The Social Network," the dissident hacker turned angel of feminist vengeance in "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and even further back with the reporter turned serial killer detective Robert Graysmith in "Zodiac," or the space monkeys of "Fight Club." This new revel into darkness takes Fincher’s surgical eye and turns it to the social center, on the institution of matrimony.
Sounds too mainstream? With Gillian Flynn’s novel (the author also dovetails with screenwriting duties) of the same title there’s no need to worry. The plot is a wonderfully twisted adaptation from page to screen about husbands and wives tearing each other apart in a suburban, multimedia brouhaha.
Suffice to say that the bare bones of the story read thus: It’s Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) fifth wedding anniversary, the happy, overachiever married couple who owns the meta-referencing The Bar in town. Nick finds signs of a fight when he gets home and he reports that Amy has gone missing. The local PD sends Det. Ronda Boney (Kim Dickens) to take notes and clues at the Dunne’s house and finds suspicious signs of foul play. Under pressure from the police and growing media attention, Nick's portrait of a blissful union with Amy (the inspiration for a line of children’s books in the “Amazing Amy” series authored by her father) steadily falls into pieces and thence into ruin. Soon his mistimed lies and overall strange conduct reveals too many inconsistencies. The ensuing frenzy from the neighborhood and the national press get him embroiled in his wife’s own disappearance as a suspect. So: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? If not, where is she?
I’ve been told by those who’ve read the book that the ending (and Ms. Flynn has confessed as much in media interviews) is fairly different so we won’t even attempt to tackle the material with that in mind. Plus, the plot twists alone (of which there are about four major ones) will be hella difficult not to reveal and still make an in-depth critique.
So what we’ve done here is showcase Flynn’s excellent writing with excerpts as they relate to the film; which will give you unique insight into the characters and events, arming you with a taste of the tone without giving any of the nice, malicious surprises away.
Rest assured, though, that the consummate use of vintage Fincher devices are all here: from the space given to explosive cathartic moments, the lulling of the viewer into sympathizing with a basically flawed and often unheroic characters, up to the denouement full of restrained fury and heretofore unforeseen intensity bubbling to the surface like a volcanic eruption or an orgasm–in fact one of my fave scenes (in what could have justifiably been THE ending) has Nick whispering to Amy’s ear the following words in a mix of “Hail Hydra!”, relief, and odium normally reserved for child pornographers and religious zealots: “You. Fucking. Bitch.”
In the media notes, it’s revealed that Fincher took, on average, as many as 50 takes for each scene. So aside from stellar directorial vision that vacillates from the tense, constricting confines of a suburbia that Nick finds himself in, and the wide open spaces and liberation (no matter how much it’s at her husband’s expense) that Amy travels through, the two other things that stand out in this movie are the casting and the soundtrack.
Affleck and Pike have genuine "Breaking Bad"-level chemistry and have elevated their performances to the equal of a thespian fusillade; especially Pike, who’s star will become ascendant like never before with her depiction of sociopath Stepford wife; a kind of fame she didn’t even get as a Bond Girl. We already knew Affleck was a good actor, but this gives me much hope in his role as the upcoming Batman. Also notable are supporting roles by Tyler Perry as celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, Carrie Coon as Margo, Nick’s twin sister and co-owner of the bar, as well as Kim Dickens as the astute and sympathetic Det. Rhonda Boney, and Almost Famous’s Patrick Fugit as Det. Boney’s partner Officer Jim Gilpin. The only guy who actually falters in the acting is, unusually enough, Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi Collings who reverts to a Barney Stinson-iteration in lieu of misunderstood and ultimately witless stalker.
For the OST, just listen to the samples in Number 6 below to hear for yourself how Trent Reznor and partner-in-sound Atticus Ross have crafted another obra in atmospheric storytelling. If you are interested in such things (like I am), I urge you to get the OST.
"Gone Girl" is both an investigation and indictment into the institution of marriage in a modern, post-convergence setting. Is Amy a sociopath or a righteous feminist exercising her matrimonial privilege for satisfaction and space? Is Nick a simple, cheating bastard or a wife-beater whose thoughts of murder finally led him to brain his wife and unspool her thoughts?
Fincher’s new movie is a manual for the discerning wife on the artful use of Bitch Craft by disappearing into the fade, vanishing incompletely into a limbo without a dead body and yet with whereabouts unknowable. It is also a guide for put-upon husbands of smarter wives about the perils of cheating...and how to give back as good as you get.
That, lovers, is true wedded bliss.
Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, the down on his luck writer who owns the meta-referencing The Bar in town.
His wife, AMY ELLIOT-DUNNE, describes him early in the book: “I smile because he's gorgeous. Distractingly gorgeous, the kind of looks that make your eyes pinwheel, that make you want to just address the elephant—‘You know you're gorgeous, right?’—and move on with the conversation. I bet dudes hate him: He looks like the rich-boy villain in an '80s teen movie—the one who bullies the sensitive misﬁt, the one who will end up with a pie in the puss, the whipped cream wilting his upturned collar as everyone in the cafeteria cheers.”
Later, she reveals to him her true intentions of marrying him: “You are a man. You are an average, lazy, boring, cowardly, woman-fearing man. Without me, that's what you would have kept on being, ad nauseam. But I made you into something. You were the best man you've ever been with me. And you know it. The only time in your life you've ever liked yourself was pretending to be someone I might like.”
Watch out for the cameo role of hottie Emily Ratajkowski. Her role? That, as in the rest of the twisty disclosures, I will keep secret.
As Amy Elliot-Dunne puts it:
“My gosh, Nick, why are you so wonderful to me?'
He was supposed to say: You deserve it. I love you.
But he said,'Because I feel sorry for you.'
'Because every morning you have to wake up and be you.”
Blood is all around and both Nick and Amy have a hankering to spill it.
AMY ELLIOT-DUNNE: “Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxi pad commercial, windex commercial - you'd think all women do is clean and bleed.”
NICK DUNNE: “Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
Perhaps also slightly singed at edges?
Here’s a few more Amazing Amy-isms:
“Most beautiful, good things were done by women people scorn.”
“People want to believe they know other people. Parents want to believe they know their kids. Wives want to believe they know their husbands.”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have created another soundtrack obra like they did for Fincher in "The Social Network" and "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." In "Gone Girl," that meant starting with the film’s time and place amidst economic and social transitions. “We talked about the promise of the Midwest and what’s happened to that part of the American Dream, with all these foreclosed mega-mansions and downtowns that are being abandoned. We talked about the idea that this is a story about people presenting themselves to the world as they wish they could really be, at the same time that things around them are curdling,” Reznor said. “We wanted the sound to be distressed – where everything feels a little beaten up.”
But don’t take our word for it, have a listen:
AMY ELLIOT-DUNNE: “We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”
Tyler Perry as slick and media-savvy celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt personifies both the press-saturated, reality TV-surrealistic landscape that we now find ourselves in, especially in a case as sordid and as juicy as Nick’s and Amy’s. He may be a vain creature of legalese and obfuscation but he’s a necessary one, because as he says about the court of public perception: ”innocent people can’t afford him.”
Have some sympathy for NICK DUNNE: “I had a job for eleven years and then I didn't, it was that fast. All around the country, magazines began shuttering, succumbing to a sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don't work quick enough to blog or link or tweet, basically old, stubborn blowhards) were through. We were like women's hat makers or buggy-whip manufacturers: Our time was done.”
When all else fails, call your ex!
AMY ELLIOT-DUNNE: “I often don't say things out loud, even when I should. I contain and compartmentalize to a disturbing degree: In my belly-basement are hundreds of bottles of rage, despair, fear, but you'd never guess from looking at me.”
At the heart of the rancor and struggle in Nick and Amy’s destructive/implosive relationship is the metaphor/idea/construct of the “Cool Girl.” Who or what is the Cool Girl? Here’s the monologue in its almost fullness.
AMY ELLIOT-DUNNE: “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl...Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.”
Does this girl exist, or is she like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of many Hollywood coming-of-age pablum? You tell us.
“Gone Girl” opens October 8 in all major theaters, from 20th Century Fox.