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USA 2014
Directed by
David Fincher
145 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Gone Girl

Synopsis: On the fifth wedding anniversary of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) Amy goes missing. Investigating police almost immediately suspect Nick.  He denies any wrong-doing but in America once the media get involved innocence is not enough.

Thrillers often play fast and loose with the laws of probability but shortcomings in real world logic are forgiveable as long as the story ends with an emotionally, psychologically and morally satisfying closure. Director David Fincher’s 1997 film The Game is a very good example of the form.  Gone Girl  is not. Quite the reverse. The incongruity between the formal  elegance of  the story’s resolution and the credulity needed to accept  it leave us feeling dissatisfied.  And yet there is something here, a certain “meta” (to quote, one of its characters, Detective Boney) quality that intrigues.

(Spoiler Alert: if you have not seen the film and want to, you may want to return once having done so).

Let’s first set aside the question of why and how, if they are so cash-strapped, do Nick and Amy live in a well-appointed double storey house and drive a new 4WD, and accept that they are a couple of New Yorkers who have relocated to Nick’s fictional small Missouri home-town after both lost their jobs. Now, after five years of marriage, things are wobbly and Nick is pretty much over Amy. Then she goes missing and Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens), a chirpy sort of gal reminiscent of Marge Gunderson from Fargo, is heading up the investigation.  But when the media get involved Nick goes from being a focus of public sympathy to Suspect Number One.

Scripted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel the first third of the film gives us Nick and Amy’s view of their marriage up to the present moment, his being revealed through events unfolding in  the story’s real time, hers (as she is absent) through recreations of her diary entries.  We also learn that she’s the inspiration for a popular series of children’s books about a high-achieving character, Amazing Amy, created by her psychologist parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes). It is because of this that Amy’s disappearance is not just newsworthy but deserving of a media circus, one being led by a facile female TV host (Missi Pyle).  Nick’s only true supporter is his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon).

Nick is such an agreeable fellow and Amy’s voice-over is so knowing  that it is no surprise when it is revealed that Amy isn’t dead at all but that she’s set up Nick because of, as we find out, his failure to be a satisfactory spouse.  The focus of the film now shifts onto Amy as her plan goes awry and she has to call on the assistance of an old flame, Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), whom she kills in order to make the set-up she created look real and so that she can be re-united with a contrite Nick as a kind of media-massaging personification of her Amazing Amy alter-ego.

It is at this point that the film comes unstuck, firstly by compelling Nick to reunite with a homicidal psychopath (the script contrives to have her fall pregnant thus making Nick feel  honour-bound to stay with her) and secondly, by having the police unquestioningly accept Amy’s clearly bogus story. Even Pike who had been very good until this stage has trouble making credible this supposedly full-blown schizoid, if not clinically split, personality.

Flynn’s script attempts to wrap up all these loose ends as a kind of compendium of instances of amoral pragmatism reflecting the condition of modern American society as Det. Boney claims that it's out of her jurisdiction, Nick goes on the talk-show circuit and gets a book deal, and his lawyer (Tyler Perry) suggest that he and Amy would make great reality TV.  It is simply a bridge too far and so the plot lies on one side of the narrative driveshaft, plausibility on the other, with no connection between the two.

Yet the transparent contortion of our credulity, particularly from such a proficient director, indeed a master of the contemporary thriller, shifts our attention to the meta-level  of the film’s message. From this perspective it appears to be a kind of Trojan Horse for ideas about marriage and Woman as the agent of the libidinally-repressive, socially-determining super-ego. Nick lives in an entirely female universe, one, we are told, which is financially enabled by Amy whilst all the other significant players in his story  -  his mother,  Amy’s mother, the shrewish TV host,  Det, Boney, his sister,  his young girlfriend  - are female. The men - his and Amy’s father and Det Boney’s assistant  - are all inconsequential to this.  The only narratively-functional male in the film is Nick’s lawyer but as he is a hired advocate, in this schemata he has the gender status of eunuch)

Thus the story’s resolution requires, irrespective of real-world logic, that (Amazing) Amy must be re-instated  as both the symbol  and agent of society’s values, ones which are antithetical to Nick’s unacceptable  low-achieving, sexually irresponsible hedonism.  Amy does not find satisfaction in order as such (Desi could have provided  that) but rather it is the over-coming of dis-order which cathects her repressed libidinal energy. She self-protectively demands  the same of Nick.

In this respect Amy is somewhat like Hitchcock’s Norman Bates who similarly developed a deranged alter ego that embodied his repressed sexuality. The difference is that whereas Norman was a perverted loner, Amy embodies socially-approved  aspirational success. 

Thus, it would seem,  for Fincher, Gone Girl functions as a Fatal Attraction-style cautionary tale, with the difference being that  the femaie demon is now a neurotically-controlling spouse.  As much as Amy is the central character, the story is Nick’s.  Hence  the opening shot is taken from his viewpoint as he strokes Amy’s head, wonders if cracking her skull open would enable him to understand  her, and asks the question “what have we done to each other? “.  Fincher returns to the identical composition in the closing shot and adds suggestively  “…and what will we do?”. 

For Fincher, in our post-Romantic age, clearly the traditional marital motto “‘til death us do part” is more disturbing than reassuring. 





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