Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gone Girl

Keeping Up Appearances in the Tender Trap (Sir Reality in the State of Nancy Grace)
"We're So Cute I Could Just Punch Us in the Face"

One can see where people are enthusiastic about Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn's story of a missing person investigation.  It's so full of good ideas and banal dialogue and frightening concepts one doesn't know whether to hate it or love it.

It has gotten a comfortable fit for a director of the movie version from that master of discomfiture, David Fincher, who always manages to make movies that get under your skin and irritate, no matter the genre. Even a romance like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has its seriously icky side the way Fincher envisions it.

And Gone Girl is hardly a romance, although the subject of marriage is prevalent throughout, but not in the form of Holy Matrimony. Everything about the marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne is unholy. As attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry in probably his best performance outside of Madea) says "You two are the most fucked up people I've ever met, and I deal with fucked up people for a living."

Even the first words of Nick's narration creep you out: "When I think of my wife, I think of her head...and what's inside it. I think about cracking her skull, unspooling her brains and sifting through it, trying to pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking?  What are you feeling?  What have we done to each other?  What will we do?"

"What have we done to each other?  What will we do?"
It's July 5th, the day after Independence Day (or "Co-dependence Day" as I call it) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) puts out the garbage, surveys his street and drives to the local bar he owns (well, not really) with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) to talk about what he's going to get his wife Amy for their anniversary, and generally do some grousing about how lousy their marriage (five years in) is. He bitches and moans over a bourbon first thing in the morning, then drives home.

His front door is open and the cat's out. He goes into the living room and a glass table is shattered and a hassock overturned. Nothing's stolen.  

But his wife Amy is gone.

"Ready, aim...."
The police come at Nick's calling and do a forensics scan. The police investigator (Kim Dickens, who's terrific) does a cursory scan of the place, finds it suspicious and puts post-it notes on discreet blood-spatters in the house. A more thorough scrubbing of the place shows that there's been a lot of blood lost that has been cleaned up, indicating that there has been fouler play than what is immediately apparent. Nick falls under suspicion, although he is genuinely baffled by the circumstances.
"Smile for the cameras" might not be the best thing to do...
Amy's parents from New York (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) go into over-drive. Amy was the inspiration for a series of well-selling children's books—"Amazing Amy"—and their public media campaign to find Amy Dunne has plenty of opportunity for cross-promotional purposes and escalates the search to national attention. Nick's callow behavior before the cameras invites public speculation and suspicion and pretty soon, he's being pilloried in the press, especially when lookeeloo's and buttinski neighbors start sticking cameras and microphones and themselves into the proceedings. It doesn't help that Nick has been having an affair with one of his students (Emily Ratajkowski) and his public appearances pleading for the return of Amy do not sit well with her. Her revelations are (as they say in the press) "a bombshell" for which strategies need to be planned
Supermodel Ratajkowski "dressed like a Mennonite"
And Amy is still missing. The speculation fuels even more suspicions with the police. And evidence begins to mount up for motive and means that speak of Nick's secret life and their troubled marriage. "You ever hear the expression the simplest answer is often the correct one?" asks unsympathetic investigator Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit). "Actually," says detective Rhonda Boney "I have never found that to be true."
Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes say in "The Sign of Four" "...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." In the age of the 24 hour news-cycle, truth does not matter as much as filling up dead air-time. Those outlets spew as much improbability as they can in their race to get the story first. So, CNN filled their valuable airwaves about missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with speculation about black holes and other conspiracy theories, The New York police commissioner held a press conference saying that the Aurora, Colorado movie shooter was costumed like "The Joker" (he wasn't, and what does a NYPD commissioner know about Aurora, Colorado?). Bloviating talk-show hosts opine viciously about the actions of the parents of any missing child. The regularity with which purported news organizations "get it wrong" in the first few hours of an event are legion, so much so that the NPR press-critique show "On the Media" has come up with something called "The Breaking News Consumer Handbook" that offers tips for practical cynicism.

This is the reality that Gone Girl is based in, where victims of crimes can be perceived as perpetrators (and there's plenty of precedence, as in "experts" like the ghoulish Nancy Grace (snarkily satired here as portrayed by Missi Pyle) can be allowed to batter the desperate (and even drive them to suicide) in the name of media-justice. Fincher has directed movies showing the downside of media circuses, how they're becoming more bread and circuses) and, as in The Social Network, throws cold water on the "fun" trends of public distraction that are shown to be quite personal public destructions.  Oh, what a tangled world-wide web we weave.

That sinking feeling...
But there's something else going on in Gone... The media circus shenanigans are all too familiar to anyone who "watches" news channels (and it feels a bit like a documentary at times). But, the "other" theme running concurrently in the movie can only be spoken of in general terms, lest the thickened plot be given away. It's there, disquieting, maddening and just a little ballsy and brilliant, but sure to piss people off and pull loyalties every which way (I like that).

Because running concurrently with the plot of Nick being confronted with his past, there is a parallel telling of events from Amy's perspective—her fact. It's Amy's view of things that makes things uncomfortable for awhile—for the discriminating movie-goer, not in terms of the plot—only because it starts so gushily hearts and flowers that, like Amy says at one point "We're so cute I could just punch us in the face." The dialogue is so floaty and so "daytime television" that the movie is in real danger of losing any interest several minutes into it. Stick with it, though. That sentiment turns mighty fast, as that diary becomes evidence. It is damning.

You see, writer Flynn messes with stereotypes. That's all I can say. She pulls in one direction that breaks the mold and then pushes in another that feels hackneyed and "old" and, frankly, is a bit over-the-top—then utterly perverts it to make something truly horrifying in its implications and...appearances. At the same time that she's boldly staking new ground, she's also re-enforcing sexist attitudes and tropes to an alarming degree in a dance that's two steps forward, four steps back. She does this to the women portrayed, but lest one begins to feel the need to pick sides, she's just as tough on the men, too. One watches Gone Girl with an admiration of how unsympathetic it all is—watching it, I kept thinking (as a friend once phrased) "I got no dog in this fight." Everybody is nasty, but that's okay as long as things look good for the cameras...and how you spin it, so the court of public opinion looks more like a court of law—but without the rules of jurisprudence (or even simple prudence). 

Rosamund Pike is going to get her share of laurels for her multi-faceted portrayal of the amazing Amy, but Affleck has rarely been better as the callow and callous Nick, so comfortable in his skin that he bears the stink of entitlement. You never end up rooting for him, but you never have any sympathy for him, either, for all the travails he goes through...amid the risks and burdens of the couple's secret lives and secret deaths. 

I wandered out of the theater wondering: "If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, what happens when a man comes up against Dejah Thoris?" Hell hath no fury, indeed...
Amy Dunne exults in a sugar-storm

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