SPOILERS AHOY: Mahoosive spoilers if you haven’t yet seen Gone Girl or read the book. I’m completely presuming you have.
I’m a big David Fincher fan*, and Gone Girl was typically satisfying. Slickly done, pacy, well told and clever. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were cast well for their ambiguity, and I was completely suckered by the misdirection of the marketing. I thought I was in the real(ish) world of The Social Network or House of Cards, not the baroque craziness of Fight Club or Se7en. Wow, was I wrong.
Se7en (‘Seven’? I hate writing that 7 thing) is actually really what the film left me thinking about, with the same bleak, bleak gut punch. The first and last shots of Gone Girl encapsulate a pitch-black view of marriage that I am really glad to be denying with every fibre of my being as I approach my second wedding anniversary. I really hope I never reach anywhere near that dark place where Fincher drags us.
However… there was something niggling. The most exciting section in the movie for me is just after the rug-pull showing that Amy (Rosamund Pike) has faked her disappearance. Where do you go when you want to really seem dead? She ends up at a shitty motel in Nowheresville (in the county of Not-Really-Explained) where she ultimately gets robbed and almost worse. She should, in theory, be within hours of being exposed, and the whole story would quickly unravel to an end. Or she was heading to end up actually dead and disappeared, murdered for her cash, and left to rot somewhere undiscovered. Affleck goes to the chair for something he didn’t do, a suitably bleak and unjust ending. Well, mostly unjust, we’d spent a good while picking him apart as a character at that point.
No, none of that happens, we go to a whole extra level of crazy as Amy is revealed to be a psychopath exploiting an American media system in love with simplistic moral stories and caricatures, rather than anything boring like truth or reason. And glum Affleck has to go along with all her murderous shenanigans at the end, because… I’m not entirely sure why he did, but the point was largely about the legal system-by-media that the film is waggling a judging finger at.
It is a shame, because the story does that at the expense of a few good characters. A brilliant star lawyer sort of doesn’t do anything brilliant or starry in the film at all - just goes back to being starry and brilliant somewhere else. And a detective that’s been tenacious and procedural all the way through, she just seems to stop because, well, it’s almost the end of the film.
There’s also some good old American Dream cynicism in here as well. Amy is largely a monster apparently because she never kept up with the fictional ideal of her life that her parents got incredibly wealthy exploiting. Rich boomer parents sailing along while Affleck and Pike are having to go live in a house that is huge and beautiful but not in New York because of the recession. She wins in the end by getting to become a living embodiment of the Amy of her parent’s childrens’ books, based upon a terrifying untold truth.
Well, great, but it’s one of those cake-and-eat-it satirical points, I think. The American Dream idealised the agency of the individual, but an individual fighting against an environment that was genuinely murderous and treacherous, and out to get him (usually a him). In this vision, however, the whole world is incredibly slick and nice. Even the motel of the vicious random-factor lowlifes has a nice pool and minigolf.
When the story turns back away from that motel towards the stupidly flash house of Amy’s stalker, Desi, I think it retreats to a safe place. I’m not bothered by plotholes if they are earned well, and the great storytelling here earns them all. But to really accept Amy being able to pull off her pretty ridiculous plan, you have to accept a world where a minimal amount of random shit actually happens, and can be sidestepped in a few scenes if it does. Amy has total agency by the end. Once she buys into the literal violence that echoes the psychological violence her parents did to her, she gains the power to make her own image, enabled by all those grinning media types and their baying audience. Ugh, people.
Lots of shades of John Doe in Seven, of course, but without the explicit saving grace of Morgan Freeman and his weariness:
William Somerset: Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part.
Maybe Fincher’s great genius is telling stories that make you need to cling to optimism like a lifeboat. I’ve got to side with Hemingway still, Morgan Freeman, and your delivery makes me suspect that you do too, really. Which is all a big relief, because I really don’t want to accept Gone Girl’s unsettling views about marriage either…
*In fact, you can listen to me here on my good friends Adam and Rich’s podcast, Dad Flicks, fantasising about sitting Fincher down and convincing him that Alien3 really wasn’t that bad.