You Go Girl

gone-girl-poster

Kind of impossible to write anything about GONE GIRL without spoilers. I can try not to be gratuitous with it but if you haven’t seen or read it, you should stop right here. And go see it, it’s entertaining! David Ehrenstein has compared it to a certain forties melodrama and he’s right, but even naming it would give too much away if you like to experience plotlines with newborn innocence.

***

Gone-Girl-Trailer

David Fincher used to make two kinds of films — interesting ones like SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB and not-so-interesting ones like PANIC ROOM, but they were all stylistically indulgent and visually enjoyable. Then he made BORING BASTARD BUTTON which was kept afloat entirely by technological and stylistic excess, and then he kind of stopped being flamboyant and started doing television. Though ZODIAC had some extravagant visuals, it also ushered in what has become more typically the Fincher look — cool, snappy, dark, bluish, classical — traditional enough in framing and movement that he could use it to set up House of Cards and then pass it over to other directors who were mainly able to continue the style seamlessly.

So for GONE GIRL, Fincher marshalls the performances and Jeff Cronenweth lights things in his attractively chill manner and no excesses obtrude. Ben “low affect” Affleck has the right blend of everyman and doofus, is blank enough to potentially harbour dark secrets, and his puppyish aspects contrast nicely with Rosamund Pike’s more feline quality. When the movie needs more energy, Tyler Perry brings it as a celebrity lawyer. All the supporting cast are strong, and there’s a particularly pleasing mix of women — Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens deserve special mention.

The film GONE GIRL owes most to is (as acknowledged by author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn) 1945’s LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, in which (last chance spoiler alert) Gene Tierney commits suicide and frames her husband for her murder. But instead of coming as conclusion, in GONE GIRL, this is the whole set-up, revealed as a mid-film turning point — since the suicide itself is deferred, the rest of the film can play out the consequences and complications, which are legion. Like a 40s women’s picture, the movie evokes a pleasurable response of condemnation mixed with admiration. The woman is bad, and we should want to see her punished, but she’s also very impressive, and we find ourselves rooting for her. At a certain point in the story, we are rooting for both man and wife — maybe this is what Fincher means by calling it a perfect date movie.

The idea that the film is in some way anti-woman strikes me as dumb, since it contains several other female characters besides the wicked (yet quasi-justified) wife. Affleck’s sister and the detective investigating the case seem to me wholly or largely admirable people, just imperfect enough to be human and interesting. There is another female monster, the representative of tabloid television, who is just this side of caricature — but really, tabloid TV is by now impossible to treat unjustly — it’s a monster about which anything you say is likely to be true.

I may have to make an exception for Emily Ratzkywatzky Ratajkowski as Young Woman With Large Breasts, who fulfills the job description but doesn’t add much to it. The character, amusingly called Andie Hardy,  is a lust figure for males (in the audience and behind the camera and onscreen) and is regarded with contempt by the women in the film, and obviously their assessment that she’s not super-bright has some basis, but if played by an actor rather than a model (and not in the Bressonian sense) the part could possibly have been more, ahem, fleshed out. “The other woman” character is often a problematic one, but she’s still a human being.

 

gone-girl-trailer

 ***

I can’t say for sure if the plot twist would have worked differently if I hadn’t had a tip-off. (This is why “serious” criticism may need spoiler alerts too — how to assess the impact of a plot if you know what’s coming? Some movies don’t care if you know — Orson Welles had a fondness for beginning at the end — but some very much do. GONE GIRL is somewhere in between.) It seemed to me that Rosamund Pike’s narration was less than gripping in the first half — the romance stuff was fine but the slow deterioration of the marriage felt under-imagined, which I gather is not the case in the book. In part 2, the urgency of her flight and Affleck’s plight are intimately entwined and reinforce each other, but in the first half her soap opera can’t compete with his thriller.

But when the twist is revealed, the movie moves into high gear — we now have no idea how it’s going to fill its running time, but there is certainly a dangerous situation in play and we’re going to have to find out. Here is where a spoiler could be really annoying. The movie’s solution involves more melodramatic elements, some possible plot holes (video evidence that may contradict Pike’s account) and a really interesting suspended anxiety ending, which is the movie’s boldest stroke.

It’s the kind of film which seems exceptional in the modern movie culture, but could conceivably be the norm if only movies enjoyed the same conditions as quality TV. In other words, it’s a good, edgy thriller. Liberate the filmmakers and this kind of thing could be the median level for Hollywood.

 

 

33 Responses to “You Go Girl”

  1. I weigh in on “Spoilers” HERE

    The best “Spoiler” in the history of the cinema occurred at the top of Act Three in Vertigo

  2. Hitchcock was right that his kind of cinema benefitted more from narrative clarity than from mystery. Other mysteries, like Twin Peaks, are basically unspoilable.

    I’m not generally a fan of the giant plot twist: I felt Side Effects was ruined by its last act. Reversals and surprises, on the other hand, are good, and deserve to be enjoyed fresh where possible. I don’t think a good film could be actually SPOILED by a spoiler, but some of the fun might go out of it.

  3. I beg to differ. Knowing that “it’s the same dame” in no way affects the enchantment of Vertigo. Likewise “Rosebud” is nothing more than a “Maguffin.”

  4. Certainly a *good* movie is never ruined by a “spoiler”. A poor movie, though…my favorite example is Branagh’s “Dead Again”, a movie with close to zero rewatchability once you’ve learned its secret because it’s a crappy movie to begin with.

  5. Precisely. Good movies are far more than their “plots.”

  6. I was ambivalent about the movie coming out of it, but I’ve really enjoyed reading people’s commentary. I need to see it again. By the way, there’s an excellent discussion currently sidebarred at MUBI in which a commenter suggests pairing GONE GIRL with SIDE EFFECTS. Daniel Kasman also makes an interesting connection with Lang’s THE BLUE GARDENIA.

    Regarding “video evidence that may contradict Pike’s account,” I thought one of the smart things about the final act of GONE GIRL was that the obvious contradictions in Amy’s story are pointed out by the detective, but everybody so wants to believe the narrative that Amy gives them that they ignore the contradictions. It’s a nice bit of meta-fiction.

  7. Dead Again was apparently written for four actors but once Ken got hold of it, he and Em had to hoover up all the plum roles. Robin Williams is good though. I would watch his bit again. And Andy Garcia is OK. The stunt double-casting turns it into a colossal cheat because obviously there’s no reason for them to (spoiler alert!) come back looking like each other. Very silly.

    Randy B, I guess the whole movie is about “the winner is the one who can tell the most compelling story.”

  8. Sorry to be dumb, but you don’t really judge the misogyny of a film by how many women in it aren’t evil. If this film wasn’t about being under a woman’s thumb, what was it about? As you point out, you didn’t have to see Andie’s breasts, while Amy kept her bra on during sex. TO hell with that decision. I’ve also no doubt that the success of this story is partly based on its taking place in a world where domestic abuse and rape are wily fictions perpetrated by the demented. Really, haven’t been this angry about a twist since Side Effects. Urgh… Sorry, I have just this moment seen the film, between reading the first line of your review and popping back to read the rest. And God, I hated it. Surprise psychosis? Is that a thing? Amy’s choice of fake weapon was a gift he hadn’t yet received? Detectives saying “Nice name. Very meta”? And the house was FULL OF CAMERAS. A hanging ending is only interesting if you’ve believed what’s come before. This was disastrously irrelevant to reality. If Amy had been the devil, MAYBE that would have made sense, and been fun, because the devil has a plan, adn we know he doesn’t exist. I hated it, I hated it. It was nine hours long and wretchedly UTTERLY anti-women (“She has a fantastic vagina”????!!! ). I hated it. Pfooo.

  9. Well, if the message of a film is judged to be “women are evil,” then a crowd of non-evil female characters WOULD kind of trash that hypothesis. If we assume it to be undermining all its female characters in different ways, we then have to look at the male characters too. Is it just misanthropic?

    The false rape allegation treads on thin ice (though I don’t recall anyone giving To Kill a Mockingbird a hard time for this). If the movie asks us to accept fake rape allegation here as being as common as faking your own death and framing someone for it, we are in a kind of Gothic fantasy-land and I don’t know how dangerous the myth is in such a fairytale. It’s certainly dangerous in reality.

    In such a case, the implausibility of the plot may not count for so much. And Amy doesn’t ALWAYS keep her bra on.

  10. Speaking of bras in The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Richard Attenborough’s bra manufacturer was referred to as “The Orpheus of the Undie-World”

  11. Speaking of interesting commentary, Allysa Rosenberg wrote a good post about the false rape allegations in Gone Girl (both the book and the movie): http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/10/06/gone-girl-breaks-through-our-deadlocked-discussion-of-false-rape-allegations/

  12. True. She takes it off in the shower, washing the blood off that the hospital left on her. But a film’s message doesn’t have to be “all women are evil” for it to be anti-women. This isn’t the forties, context is important. The whole thing seemed steeped in rape culture. What about the siblings’ open chat? “Fuck her hard and say, ‘THERE’S your wood!” – you know, just something normal a sister would say and a brother would chuckle at. What about that “fantastic vagina” compliment that so charmed Amy, issued – remember – while Affleck was proposing to her, in front of a table of journalists? What about the illustration of the happy marriage through unbelievable nine-and-a-half-weeks-style sex scenes? (If this turned out to be Amy’s own vagina-fixated fantasy it would be different, but this is all from the opening three years of the diary forged by Amy to implicate her husband, which we’re told are completely accurate and therefore don’t implicate him in any way [Why not just fake a years’ worth of diary, Amy? I mean, It’s a dairy. Why SEVEN? Why is this film SO STUPID? THE HOUSE WAS FULL OF CAMERAS! Sorry.]) And doesn’t Affleck’s ultimate ambiguity to his wife’s behaviour suggest that there is something about it, if not typical, then at least archetypical. Trousers good. Skirts bad. If this is a woman’s picture, I’m Sterling Hayden.

  13. For what it’s worth, I had absolutely no idea of the film’s misogynist reputation going in. It really did just smack me across the face.

  14. The film has three very distinctive ‘sections’ (don’t want to call them Acts), each separated by a revelation and an key event, and it’s the first section that felt the most fascinating, when each of the main characters is ambiguous and as a viewer we’re pretty much flummoxed as to who to believe or emotionally engage with. It’s slippery and very compelling. And frankly, Affleck is only interesting when he might be guilty. This ‘honeymoon’ period ends – spoiler alert – as soon as Affleck finds the gear in the woodshed, the cops find the diary, and we discover Pike’s alive (and merrily telling us how she did it). The Hitchcockian move (I think) would have been NOT to show Pike alive at that point, but to have Affleck developing his theory of how she’s alive and framing him, but to keep us (and everyone else) suspicious that he’s just spinning more lies to cover up her murder. Then, half an hour later, when everyone’s completely given up on him (including the audience), Pike pulls up at the house alive and covered in blood! And that’s when we finally rewind to see events from her POV and push forward to Doogie Howser’s House of Cameras and onwards…

  15. Here’s where spoilers can be dangerous… I found the first act least interesting, because I knew, o strongly suspected, where it was going, so extending that mystery would have made the film less interesting to me and more dependant on a late twisteroo.

    I was quite a lot more interested in Affleck’s present-tense predicament that in Amy’s backstory (I think a faked-up tale of abuse ought to go further, be more disturbing, and this felt thin).

    The seven year diary — one has to presume that the first six years are simply a real diary. If the movie contradicts this, that’s silly. Experts can spot faked diaries easily because of the signs of writer’s fatigue, btw.

    Maybe the “fantastic vagina” is evidence of Affleck’s crassness (he writes for a men’s mag) and we’re meant to be put of a little?

    I do think you’re onto something, Simon, in that there’s enough consistency to the women being mean about each other for us to suppose that the author’s voice and attitudes are coming through. So Flynn enjoys women being bitchy, and Fincher laps that stuff up.

    But where is a single positive male character of any prominence to make this one-sided?

    It is probably impossible to tell stories of this kind while appearing wholesome. If you swap the genders, you have something like Fassbinder’s Martha and you’re still in trouble.

  16. Yeah – I went in cold, having missed the book and avoided any reviews. In fact the only ‘spoiler’ I’d seen was the publicity photo shoot of Affleck with Pike’s pale ‘corpse’, so I was pretty much convinced she was dead…

  17. That would do it!

    Affleck’s mediocrity as a character is kind of the point. He has a marginal claim on our sympathies because of the media cruelty — injustice is a powerful hook — but on the whole, his wife is a more compelling and attractive character, despite her evil.

  18. The seven year diary — one has to presume that the first six years are simply a real diary. If the movie contradicts this, that’s silly. Experts can spot faked diaries easily because of the signs of writer’s fatigue, btw.

    Amy’s VO explicitly says that the entire diary is invented. She wrote it over the course of a full year, however, and I doubt that would provide any writer’s fatigue for experts to spot. (It wasn’t seven years’ worth of daily or even weekly entries; she was probably writing about one per day.)

  19. I’m sure we see her buy the dairy and a whole series of pens and start writing from scratch as part of her plan. Like disguising yourself by hitting yourself in the face with a hammer, it is silly.

  20. Obviously, the diary is a storytelling device and we need to get the whole relationship from it. This is probably more necessary in the book than in the film, where we don’t have the same competing voices effect. I guess she wouldn’t have to write daily entries, she might only record significant events.

    The hammer disguise is VERY silly (we are in the genre of silliness) since it might alter your appearance and give you a backstory, but it’s a backstory similar to the one you’re running from, and it’ll attract attention.

    As locked-room-mystery specialist Dr Gideon Fell says, “We are not concerned with whether the thing WOULD be done, only with whether it COULD be done.”

  21. Mail Online thought Gone Girl was anti-men. So I suspect it’s one of those films where everyone sees what they want or need to see, depending on where they’re coming from.

  22. Classic Hollywood cake having/eating structure.

  23. I don’t think she did write the diary over the course of a year. We see here ditching all the pens in a single car journey. Maybe she kept the pens. Who knows? She takes her money belt out to go putting. She puts post-it notes on a calendar. She’s a mystery.

  24. Who can really understand women?

  25. Well, I loved every nasty, misanthropic, inhumane, black and unpleasant minute of Gone Girl, and I went in there with a weary sense of duty, having not really enjoyed ANY Fincher films to any great extent (I sort of admired Zodiac’s commitment to a featureless aesthetic but that’s it). It was astonishing to find a full-blooded psychodrama that made me think of Vertigo and Ace in the Hole and Basic Instinct. I couldn’t help imagining the hash that, say, de Palma might have made of this, and Fincher’s cold, pervy control of the material worked so much better than a humanist reading would’ve.

    On a personal level, many years ago I was stalked by an ex (tall, blonde, type-A personality) who made false allegations about me. Luckily the police weren’t fooled (she left extraordinarily racist answering machine messages relating to a female friend of mine, which helped to undermine her credibility) but it was a terrifying experience, making the Tommy section of the story feel quite frighteningly real to me. I don’t consider myself misogynistic for believing that some people – some women – are capable of awful things, and are very cognoscent of what they can get away with when they want to do damage. It doesn’t – to me – undermine the true rape allegations that are often ignored, or mean that men should get a ‘get out of jail free’ card. But, as the Ben Affleck character in GG discovers, some narratives are just more acceptable than others, and if you’re on the downside of a particular narrative, you’re out of luck. It’s a truth I am very familiar with.

  26. Though I’m sure it’s another example of the film having its cake and eating it, I read Gone Girl’s false rape allegation as another male fantasy. The ex-boyfriend admits the sex was “a bit rough”. He seems unable to realise that is only his point of view. So for me the scene didn’t undermine an allegation of rape by making it part of Amy’s psychotic behaviour, but rather further undermined Affleck’s character (and the men in the film) by how readily he believed it. He’s spent years married to Amy, yet is unflinchingly able to accept terrible tales of her.

  27. Toby, yes, I think it can work that way, although the fact that the film never returns to this issue except when showing Amy genuinely concoct a fake rape allegation (albeit against a creepy stalker type dude) suggests this isn’t the only reading we are expected to take away.

    In countries where they have specialist prosecutors for sex crimes and thus achieve a far higher conviction rate, they are probably also a lot better at spotting those rare bogus claims.

  28. I’m a studio executive and this article is BS.
    I spend most of my days green lighting superhero movies and graphic novel adaptations. Myself, and the shareholders of the corporation I work for, have no interest in the filmic arts.

  29. Doesn’t everybody? The only thing that would have improved Gon Girl would have been if Ben Affleck had changed into his Daredevil costume and then had a fight with himself as Batman.

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