Rated R for blood and sex. Fincher uses blood and sex pretty sparingly sometimes. But when it is there, it is pretty graphic. There is some nudity involved. The f-word is just commonplace. Really, the movie gets pretty brutal at times. Even the descriptions of violence are pretty off-putting. It's not an easy movie to sit through for a decent percentage of the film. R.
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
It's almost closing a chapter. My film class ended last week. This was the assignment to watch two weeks ago. I had seen the movie before. It's a little unfair of me to be writing the way I am. I have two very different experiences with this film. My wife and I, in preparation for the movie coming out back in the day, shotgunned the audiobook of Gone Girl. From there, we almost immediately went into the movie, claiming to be experts on the original text. That might not have been the smartest move ever because the movie is very close to the original book. Gillian Flynn wrote both the book and the screenplay, so the movie just felt like a condensed version of the book. Now, we're a few years out. I had to watch this for a class. So the original takeaway was "too short, doesn't get the nuance." The new review is "Man, I'll always be happy when a movie is under two hours."
I didn't originally see why this would be part of a film noir curriculum. From first appearances, this feels like a thriller. At most, it could feel like an erotic thriller, considering how many sexual themes are running throughout the movie. But there is something there that makes it almost seem like film noir. I don't know if I would ever confidently defend it as film noir, but this movie relies heavily on one of the best crafted femmes fatale I've ever seen. The femme fatale is always an interesting character, especially from the white male perspective. She acts as this warning to white male privilege. She comes across as evil at times and this archetype may be part of the charge to keep the female down. After all, she probably is evil disguised as morality. But Amazing Amy is something very interesting to think about. The thing about the femme fatale is that rarely does she have a bulk of background. The film noir is a boys' club. The protagonist is always male. The femme fatale was evil eye candy. But Flynn's Gone Girl, both the book and the movie, steals back some of that power from the male protagonist. Amy gets enough screen time that she becomes even more fleshed out than the protagonist, making her significantly more interesting to watch on screen. Sure, it throws the traditional narrative structure out the window, but it does make for a compelling film.
The film noir infamously has the protagonist with a bunch of hang ups. Sometimes these hangups are criminal. Sometimes it's a bad habit spiraled out of control. But through the events of the story, the protagonist goes from suck to completely over his head. Ben Affleck's Nick falls easily into that category. He's a crummy husband and he's a teacher who is having an affair with his underage student. He's not a criminal, but it is really easy not to like him. But the events that Amy puts into motion are way more of a nuclear option than any of the crimes that Nick has committed. He deserves some kind of vengeance, but Amy's death is just insane. I find it odd that Amy's plan consists of eventually killing herself. Her plan, and this is heavily spoilery (but I just stopped caring), involves her enjoying the fruits of her labor and then killing herslef. Sure, she eventually backpedals from this decision, but it is interesting to watch. But Flynn's script gives us Nick as a protagonist for only a short amount of time.
It's really the weirdest element of the movie because Gone Girl is almost two separate movies. Nick is the instrument of his fate in the first half of the film. Discovering the disappearance of Amy and the implication that this is all a punishment, Nick is given a set of moral choices. He, of course, makes the bad ones. We're not supposed to really like Nick all that much because Amy's actually kind of a sympathetic sociopath. But at about the 45% mark, just shy of the halfway point, Nick's choices become moot. He is no longer in control of his fate. If he had the opportunity to fix is situation from the beginning of the film, that option is denied him given the runtime of the film itself. At that 45% mark, at the switch to Amy, he has failed and he becomes the victim of fate. The story, somehow, is still about Nick getting free from the situation that he has been placed in and into a world where he has to depend on others to free him. The shift to Amy is also fairly eyeopening. When we discover that Amy is alive and well, that everything in the story is part of Amy's master plan, we start seeing her as vulnerable as time goes on.
There had to be a temptation to make her a bit like Javier Bardem's character in Skyfall or The Joker in The Dark Knight. There's this category of villain where the plan is just a bit too perfect for anything good to come out of it. Amy's plan reeks of "a bit too perfect" at times. Her hand written journal corresponding to a very accurate calendar is just a marvelous device for a perfect murder. Also, the idea that she would write that much by hand and then risk burning it is also a bit of a stretch. But the second half of the film, while somehow a little less interesting than the main plot, also reminds us that the villains of a story can also be deeply flawed. There's this really odd shift from Amy the supervillain to Amy, the victim of her own hubris. Everything involving her own disappearance and the framing of Nick, perfectly aligned to a plan. Nothing goes wrong. It is exactly what she wanted. But the second that plan is over, reality takes a strong role in how Amy's life plays out.
I love the idea that Amy is a fictional version of herself in the story itself. The looming Amazing Amy character is so perfect for everything that is going on in the world. Her parents wrote Amazing Amy to be this fictionally perfect stand-in for their own daughter. People think that the real Amy is as amazing as the one that they meet. But then we're dragged back to reality with the idea that Amy herself can't be perfect. But even that Amy is a lie. Everything in Amy's life is built around the concept of lying. Amazing Amy is a lie. Amy Dunn is a lie. The real Amy lives in a world where storytelling is real. As much as the interesting stuff is around Amy and Nick, seeing Amy on her own is so much less cinematic...well, at least until the Neil Patrick Harris stuff. Watching Amy make basic mistakes about how to hide out and spend money is really telling for how this woman views reality. Nothing plays out storywise when she interacts with normal human beings. She's robbed and has to manually insert herself back into a fictional narrative to make things make sense. It's kind of cool and kind of weird when everything comes back together.
The first time I read / watched Gone Girl, the end bothered me. The bad guy wins. Amy comes across like one of the scariest bad guys in film because we all know she's evil, but she gets what she wants. Similarly, Nick just has to leave. I just finished A Doll's House and I get that authors can get their protagonists to abandon their children, especially considering that it seemed like Nick never really wanted kids to begin with. But that also so works with the overall themes and motifs of the film. Nick is most likable when he is playing the martyr. There's a lot of the story where Nick is considered sympathetic. His biggest crime is that he kind of subconsciously enjoys Amy being gone and that he's garnering all of this sympathy. It's only once the suspicion is cast on him does he show his darker nature. By having Nick offer himself to the pyre that is Amy and Nick's relationship does he actually get this smallest win in the world. And, yeah, Amy is a bad guy. But she's a bad guy who is kind of right. Listen, I'm about to go into some "Thanos was right" nonsense. I don't actually condone a darned thing that Amy does in the film, but the message she sends is actually kind of interesting. Marriage is hard. I'm speaking for everyone else, of course. My marriage is easy and I love my wife and please don't frame me for murder.
But marriage is fun for a while at the beginning. Everyone wants to see you succeed. You have all of these plans for so long that reality never really kicks in. Marriage is all about those day-to-day things that get frustrating. It's how we handle those moments that define our marriage. I know, I'm riding on my high horse after ten years of marriage, acting like I know the ins and outs of marriage like a seasoned veteran. For all I know, it'll be at the 60 year marker where I really piss my wife off and frames me for her murder. But that's Nick's evil. The adultery is terrible. But it isn't that it's just Nick's actions that make Amy hate / love him (it's complicated). It's the idea that he justifies his cruelties because life happened. There's this whole section of the film that talks about the recession. Nick and Amy both lose their jobs and Nick becomes this huge waste of space. I love me some video games, Nick, but you became such a jerk in those moments. We would all be amazing spouses if everything in life were easy. It's the small decisions when life gets hard that really define a marriage. Yeah, don't cheat on your wife. But even more so, don't cheat on your wife and mentally blame it on her.
Gone Girl is a pretty rad piece of storytelling that flourishes when it decides to take conventions and redefine them. Technically, a lot of the beats are typical thriller. But the movie is cool when it decides to completely avoid the expected and to throw formula and function out the window.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.