I’m going to proceed with a fair degree of caution as I write this, and you should probably do the same while reading it, because I’m about to level a pretty serious charge at a film I generally liked, and try to avoid too much by way of “spoilers” while doing so, even though it’s a pretty safe bet that almost anyone who’s interested in seeing David Fincher’s highly-acclaimed Gone Girl has probably already done so. Why the tip-toeing, then? Well–call it a courtesy simply because, hey, not everyone has seen it yet, as evidenced by the fact that I just caught it at the local discount house (the Riverview in Minneapolis, for those interested in such details) tonight and the joint was packed to the rafters.
First, the good: Fincher is certainly in top form stylistically here, and handles both his actors, and his admittedly combustible subject matter, with the deft touch of a skilled and schooled veteran. He doesn’t go overboard on the “flashy” stuff as he did in his generally failed take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and he shows a previously-undisclosed penchant for handling humorous material (parts of this film are actually very funny) with a degrees of subtlety and sympathy that you never would have guessed at based on his work on, say, Se7en or Zodiac (no offense to either of those modern crime masterpieces, but let’s face it–one thing they most assuredly lacked was any sort of comic relief, and for good reason). The “how he goes about his job” is most definitely not in question here–but the nature of said job certainly is.
As for the cast, Affleck has rarely (if ever) been better, Rosamund Pike delivers a performance that should finally get her on the Hollywood “A”-list, and some eyebrow-raising choices that Fincher has made, most notably in casting Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, pay off big-time, especially in Perry’s case, who proves once and for all that when he’s given good material–my polite way of saying “stuff he didn’t write himself”– he can really hit the mark.
But ya’ know what? For all that, I feel more than just a bit guilty for liking Gone Girl as much as I did for one simple reason: it’s the most blatantly, nakedly, and unapologetically misogynistic flick to come down the Hollywood pipeline in ages and makes notoriously anti-woman fare like, say, any “slasher” horror franchise, seem positively tame in comparison.
Yeah, I know–I actually like most “slasher” flicks, so who am I to cast stones, right? The key distinction, though, is that there’s no pretense involved there–you know exactly what you’re getting into, and I admit: I’m capable of locking my conscience away in a strong box and going along for the ride when it comes to indulging my way-too-numerous-to-mention cinematic guilty pleasures. Gone Girl, on the other hand, is a film buried under layers of “importance” and “respectability”–the self-appointed arbiters have taste seemingly all judged it to be an “important” movie, one with a “message.” Unfortunately, that message is: women are deceitful, calculating shrews who will do anything to twist and shape a man into exactly what they want them to be and then trap them, via marriage and pregnancy, into mundane, emasculated existences that they never asked for and certainly don’t deserve. They’re heartless ball-busters, I tell ya, the lot of ‘em.
“But wait,” I hear you say, “isn’t this movie all about a guy who may or may not have murdered his wife?” Sure it is–for a time. And here’s where that whole avoiding “spoilers” thing gets tricky: yes, for about the first half of the film, that’s definitely the “big question.” But once Fincher resolves the issue of whether or not Nick Dunne murdered his wife, Amy, the whole enterprise takes a massive 180 that’s definitely exciting from a purely narrative standpoint, but more than a bit nauseating from a psychological and sociological one. Sure, Nick’s a rotten husband–he’s inattentive, self-absorbed, and is even carrying on an affair with one of his students behind his wife’s back, but the clear editorial viewpoint taken Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the novel on which said screenplay is based) is–the bitch had it coming.
Scene after scene (much of this films is told via flashbacks) shows Amy to be a calculated schemer, a petty and resentful nag, an ambitious social climber, a sociopathic puller on the heartstrings of several men, an inveterate liar, an accomplished con artist, and a remorseless manipulator. Sure, her old man’s a bastard, but as any good crisis manager will tell you, the best way to control the public’s perception of a situation is to “get out in front of the problem” early on, and then rebuild your image and credibility later. The phrase “own it” is generally PR shorthand for “pretend to take responsibility so people will buy your excuses later,” and that’s precisely what Fincher and Flynn do here: they show all of Nick’s flaws first, so that we can forgive him for being such a dickhead once we learn that his “long-suffering wife” is anything but. It provides for a nifty and unexpected plot twist, to be sure, but it’s all in service of a toxic as hell message.
Whether or not Nick is actually guilty is a revelation–shit, the revelation–I’m taking such pains (it hurts, dear friends, it hurts!) not to give away here, but I can safely say this much: once the fact of his innocence or guilt has been established, he becomes the victim of the story all the way.
To be honest, the only reason I think Gone Girl isn’t being more thoroughly raked over the coals for its obvious (and frankly sick) biases is because Flynn is a woman herself, but that’s no excuse–I don’t recall anyone giving anti-female crusaders like, say, Phylis Schlafly a free pass just because her gender matches the same one she’s trying her damndest to oppress, and by the time Flynn ends her story on a “maybe the two of them deserve (or deserved–again, don’t want to give anything too crucial away here) each other” note, the damage has been done. Women–particularly educated, self-actualized, strong-willed women like Amy–are dangerous. They exist only to slowly wear men down and those magical days of early courtship? Guys, don’t buy it–she’s just buttering you up for the ultimate defeat that is domesticated family life.
In the world according to David Fincher and Gillian Flynn, anything a guy has to do in order to escape that is perfectly acceptable. It doesn’t even matter whether Nick Dunne killed his wife or not–she had been killing him for years, and hey,if he did what everyone thinks he did, then he was just fighting back. After all, men gotta do what men gotta do, right?