Quantcast
become a Patreon patron

rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

Gone Girl movie review: proof of wife

Gone Girl red light

Ruins itself as even high-toned cinematic junk food when its justifiable cynicism morphs into something manipulative and dangerously disingenuous.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the director and the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is a horror movie about a marriage. The marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne of New York City and North Carthage, Missouri. It’s a horror movie about what happens on their fifth wedding anniversary, when Amy disappears after signs of struggle in their palatial McMansion and Nick is soon believed by the police (and perhaps the viewer) to have killed Amy for various apparent motives that crop up in murder mysteries and real life all too often. It’s a horror movie about what happened to lead up to that terrible day and Amy’s disappearance.

And the what-led-to-it makes Gone Girl also a horror movie about marriage itself. The institution. The nightmare behind the fairy tale. The illusion and the delusion. The ways that a man and a woman manipulate each other and trick each other so that they can “fall in love” and pretend to live that fairy tale until one of them snaps–

Wait. What?

Look. I’m not married, I’ve never been married, and could be I’ll die without ever having been married. So I can’t speak to what marriage is like. But I can sure as hell say that if a lot of married people think their marriages are shams built on lies — and I don’t see how Gone Girl works in the way that it intends, as a sort of Warning To Us All, unless there some universality in it, however exaggerated — then what the fuck, people? I want to feel bad for you. But mostly I just wonder why you even bothered if mistrust and murder are what you end up thinking about when you think about your spouse. Get a divorce and get a dog. I feel bad for you people.

Of course, the other option is that Gone Girl is full of its own brand of delusional shit about “human nature” and the supposed societal pressures that force people into doing something they’d otherwise never do on their own (ie, get married).

If Gone Girl stuck to being just about the Dunnes, on a small, personal scale, I might have been able to give it a pass as high-toned cinematic junk food, the sort of sensationalistic, guilty-pleasure B-movie garbage that director David Fincher has never really wallowed in before. (Although his pointless remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was close. And so was Panic Room. But he still gets to coast on Fight Club. And Zodiac. And everyone is allowed an off day once in a while.) But it doesn’t. It goes to places where it itself becomes manipulative and disingenuous in unforgivable and even dangerous ways.

It’s like this: Amy (Rosamund Pike [Hector and the Search for Happiness, A Long Way Down], who is awesome, as always) is famous, having once been the inspiration for a series of immensely popular children’s books written by her mother (Lisa Banes: Freedom Writers, Dragonfly), so her disappearance is major national news. (Also: Beautiful rich thin white woman goes missing? Twenty-four-hour-news ratings bonanza!) In Gone Girl, nonstop media attention on Amy’s disappearance is but a metaphor for the limited outsider’s perspective that we can only ever have on someone else’s relationship: a couple might look absurdly happy in public, but only they know what goes on behind closed doors. Flashbacks to Amy and Nick’s life from the moment they meet, told via Amy’s diary entries, give us an intimate peek into what has been going on behind their closed doors, and it’s not pretty. It’s here where we get her side of the “But I changed for him!” story. It’s stuff that many women will recognize, and yet, I can’t have a lot of sympathy. You mean you pretended to be something you’re not, and now you hate what you’ve become and resent your husband for failing to be Prince Charming in spite of your lies and tricks? Whose fault is that?

I’d say the same thing to Nick (Ben Affleck [Runner Runner, Argo], also excellent here; though he’s always been good but often underrated, I feel). We get his side of the marriage via his conversations with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon, ditto with the excellence). “I’m sick of being picked apart by women,” Nick complains, but he’s been putting on a false front, too: When you pretend to be something you’re not and you can’t keep it up — who could? — you start to look inconsistent. And, yeah, if you need women to be nothing but compliant Barbie fuck-toys, you’re gonna end up disappointed.

Gone Girl is still all good up to this point, with lots of delicious ambiguity and some really meaty stuff about the differences between the faces we present to the world — romantically or otherwise — and the roles we perform because we think we have to perform them, versus how we might rather just be sitting around eating junk food and playing video games all day. I might even go as far as saying that Gone Girl is a fascinating deconstruction of the push and pull that so many people of my generation have put ourselves through over what it means to finally grow the fuck up, or should we just remain kids forever, or can we combine the best bits of both into something new?

Except then it all goes to shit.

(Before I completely blast the film to shreds, I have to note the other members of the commendable cast, none of whom are to blame for that red light of mine. Neil Patrick Harris [A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Smurfs 2] as an ex of Amy’s? Dear god, I’ve never seen him this good; I’m not sure I knew he was capable of this. Tyler Perry [Star Trek, Meet the Browns] as the famous hotshot defense lawyer Nick hires? Amazing. Kim Dickens [Footloose, The Blind Side] and Patrick Fugit [We Bought a Zoo, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant] as the cops investigating Amy’s disappearance: perfect. Missi Pyle [Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Artist] as a Nancy Grace-esque cable news bloviator? Oh my god I didn’t think I could love her more, but now I do.)

What happens? Gone Girl takes sides: Sure, men and women may trick one another, but one gender ends up sympathetic, and the other one villainous. The movie throws all the ambiguity out the window, in the specific case of Nick and Amy and also in a less specific sense that is meant to apply to us all in the way that we approach he-said, she-said tales. It starts out with a general — and reasonable — deep cynicism about an institution (marriage) that plenty of people have doubts about and would probably like to remake (somehow) and drives that into a deeply perilous realm that appears to willfully misunderstand the realities of domestic violence and the more general violence against women that real women face every day in the real world. (It’s one thing when, say, a movie about serial killers misrepresents serial killers, for serial killings are rare and most of us will never find ourselves in the presence of a serial killer. But intimate-partner violence is so prevalent as to be mundane.) Yes, it’s all fantasy, of a sort… and it’s as frightening a fantasy, in its own way, as Fifty Shades of Grey (which, pray for me, I have recently subjected myself to, and it’s even worse than I could have imagined in how it renders as romantic an unambiguously abusive relationship). If the specific details of what happens here are what people are fantasizing about, then this underscores a terrible tragedy of our society that we should be horrified to acknowledge: that we’re encouraging the unhealthiest sorts of behavior in everyone.

Gone Girl seems completely — even blissfully — unaware of this, however.

It’s bad enough, and says enough bad stuff about us, when the sort of story that Gone Girl ends up being is tossed around as B-movie trash. When it’s Oscar bait from the likes of David Fincher, who has had a lot of tough things to say about how fucked up the world is but seems to miss that angle here, I despair.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Gone Girl for its representation of girls and women.


Gone Girl (2014)
US/Can release: Oct 03 2014
UK/Ire release: Oct 02 2014

MPAA: rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language
BBFC: rated 18 (strong bloody violence, very strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

Pin It on Pinterest