REVIEW: GONE GIRL
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all content © A.E.M. Baumann
2014 (149 min)
writer: Gillian Flynn
starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
– March 10, 2015
I have been a Fincher fan since Alien3, and indeed I've considered him one of the top directors in the U.S. pretty much since he successfully followed up Se7en (and The Game) with Fight Club. In truth, I consider him one of the few who might be able to step into the void created in the realm of film as artwork by Kubrick's death.
Which is not to say he is without criticism. For me, while it is a very interesting go at a very restrictive genre, I think Panic Room falls apart well before its final moments. But of more concern for me – speaking as a fan – is that it seems that in the last few films he has abandoned aesthetic creativity for narrative realism. While I am still in consideration of my position on them, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo[FN], and, now, Gone Girl are to me a regression into cinematic realism. Visually, as films as opposed to narratives, they may be meticulous, technically well executed, but they are to me rather uninteresting aesthetically. Up until Social Network, you could track Fincher's directorial choices as an exploration of genres, moving from one to another, never back tracking: Alien3 = science fiction; Se7en = horror; The Game = mystery; Fight Club = psychological thriller; Panic Room = lady in a cage; Zodiac = (60s-70s style) cop drama; Benjamin Button = literary fantasy (that might be called magical realism).
[FN] Now, I have only seen Girl with the Dragon Tattoo once. But after the first viewing my response was that however intense it was, it did not rise abou being but a very well made suspense/action film.
What was brilliant for all of them was that visual aspect of the film followed along with the thematic shifts. And, it was (greatly) through the visual that the films rose above genre and entered cinema as art. Social Network might be following the trend in genre explorations, perhaps being a psychological character study; though, for me, as a film it as mostly but a narrative. The visual elements were less co=equal to the narrative in the final meld and more but the means to present the narrative.
For me, Scorcese's body of work is similar (though without the temporal pattern). His best films, which is to say his most aesthetic films are those where he has broken away from his origins in American Realist cinema: as examples (not an all-inclusive list), Bringing Out the Dead, Shutter Island, Hugo, and "Life Lessons" from New York Stories. (I might even throw Cape Fear in there, even though many consider it a failed film.)
Gone Girl has for me one very interesting aspect: most of the backstory you get about Nick and Amy's life is a lie, told from out of the fake diary: that is, a huge chunk of the film is offered by an unreliable narrator.[FN] So, for the most part, you have to glean what the relationship between the two was really like from small tidbits dropped here and there. And even then, you have to question, considering the end of the film where Amy says to Nick that had never been more himself than when he was actively participating the mutual deceptions of the first years of their relationship, how much of of even that information is truthful. It could very well be that, once wholly scrutinized, there is nothing presented about the life between the two that is not to some degree a lie: that is, except that their relationship was built upon lies.
Which makes for a very intriguing narrative. (It is arguable that most interesting thing that can happen in a narrative is for the narrative to lie.) And to some degree the visuals do work in concert with the falsehood of the backstory: my memory of the the back history of the two is that the scenes were visually lush, darker colored, more shadow filled, not in the sense of forboding but in the sense of the opposite of the imaginative sterility of the color white.
But, outside that, for the most part I found the visual aspects of the film quite uninteresting. As said, it may have been technically well executed, but it was not terrilby engaging aesthetically. The visual aspect felt subservient to the narrative: which is not aesthetic cinema, but mere storytelling.
Unfortunately, that is not my only complaint. There is a plot element that wholly killed the film for me, one that pushes Gone Girl solidly down to the bottom in any ranking of Fincher's films: the final third of the film is based entirely upon a contrivance of the most extreme sort. Not only is it completely out of character that someone as cautious and careful as Amy would ever permit her money pouch to be loose enough to fall out, we are (at least) twice shown her hiding the money under a mattress. There was zero reason for her to have the money on her in the first place, never mind no believable reason for the occurrence of the money falling free to ever happen.
It was a contrivance that revealed poor writing. Amy returns to Nick because of his performance on the Sharon Schieber broadcast, not because of anything that followed her loss of the money. In truth, the sole purpose of her losing her money was to provide her with someone to kill: an event itself unnecessary to the motivations for her return. The murder merely provides her with a backstory (and evidence thereof) to accompany and safely validate her return.
Now, did Amy need to drop the money pouch? No. The plot could have progressed such that she sees the interview on television and then connives and executes (so to speak) the backstory of the kidnapping so as to set up her successful return. In truth, that might have been a far better plot as it removes the unnecessary element of desperation. And, the film would have been nicely divided into a chiasmic contriving out of the relationship followed by contriving back into the relationship.
The dropping of the bag was a groaner moment for me, and evoked a spoken response of disappointment when it occured. To note, I am not saying the rest of the film is perfectly written, it is not. There are moments of stumbling throughout the writing of the film. But that one moment, that one contrivance – especially in a film about a woman who is a brilliant (if psychopathic) manipulator of the world around her – sank the film for me.
To say, as a brief close, I came upon a similar moment recently with the closing scene of von Trier's Nymphomaniac: one of the worst, most contrived if not pointless final scenes I have had the misfortune to see in many a year. (In turth, I did not find the film a successful film. Though, I will say, I have not yet seen the extended cut; so perhaps too much had to be cut out. It is undeniable that the short versions of the Peter Jackson LotR films have many weaknesses if not errors created by the forced editing.)