Originally published on This Is Film
Gone Girl is sick.
(If you want the purest experience, to be on a knifes’ edge at every turn and whim of this truly wild and twisted film, read no more. Just go see it, and find out for yourself. Please.)
From the first moment, it is squirmingly, stomatch-churningly macabre. Having this cracker of an opening monologue tends to do that:
“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head…I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”
There’s no better way to immediately turn your audience on a main character than have them deliver that, one of the creepiest couple of sentences committed to film this year, a moment so gruesome and graphic that only gives us a taste, a starting point of the horror film that is to come.
It starts slow, humdrum, like Carthage, Missouri, the town in which it is set. Bye bye New York, hello small town Missouri. Manicured lawns, McMansions, large driveways, empty streets in the morning, no large stores. Large brick walls hide secrets, put up a façade of stillness like any that we would expect in a town such as this. However, then we venture outside the bubble, into the real world. The rest of the town, which is a neighbor to these deluded images of affluence, couldn’t be more opposite. It’s a town of extremes. Just down the road from these expensive houses are dilapidated buildings filled with the homeless, revealing a dark, recently developed underbelly that is anything but slow, quiet and wholesome.
In Cathage lives Amy Dunne, a person as complicated, multilayered and sinister as the town itself. She’s deeply out of her comfort zone, so far beyond the comfortable, calculated existence that has defined her thus far. Life, thus far, has been cyclical, predictable. Each point in life, where Amy Dunne is supposed to have landed had been dictated by a book – the newest installment of the Amazing Amy series, written by her parents in an act that I can only describe as monumentally screwed up. They’re simultaneously a damning grading system and an ego stroke, an F and an A+ in one fell swoop. She’s had a life where she can get everything she wants, but things always seem to have been slightly out of reach, the ideal written from the beginning if never attainable. Amy Elliott doesn’t get a pet? Amazing Amy gets one to make her more relatable. Amy Elliott gets cut from the volleyball team? Amazing Amy makes varsity. Amy Elliott isn’t tying the knot yet? Don’t worry, Amazing Amy gets a whole book about getting married. Her life has been controlled, pressed between pages and read by millions, and when it becomes unraveled, uncontrollable or wants to deviate from the written word, it’s only a matter of time until she snaps, suddenly and violently.
The moment that Gone Girl goes from simple domestic drama to all out, off the wall madness, when Fincher is no longer looking at the head but cracking it open and laying it out for the world to see is not something that can be pinpointed. The first section of the film slips by slowly, bloodletting flowing behind the curtain before seeping out, little by little, until suddenly the floor is covered in it, a puddle of lies, deception, exacerbated by job losses and recession.
There’s three main arteries in this film that run to its heart, that is, Amy Dunne. Three main topics that are at the forefront of this majorly disgusting piece of work. They are: media, image, and parenting.
I’m currently writing an essay for a Newswriting class on how journalism has drastically changed, but still maintains three core pursuits – curiosity, accuracy, and depth/truth. A case of relevance to Gone Girl and the media circus it portrays could be made for all three of these, but let’s consider one for a moment – truth. The pursuit of truth has changed. It’s expedited, we’re too quick to jump to conclusions and pull out the first part of damning evidence. We’re no longer concerned with extended investigations or waiting, and to put it plain and simple, the standard of proof for criminal law – beyond reasonable doubt. When was the last time that anyone graced the media, mostly for a controversial topic, was given a completely fair, balanced presentation, before they were proven beyond reasonable doubt, regardless of whether they were guilty or not, their cooperation turned into an unofficial murder conviction? Count them, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
We’re always prone to a witchhunt, its something that we’ve done since the beginning of time and something that the establishment of instant, digital media in the past 60 or so years has only intensified. It’s something that I touched on recently in a reflection of George Clooneys’ Good Night and Good Luck, where I said:
“In the YouTube, endless content and instant access world, we are almost too eager to jump on board and immediately paint everything as black or white. We love a good witchhunt. People can ramp up fear and passionate feelings almost instantaneously, like Senator McCarthy and his radio and television broadcasts in the 1950s, but now, all you need is to be a charismatic speaker with a platform that allows you to speak to the masses and get them to side with you. As Edward Murrow said, “no man can terrorise a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”. The ability to vindicate a group, to incite fear and ruin lives, is no longer solely with political figures, but with basically anyone who can make a persuasive speech. It’s frightneningly widespread. You only need to look at the recent case of ‘Gamergate’ to see this in full force.”
The result of this is an odd phenomenon where we’re more involved in current events than ever before, but have also become weirdly detatched from them. Is it because we view them through a screen? Is it because we seem to be seeing more of them than ever before? Who knows. All we know is that the husband of a missing person is no longer someone that has their privacy respected, instead we use them as a ‘famous person’ in a selfie used as a profile photo, as a cheap shot at our 15 minutes of fame amongst the noise.
Choosing what image to present to the world, picking out the parts of life that look the best isn’t anything new. We hear about it from the 1950s, the white picket fence ideal that’s been the subject of countless books, films, plays, you name it, its been done. Except now, it’s not just limited to the local street, it’s splashed across the whole world. The Facebook world.
Aah, the Facebook world. Some are headlong into it, some are running away from it as fast as they can, trying to reclaim some privacy, and some are reluctant bystanders, only ankle deep in the swamp. It’s both the enemy and the best friend of the modern day person, particularly the parent. Putting out a fictionalised, polished version of a child’s life is no longer as difficult and labour intensive as writing a book series about them. Nope, all you need is a public Facebook profile and flashy clothes, lifestyle, a good story, whatever gets the attention, and the world is your oyster. The kids are used to it, they’re almost as media trained as parents like Marybeth and Rand Elliott, who see tragedy as also as way for a PR exercise, an opportunity for melodrama and large speeches. Some of it’s true, and some, as we’ve seen, is not true, rather just a story to find a futile, fleeting sense of fame. Like the Elliotts writing the Amazing Amy books, when it’s not true, it’s about writing about what they really want. The perfect kid they wish they had, that was predetermined in their head but didn’t get, creating an unrealistic avatar for them. How screwed up is that?
In this age of seeing helicopter, ego stroking, high self-esteem parenting, where a specific, defining image of a child is plastered on the walls from the get go, where no boundaries are set and given a rude awakening when they reach the real world, building children up so unrealistically high, that is just a disaster waiting to happen in every shopping centre and on television, Amy Dunne is a nightmarish wake up call to the world, hitting us over the head with a question mark about why we place so much stock in completely unhealthy levels of self-esteem. Gone Girl is a warning, an eye opener to our fasciantion with the grisly, grotesque, and curated images for the world. It’s something that we’re about to get another look at with Nightcrawler, our sick fascination with the grotesque and grizzly, to be up close and personal, no matter how awful and disgusting it may be. We love it, we love the humiliation, drama and putting a magnifying glass to the lives of others, and that’s something Fincher and Flynn definitely understand. That no matter how gruesome it is, we can’t turn away.
Gone Girl is snarling-at-the-back-of-the-closet, hidden away and swept under to rug so the world can’t see nasty. It. Is. Horrifying. Like The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s just gobsmacking that it is a studio film. It’s the type of film that is so violent, so perverted and gross that after seeing it, I wished I could scrub my eyes out and get rid of what I just saw because I felt so dirty. But at the same time, I didn’t, because it’s so darn good. It’s as smart and sinister as Amy Dunne herself, drawing you in slowly like a snake quietly approaching its prey, before it pounces and stings you with its acidic bite and truly twisted core. But you’re totally under the films sway. You can’t look away, you want to see how it pans out, you want this look into a truly insane life that is heart pounding and shocking and awful, almost too awful to have been written by someone.
Amy Dunne is a genius. A crazed, screwed up, murderous genius. She’s so persuasive, that there’s a glimmer of Nick himself believing that he did it even though he’s cracked Amy’s insane plot. She’s fully aware of the changed pursuit of truth. Anyone is. She knows that the media will pounce on the disappearance of a white, pregnant woman faster than a lion and a piece of meat, and the set up doesn’t even need to be perfect in order for what she wants, Nick to be on death row, to happen.
In a performance that is acting about acting, Rosamund Pike couldn’t be more perfect if a performer had been crafted specifically to play Amy. Her signature fine-boned, sleek, English rose look and weirdly enough, distance from the geography of the character only brings out the psychological depth and extent of her insanity, positioning Amy against a backdrop of class and image struggle, bringing an outsider perspective on the All American Girl. Amy’s countless identity changes, her ability to assume a new persona so quickly is a sad case of someone who, really, doesn’t know themselves at all. They’ve never had the opportunity to find themselves, it’s already been mapped out. The changing of personas, looks, behaviour is the pursuit of the real Amy, not Amazing Amy, not what Amazing Amy was built from, mostly childhood dreams and white wedding dress aspirations, but the real Amy. She’s never got to know herself in the slightest, it’s not just a matter of no one else being able to decode her, she can’t decode herself.
Pike’s known for bringing out the humanity in characters, finding something else deep in the character and turning every performance into a great one. Her filmography is an interesting one to journey through. In An Education she was dizzingly charming, injecting a jolt of intelligence behind the classic ditzy blonde. In Barney’s Version, she was pivotal to the acceptance of the film, possessing an otherworldliness and insight that, and in Made in Dagenham, she could be melancholic, and energetic and hopeful in the space of a single scene.
Diversity of emotions, the complexity of feelings is something that Amy Dunne has in spades, and Pike’s acting talent is perfect for it. Here, she embodies a woman at odds with herself, at whether what she is feeling and doing is scripted and preordained or of her own volition, trying to unsuccessfully take control of her life and her mind, able to show fear, malice, innocence, joy, snark, relaxed, scheming in a single look. The ripping off the layers of Amy, the protagonist shift, the first large twist is one of my favourite moments of the year. The black screen as Amy smugly delivers us a slap in the face is something so devilish and surprising that even though it is so evil and bad you can’t help but have a wicked smile on your face because it is so delicious and unexpected.
As many reviewers have said before me, Pike’s beauty, which is the type of stuff described in Austen novels and lamented about by many a poet, does not conceal the insanity but instead take the ice cool perfection and use it to accentuate the shocking craziness that’s coursing underneath and reveal the layers and powers of Amy’s deception and snake-like hypnotism and disarming charm and beauty. It’s a chameleonic, mind-blowing, downright terrifying performance, so wholly different to what she has ever touched before, something so wild and diverse and shocking that it is an actresses’ dream, delving deep into the character, but never getting soft or being tempted to completely reach the heart of a cold character.
Somehow turning Tyler Perry into a good actor and creating an air tight thriller with a hollow, eerie score, Fincher takes a stable of unlikeable characters and a ghoul of a book, making a film that goes to chilling, squirming places where every minute counts and never feels overdrawn, with a performance that has as much precision as Amy has for planning and continuing a measured life. In the age of image cultivation and subtle deception, Gone Girl couldn’t capture more of the zeitgeist. It may leave you cold upon immediately exiting the theatre, but this truly sick, tough love, cuttingly paranoid drama is a hurricane of filmmaking that will be on everyone’s lips for a while to come.