SPOILER ALERT: GONE GIRL
It’s Friday night and I feel like doing something…
Desperate to avoid the company of the kind of people I fear may share my impulse to leave the house on a Friday night, I decide not to cheat myself into spending my evening listening to bad music and weaving through drunk arseholes and instead twist a friend’s arm into accompanying me to the cinema.
There are a couple of clear choices as to what we should watch. Firstly, I’m quite curious to see Maps to the Stars; not because I’ve had a soft spot for Cronenberg ever since watching Jeff Goldblum pick off his fingernails as Brundlefly but because Cosmopolis was such a train wreck I’m curious to see what DC will do next.
The other option is Gone Girl. I’m hoping this will be a return to form for Fincher, something memorable like Se7en and Zodiac. I also hope it will help wash away the taste of shit efforts like Benjamin Butthole and The Social Network. Gone Girl is the clear front-runner, as I know that before too long everyone will be talking about it, which is an instant turn-off for me and bound to ruin the film.
From the trailer I gather this is a film about a Ben Affleck shaped man who comes under public scrutiny after his wife goes missing. I expect to spend a good portion of this film being batted between Fincher’s paws, thinking things like: ‘He did it!’ ‘Did he do it?’ ‘Maybe he didn’t do it’ etc. However, knowing Fincher I’m hoping for a couple of more twists and rug pulls than that. Luckily, that’s exactly what I get.
The unreliable Desperate Housewives narration has me questioning everything right from the start. Is this real? Why is everyone talking/acting so weird? Why doesn’t Ben Affleck seem to give a fuck? What’s the deal with these cheeseball flashbacks?
The Inherent Vice trailer has had me thinking a lot about The Big Lebowski recently and suddenly The Dude’s voice pops into my head: ‘shit man, she kiddnapped herself’. Sure enough the film confirms this moments later and I’m left thinking ‘ok, now what?’. For me, that’s the sign of a good thriller. It gives the audience just enough information to keep them working, as soon as the audience has enough material to start putting together a conclusion the storyteller moves the goalposts.
The film’s plot has caught up to its premise about halfway through and all of a sudden I’m in no-man’s land. This is exciting. I usually don’t go to the cinema to learn lessons or explore issues but to be taken on a journey. Having watched near enough every film I can get my hands on for the last twenty years, not much feels new or unexpected these days, so I am always grateful when a film manages to keep me on my toes.
Suddenly I’m not watching a missing girl whodunit but instead, a chilling cat and mouse power play between an unfaithful husband and his psychotic wife. One of the great things about this is that their battle plays out publicly through their manipulation of the media. This goes some way to touch on the very public manner in which private lives are conducted in today’s Facebook friendly dystopia. It’s also a fresh and inventive way to show how far the shit flies when it hits the fan in a marriage.
Despite the fact they don’t share the same space for the majority of the film, hatred that exists between the two is palpable and the punches that they pull are methodically shrewd, vicious and spiteful which leads me to the other great thing about this film – its truly stand out villain.
When Keyser Soze put Gwyneth Paltrow's head in that box, Fincher immortalized John Doe as one of modern cinema’s most memorable and haunting villains; with Amazing Amy he has done it again. Her Stepford Wife performance and doll-like features all play into a terrifying portrait of a sociopath. As a female villain, I would put her amongst the ranks of Bette Davis in The Nanny, infamous bunny boiler Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Kathy Bates as the world’s worst super fan in Misery.
Since Se7en grim and gory has been done to death and for me it just doesn't seem to work anymore, I never feel truly scared or disturbed by most of the films that aim to do so. Filmmakers desperatly vie for attentention, each trying to raise the bar in shock value until we end up with farces like Human Centepede being produced. Fincher decides not to retread old ground here, but instead plays with something a lot more banal – suburbia. This cunningly disarming aesthetic only helps the film to get further under my skin and that guy from Nine Inch Nails helps push things along with a score that oscillates between an ominous pulse and a grotesquely saccharine suburban lullaby.
The ending seems designed to leave the audience feeling abused with nowhere left to go, again I’m going to have to compare this to Se7en. When Brad Pitt shoots John Doe you know that he is fucked, the hero loses and the bad guy wins. That is, if you consider getting shot in the head winning. So in his death, as well as getting what he wants, John Doe also gets his comeuppance.
The ending to Gone Girl is quite similar but instead of going for a dramatic crescendo the tension just seems to deflate back towards normality. Though this is more subtle it is every bit as resonant. Ben Affleck is forever imprisoned in a never-ending pantomime where he will have to share the rest of his life with this disgusting bitch; she however receives no comeuppance whatsoever.
She doesn’t learn or change in any way; the only thing that changes is our perception of her, which really fucks with conventional ideas of narrative providence. This film tells the viewer that we live in a world where, not only does evil go unpunished, but that it can exist hidden in those closest to us. It also tells us that the scope and magnitude of these evils can greatly exceed any expectations you may have of those people in which you trust most.
As people exit the theatre, there is something in the air. Some people jump to urgently discuss the film in order to rationalize it and dispel its sickly aftertaste, others still seem a bit stunned and dazed. My favorite thing about the whole experience is that we’re all feeling something but don’t quite know what to do with that feeling; no one can quite look each other in the eye. Having been forced to closely watch the intricacies of and the extent to which people can deceive and hurt one another, there is no trust in the foyer and everyone seems uneasy in one way or another.
Other things worth noting were that I enjoyed seeing Kim Dickens outside of New Orleans and I further enjoyed seeing Frisbee from Spun (who never seems to age) as her sidekick. I didn’t really know what Tyler Perry looked like – now I do. And last but not least, I thought it would always be funny seeing Doogie Howser in a heterosexual sex scene but apparently this is not the case when he is getting his throat slit.