Monday, September 29, 2014

'Gone Girl' (2014) directed by David Fincher

Gone Girl is a beautifully crafted film.  From its elegant editing to the moody Trent Reznor score to Jeff Cronenweth's evocative cinematography to the career-best performances from Affleck and Pike it radiates quality like a 100w bulb. David Fincher has been a personal favourite since a torrid teenage love affair with Fight Club, and my admiration of him only grew after Zodiac and The Social Network.  Sure he's had a few bumps along the way, but even his failures are interesting.  The release of a new Fincher film is a red letter day in cinema - audiences expect something special.  So it's with no huge surprise that I happily confirm Gone Girl is a cornucopia of cinematic delights.

Problem is it's also a misogynistic piece of shit.

Oh fuck!  The M-word!  Deploying it is like waving a big red flag that says "liberal guilt incoming".  Pallid and worn out from overuse it's a spat epithet used in haste as a weapon to shut down discourse: "X is misogynist, end of discussion."  Using it casually kills its power; after all accusing something or someone of 'hating women' is a big claim to make.  

So let me get a couple of things straight; I don't think David Fincher quivers with rage at the sight of a Tampax advert.  I don't think author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn loathes her own sex.  I don't think Ben Affleck gleefully rubbed his hands when he got the part, happy to finally stick it to those uppity dames.  I doubt anyone at all involved on a creative level in this production literally hates women.  Despite all that, in collaboration they have produced a profoundly misogynistic movie.

(There's no way to explain this without spoiling the film so considered yourself warned from this point on.  I eventually give it two stars.)

Gone Girl showcases the unhappy marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike).  Nick returns home on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to find a broken coffee table, a suspicious blood spot in the kitchen and no Amy.  She has vanished. Amy is the basis for her mother's popular 'Amazing Amy' children's books, and thus a minor celebrity, so her mysterious disappearance rapidly becomes a major news event.

Meanwhile Nick is not doing a particularly good job of media management.  He appears callous in interviews, acts suspiciously and, worst of all, smiles during the press conference appealing for information.  As the days stretch on suspicion increasingly begins to fall on Nick, the media all but accusing him of murder.  The public turn against him, the police consider him the most likely suspect - even his twin sister begins to have doubts.

Twist time.  It turns out that Amy has faked her own murder in order to get back at a husband she perceives as ruining her life.  Concealed underneath her wifely demeanour lies the heart of a Lecter-esque sociopath, one with the cunning and skills to create a perfect trail of breadcrumbs trail that leads the police to Nick, and leads Nick to the electric chair. The more we learn about Amy the more her evil is revealed; she has a history of falsifying rape allegations; she ensnares innocent men by stealing their precious bodily fluids and impregnating herself; she plays the perfect lover only to strike like a scorpion - at one point she literally bathes in male blood.

Amy is the physical manifestation of every masculine fear of femininity; the quintessential black widow that lures you into a relationship, paralyses you and holds you captive as she gloats over your misfortune.  Skulk around the more pathetic corners of the internet and you'll run into Men's Rights Activists; a laughable bunch of losers who believe they're trapped in some kind of misandrist matriarchy.  In Amy they will see their paranoid nightmares brought to life.

To give Gone Girl some credit Amy isn't entirely two-dimensional.  The film tries to set out the roots of her sociopathy: intense frustration at a lifetime under other people's control.  Her fictional counterpart Amazing Amy is shown to lead her life but better, embodying in fiction what she failed to achieve in life. She explains that she feels intensely claustrophobic in her marriage to Nick, especially when moving to his podunk town where she doesn't know anyone.

In a nicely written monologue she decries how he subtly forced her into the role of a "cool girl"; she has to be smart, sexy, fun, "one of the guys", thin and beautiful all at once.   Later we see her being controlled more directly, the character moving between a series of gilded cages. Theoretically this gives her moral license to violently kick back against the pricks that try to mould her life without her consent, casting her campaign of manipulation and murder as feminist liberation. It's a pulpy, dime store kind of psychology, but it's this that Fincher relies on to justify her deeds.

Undermining this is the extremely sympathetic treatment of Ben Affleck's Nick.  I don't know what he's like in the book, but here he's an unambiguous hero, we never suspect him of murder, his return home to care for his dying mother is noble and - crucially - we never see him mistreat Amy from an objective viewpoint.  Sure he's got his flaws, notably that he's conducting an affair with a student behind his wife's back, but given that Amy is a straight-up, sadistic, cold-hearted monster who can blame him?  The sympathy we feel for Nick robs Amy of her motive for framing him, resulting in her ending up (despite the author's protestations) as a simple "crazy psycho-bitch".

Even leaving Amy aside for a moment, Gone Girl makes a series of curiously anti-feminist statements.  The arena for Nick's condemnation and shaming is The Ellen Abbott show. Abbott is a typical Fox Newsesque bundle of shining teeth, big-hair and perfect makeup and runs a show that appears to revolve around highlighting crimes against women.  

This is Nick Dunne's crucible, Abbott constantly hurls insinuations of rape and incest against him, poisoning the well of public opinion against him.  She invites on talking heads (who appear to be caricatures of feminists) to decry Nick.  I'm just not sure what satirical point Fincher is making here - is there an abundance of rabidly ill-informed feminist news shows that needs to be exposed?  Their presentation here is a strawman set up to be demolished.

What we see in Gone Girl is a flawed 'nice guy' under assault from an army of harridans with "fucking bitch" Amy leading the charge.  Her instrument of destruction is a weaponised vagina, transformed into a tool to destroy men.  Given that her Amy's motivations are unconvincingly defined, that her evil is defined purely in terms of her gender, the argument that the inevitable flipside of female liberation is male subjugation, the parade of vapid, ill-informed female characters and the heroic portrayal of Nick, Gone Girl is misogynist.

Pity, because otherwise it's a really good film.  So good that I was scrabbling for a sympathetic reading that would allow me to enjoy it. 

But I can't.


Gone Girl is released 3rd October.

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