Sean K. Cureton

The New American Pastoral

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on October 12, 2014 at 11:30 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Gone Girl
Directed by David Fincher
4 out of 4 stars

Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, and adapted for the screen by its author, David Fincher’s Gone Girl is one of the most thrilling rides you will go on in a movie theatre this year. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne, two too-cute-for-their-own-good Manhattanite writers living the dream in the Big Apple, or at least until their entire world begins to crumble around them amid the economic collapse at the turn of the 21st century, that is, Fincher’s new film is about the sorts of fabrications that we create for and about ourselves, and how flimsy those sorts of subjective fictions can turn out to be, especially when they begin to collide with the opposing planets of those who are the most near and dear to us, signaling a complete and total cosmic collapse of the self. Without giving away too much of the plot, Gone Girl, at its core, is about the charade of marriage, the sanctity of the private life in a world encroached upon by the 24 hour news cycle, and how both of these forces can combine to create a self-imprisoning fiction that proves to be all too easy to begin to believe in, even trust. The film starts out as a simple murder mystery, with Affleck’s Nick in the hot seat, suspected of murdering his seemingly perfect wife, case closed, no questions asked. As the film progresses, however, the story becomes more confused and opaque, leaving the viewer reveling in the various lies and deceptions employed on all sides of the case, until the final reveal at the film’s end, giving you exactly what you wanted, only this time the portraiture of domestic bliss is all too true, without even a veneer of romantic playacting, the players revealed for who and what they really are.

Like the novel, Flynn’s screenplay for Fincher’s film employs the deceptive narrative device of the unreliable narrator in order to create the aura of mystery and intrigue that is so central to the novel’s character and form, presenting two protagonists who are in a near constant state of re-invention and outright fabrication, each lie disguised as truth, and each truth seemingly a lie. Remarkably, the malleable nature of the novel’s plot is adapted impeccably well to the screen, with each lie made all the more terrifying when aided by Fincher’s cunning point of view, compelling the viewer to sit back and watch as Fincher’s characters lie, contort, and fabricate each and every step of the way in full view, making their deceptions all the more disturbing and cinematically compelling, akin to live theatre in the immediate nature of each character’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to each twist and turn of the film’s plot. At first glance, Amy is the perfect little Stepford Wife, willing to play the “Cool Girl” to Nick’s gallivanting brohemian life style, aiming to let her “dancing monkey” off the leash, in order to appear to seem less controlling and shrewish. As the film continues to unravel such orchestrations of character, however, Amy trades places with Nick, and begins to create her very own Stepford Husband, belying the inherent misogyny in the very conception of the “Cool Girl” aesthetic as it plays out across various male character types, an individually tailored Manic Pixie Dream Girl for every boy. Throughout Fincher’s film, Nick and Amy Dunne are constantly out of reach, impalpable to our touch, cold and distant, ephemeral in character, allowing for the reality of the film to become all the more willing to bend on cue into either dark nightmare or domestic pastoral, depending on the needs of the current fiction being entertained by the film’s characters.

Depending on their moods, Nick and Amy are in love, or not, rendering their marriage a darkly satirical farce, the players made into world class thespians, adaptable to the vicious nature of the private life within a very public world. The public world in Fincher’s film is personified in the 24 hours news cycle, populated by Fox News predators, CNN story spinners, and TV personality lawyers, all eager to devour their very own convenient truths, true or not, so long as it makes for a good story. Thus, Nick and Amy Dunne are outright encouraged by those around them to trade off their roles multiple times over the course of the film’s impeccably paced and remarkably punchy 149 minute run time, the abuser and the abused one minute, the mouse and the cat the next. As their roles go under their many stages of metamorphosis over the course of the film’s construction of the perfect domestic fable, the world of the film grows colder and harsher, Nick and Amy becoming victims to the very falsehoods they once held up only for themselves now held up to the eye of a public eager to project their own desires into the mix. Instead of playing the Stepford Couple only for themselves, by the end of Fincher’s film Nick and Amy Dunne are playing for the entire world, performing a dirge of a marriage that once was, within a prison of the self that no longer feels so familiar.

Gillian Flynn has done the near impossible in her adaptation of what was a particularly remarkable novel for the screen, and David Fincher has proven the ideal co-creator in Flynn’s prosaic narrative on love and marriage in modern times, delivering a film that is shocking in its dark satire, and disturbingly comforting in its capitulations to the form of marriage as an ideal. With all of the various indictments and irregularities that Fincher’s film raises about marriage between two people living on their own subjective planets of selfhood, the universe that surrounds these two planets of self-image proves to be the true menace, encroaching upon the privacy of the soul with wanton abandon and an insatiable appetite to be entertained by our own projected fantasies. What’s more, in engaging with the film as a viewer, the act of our own voyeurism must be reckoned with in order to watch the film as entertainment, implicating the viewer in the larger evils of Fincher’s cinematic dialogue, making CNN news anchors and Bill O’Reilly’s of us all. Possibly the most frightening thing about Gone Girl is its insistence on the need for the types of orchestrated realities that we see on the news everyday, as they serve to placate a sub-conscious desire to be informed, outraged, and complacent to let things run their course, for the sake of the most convenient of truths. We don’t really want to upset the convenient idealism inherent in our various constructions of our private and public selves, willing ourselves to be entertained by the drama inherent to our everyday lives, true or not, so long as it’s entertaining, and we each get to go home to our very own Stepford Husbands and Wives at the end of the day, a new American Pastoral for everyone, domestic bliss be damned.

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