Gone Girl works spectacularly well on a variety of levels: It’s a superb thriller, a darkly comic piece of pop culture entertainment, a savvy look at the utter insanity of the media, and a scathing criticism of what people have come to expect from marriage. Most importantly though, this is a movie about misogyny; how society fosters and accepts it, and how men have become so accustomed to it they’re barely aware of how hateful their actions can be. It’s a film (and a book) that should prompt lots of heated arguments and thoughtful conversations. You may have problems with Gone Girl, you may find some of the plot points obvious or uninspired, you may loathe some of the characters, and you may be angered or perplexed by the ending. Despite all that, the main thing to take away is that this is a movie worth talking about. It brings an important discussion to the table that way too many people are afraid or unwilling to swallow.
It’s impossible to talk deeply about Gone Girl without giving the whole game away so consider this the spoiler free section of this post. The movie begins with a voice over by Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne as he tells us that he sometimes imagines cracking his wife’s head open to see what’s inside. When a story starts with that kind of narration, you know you’re going to be in for something interesting. It’s Nick’s five-year anniversary with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) and he’s not exactly looking forward to it. He visits his twin sister, Go (Carrie Coon) at the bar they co-own before returning home to find his front door open, an overturned coffee table in the living room, and no sign of Amy. He calls the police but doesn’t seem too concerned about his missing wife and the detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) suspect him instantly. Before you know it, the case has turned into a media firestorm with a Nancy Grace lookalike (Missi Pyle) condemning Nick as a wife killer every chance she gets. He insists upon his innocence despite his carefree attitude about the whole thing and points fingers at other people, including the homeless in the area and a former ex of Amy’s (Neil Patrick Harris). It’s not enough though and he is forced to reach out to high profile lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), known as the defender of guilty husbands. We learn about Nick and Amy’s troubled marriage through flashbacks; they were hit hard by the recession and forced to move out of New York City unemployed for the first time in their lives. As the movie goes on, secrets are revealed and there are many twists and turns along the way. Even having read the novel last year, it’s a hell of a ride. And it’s impressive the way Director David Fincher nails every beat.
The actors are uniformly excellent. It’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time where there wasn’t a single performance I disliked. This is a role tailor made for Ben Affleck to the point where you wonder if Gillian Flynn had him in mind when she wrote the book. Nick is a fairly likeable guy but also smug and arrogant and there are many moments when you want to punch him in the face. If that doesn’t fit Ben Affleck to a T, then I don’t know what does. It’s a tricky role to navigate because Nick could quickly become too unlikeable for us to care about but Affleck handles himself well. It helps that his sister calls him out on all of his bullshit. Carrie Coon, with The Leftovers and now this, is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. She’s wonderful here, hits every laugh line and emotional moment perfectly. As Amy, Rosamund Pike is worthy of an Oscar but we’ll get into that a little more later on. Tyler Perry is surprisingly very good as the lawyer. He has the movie’s single biggest laugh line and is an effective character actor. Stick to straight acting Tyler, you’re good at it; don’t write, don’t direct, and stay out of that dress. I was worried that Neil Patrick Harris was going to be too broad as the ex-boyfriend but he plays the role with just the right amount of creepiness without going over the top. Then there’s Patrick Fugit (remember him from Almost Famous?) and Kim Dickens as the two cops. He’s good but she’s great. Dickens is a criminally underrated and underused actress so it’s nice to see her in a juicy supporting role. I also enjoyed Missi Pyle as Nancy Grace (the movie calls her ‘Ellen Abbot’ but we know who they mean). It’s not even correct to say that her portrayal is a satire; it’s just an accurate depiction of Nancy Grace.
The way lurid stories like this one get swept up by the media, with anchors spouting theories and stirring the pot in the interest of catching the public’s attention, is one of Gone Girl’s most interesting themes. It’s funny and shockingly truthful in the way the public loathes Nick one moment and fawns all over him the next. Tyler Perry’s Tanner Bolt provides provocative insight on how to spin a story in a different direction and Sela Ward has a nice cameo as a no-nonsense, more respected interviewer who nevertheless thrives on the same bullshit as the rest of the media.
Gone Girl is also a pleasant surprise just by existing. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that Hollywood made a smart thriller for adults and people actually went to see it. Maybe that means we’ll get more movies like this one. It doesn’t talk down to the audience and highlights important issues that need discussing while also providing two and a half hours of pure entertainment. I can’t wait to see it again.
Ok, after the trailer, we’re heading into spoiler territory.
SPOILER SPOILERS OH MY GOD THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW WATCH OUT CUZ THERE ARE SPOILERS LOTS OF THEM GOOD LORD TONS OF SPOILERS READ AT YOUR OWN RISK WOW SPOILERS AHHHHHH
It’s almost funny to mention spoilers cuz, for a lot of us, the book already spoiled the movie. One of my big worries going into Gone Girl was that I’d be bored by the twists I knew were coming. That’s what happened when Fincher adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Granted, there already was a perfect movie adaptation of that novel. This doesn’t have that problem and all the twists are handled even a little better here than they were on the page. Gillian Flynn translated her own work to the screen in a way that allowed her to keep the story fresh and deepen most of the novel’s themes. Anyway, the thing we’re here to talk about is the main twist, namely that Amy is a ‘crazy bitch’ as several characters say.
Here’s where the movie digs into misogyny in fascinating way. I’ve heard many people call Amy a crazy bitch for what she does to Nick and to Neil Patrick Harris (Side note: JESUS THAT SCENE) and a few critics have accused the movie of being misogynistic for the way Amy uses sexuality and false rape accusations to wreak havoc on the people who piss her off. They’re missing the point. There’s a huge difference between being misogynistic and being about misogyny. Gone Girl is using Amy’s actions to make a larger point.
First off, yes, Amy is crazy and yes, her actions are reprehensible but the important question we should be asking is why she is like this. Surely, she wasn’t just born a monster, hardly anyone ever is. Amy has been brought up in a society that made it perfectly clear what’s she’s expected to be: a doting wife, a loving mother, and of course, a ‘Cool Girl’. That fact that she’s hyper intelligent makes her resent those things more than the average person. Add to that her ‘loving’ husband who turns out to be a philandering, needy, selfish, dickhead. She was willing to play her role but he was only willing to play his for a short amount of time. This is something I believe to be common in a lot of marriages. Women are expected to play their roles forever while men are allowed to let the façade drop and just ‘be themselves’ whenever they want. Gillian Flynn said this way better than I ever could in the novel and…oh hell, I’m just gonna post it. This is a section of the book written from Amy’s perspective:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Amy is tired of the idea of pretending to be the Cool Girl and her actions are a result of that. She’s through playing her role, through being tossed aside, and through being expected to take it all lying down. Now keep in mind of course, none of this excuses her faking her own death and slicing a man’s throat. This is not an excuse but an explanation. She’s a ‘crazy bitch’ because of the culture she was raised in. Her parents contributed to it too with the ‘Amazing Amy’ books. She was held to an absurdly high standard that no one could possibly maintain. She’s been playing a role since the day she was born.
Nick is obviously not as bad as she is (he doesn’t kill anybody) but he is just as fucked up. He was brought up in the same culture and expected Amy to be all those inane things. He doesn’t even see this as a problem. They’re both guilty of blaming the recession for their troubles but that’s part of the culture they were raised in as well. Neither of them is willing to look inside to see who they really are; they’ve both been playing a part their whole lives. This is why Amy is once again attracted to Nick when he pleads for her to come home on TV, while slyly letting her know that he knows what she’s up to. He’s embracing the role of the loving husband, the husband who can admit his mistakes, and he’s finally playing to her level. They stay together at the end not because she’s got him entrapped (he could easily poke holes in her story) but because he wants her again. They both fit well into their societal roles on their own but play those roles perfectly when they’re together. It’s an ending that works as both dark satire and a critique of what most of us think a normal married couple should be. There’s a reason Tyler’s Perry’s line to Nick, “You two are the most fucked up people I have ever met” gets the biggest laugh of the movie. Because it’s true.
Now about Amy being a ‘crazy bitch’. It’s an accurate description I grant you but it’s also one that we use way too often. How many breaks up have you heard about where the guy says they split because she turned out to be a ‘crazy bitch’? Does anyone ever ask what the reason for that might be? Gone Girl does. It presents us with a psychotic character who is a product of the way women are viewed in the modern world. I must confess I liked Amy a lot more in the movie than I did in the book. Part of that is because her motivations are clearer and because of hindsight. But most of it is due to Rosamund Pike’s magnificent performance. She doesn’t make Amy into a one-note psychopath but into a complex character that we can even root for at certain times. Hell, when she started screaming in front of those security cameras, I was secretly cheering inside.
And let’s talk about the Neil Patrick Harris character for a second. Her killing him is the point of no return for how many people view Amy. ‘She fucking killed somebody’, they say and dismiss her as nothing more than a one-note femme fatale. But think about why she killed him. It wasn’t just to get her life back; it was also because he basically kidnapped her. He’s another example of a man who expects her to play a role, in this case the rescued princess who he can lock away in a tower. That scene where he lets her know that there are cameras everywhere is one of the most chilling in the film. Arguably, he is the film’s most misogynistic character so I don’t think we should feel too bad when he gets his throat split open.
It’s not just the character of Amy that Gone Girls uses to highlight how we treat women. Nick’s sister has a great line when she scolds him for telling the cops that Amy is ‘complicated’. “Everyone knows that’s code for bitch,” she admonishes him. Then there’s Kim Dickens’ detective. Take a look at Amy’s interrogation scene at the end. The room is filled with male officers who are all too eager to believe Amy’s tale of woe. To them, she could only be a victim. There’s no chance she was smart enough to concoct this story. Kim Dickens sees right through it though but do her fellow officers listen to her? Of course not. They dismiss her almost instantly and give her scolding looks that say she should just shut up. I bet a few of them called her a ‘crazy bitch’ as soon as she left the room.
Anyway, I’m babbling and keep in mind this all just my personal take on the movie. I’ve read reviews that suggest the whole thing is a daydream in Nick’s head, I’ve heard it called a cheap Lifetime thriller, I’ve heard it called entertaining but hollow, and I’ve heard it called misogynistic. Obviously, I don’t agree. But I am pleased that there is so much discussion going on about this movie. That’s just great! A major Hollywood motion picture is making us think and argue and debate. How often does that happen? So go on people! Get to the theater and join the conversation. Then come on back to this post and tell me how wrong I am.