Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A marriage procedural

A pretty blonde head is stroked by a masculine hand that looks equally capable of tenderness or terror. The owner of the hand wonders what’s inside that head. “What are you thinking? What have we done to each other?” The story of a wife who goes missing and the abyss of suspicion her husband’s plunged into in the wake of her disappearance, Gone Girl undergoes several sea change-shifts, offering multiple perspectives then promptly prompting us to question the validity of those perspectives. Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel and directed with characteristically cool precision by David Fincher, the film is murder mystery, domestic horror, the blackest of comedies, social satire—perhaps the only way of containing all these is to call it noir. Above all, it’s a forensic analysis of love turned venomous in decay. In keeping with many Fincher films, it reaches heights of intrigue and resonance by focusing on detail and causality: it’s a marriage procedural.

Nick and Amy Dunne (a brilliantly cast Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike) moved from New York to Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri after both lost their jobs and Nick’s mother fell ill. Was financial strain the source of their marital mire? Was it the confines of Carthage? Was it some inherent flaw in love’s DNA, something that went undetected during those early days in which each longs to fulfil the other’s bliss-blinded vision of their beloved? We know from Nick’s private conversations with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) that things likely went south long before they moved to the Midwest, but after Amy disappears Nick is compelled to behave as though their marriage was idyllic. Once signs of struggle are found in his house the investigating detectives (the superb Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) clearly view Nick with suspicion. Once Amy’s disappearance makes the news it becomes fodder for a media machine eager to package tragedy into sensational narrative—and Nick’s initial resistance to ostentatious displays of grief immediately render him the potential bad guy.

But Gone Girl is most closely aligned with Nick’s point of view. We’re inclined to believe him, even when we know he’s no angel, even when Affleck is pleasingly low on affect. Yet Amy’s version of their marriage intercepts the Nick narrative: we’re offered passages from her diary that detail an protracted honeymoon period tainted only by references to a devious chin (a nice bit of business that playfully pokes fun at Affleck’s physiognomy). As the dueling plots thicken we wonder when Amy’s tale of marital bliss will overlap with Nick’s history of misery and suffocation. Gone Girl proliferates in subplots and slippery twists, accumulating crimes and misdemeanors, building toward a satisfying thriller climaxes and a denouement distinguished by its poisonousness as a date night movie, an even more unnerving mirror held up to married life than Before Midnight.

I mentioned noir. While Fincher’s supple classicism and delight in making the darkest mainstream movies imaginable recalls Hitchcock, throughout Gone Girl I kept thinking how much this material would have appealed to Billy Wilder, who was never better than when he met a script that could vindicate his cynicism with earned wit and a sense of lived experience. Flynn’s script depends on certain flights of artifice (which I will refrain from spoiling) yet resonates in countless ways. The concern with optics informing the story will no doubt come into play in the film’s reception: a woman can be accused of misogyny just as easily as a man, but the fact that Gone Girl’s primary authorship is divided between a man and a woman probably helps to navigate a minefield of gender representation—we’ll be discussing how that plays out for some time. For now we can simply surrender to this film’s seductive sway, its cool surfaces and wicked humour, its myriad traps and wrong turns which, like the Dunnes’ cat, we can only sit and silently witness. But wait, whose side does that sphinx-like tabby take in the end?

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