Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The disappearance of Amy

I saw Gone Girl on Monday evening, and found it to be an absorbing thriller, one that is fast-paced and doesn't waste any time. The movie is much better than the book in my opinion. David Fincher, who directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, did a great job of directing Gone Girl—it’s a taut thriller with a lot of unsettling things to say about personal relationships and about society’s addictive and obsessive relationship with television and the media. Ben Affleck finally found a role that suits him in Nick Dunne. His Nick is an interesting combination of clueless, indifferent, superficial, and opportunistic. He doesn’t invest more of himself than is absolutely necessary in any aspect of his life. In other words, Nick is no real prize—when he’s unemployed, he’s perfectly content to let his wife’s money pay for the bar he owns in Missouri after they’ve moved back there from New York, in order to be near his mother who has terminal cancer. He teaches part-time at a local college and ends up having an affair with one of his students, but even that seems half-hearted. He has promised his lover that he is going to divorce his wife, but seems to be immobilized by inertia or fear of telling her. Perhaps deep down, he knows that his wife is bonkers and he knows too that he doesn’t have the energy to fight her. But as the story progresses and he wakes up to the nightmare that his life has become, his anger starts to come out, and in the scenes where he is angry, he is truly believable. Stupid, unsuspecting Nick, who finally wakes up to the reality that he’s married to a psychopath, but by then it’s too late, she’s pregnant with his child and there’s no way he’s going to let her raise that child alone. So he ends up stuck in a loveless marriage, but he’s found himself and his purpose, so to speak. Up until that point, it seems as though he has mostly just drifted through his life.

Rosamund Pike did an impressive job as Amy Dunne. She’s a scary woman—Amy, not one you’d want to turn your back on for too long. ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. And it would be nearly impossible not to scorn Amy. All men pay dearly for perceived slights and indiscretions in Amy’s world. Nick pays dearly for his infidelity, for his stupidity and insensitive treatment of Amy. She’s Amazing Amy for sure, but not in the way that her writer parents could ever have imagined. Amy is a monster--a beautiful one, but a monster nonetheless. One of the most manipulative women portrayed onscreen in a long time; I found myself thinking of Sharon Stone’s character Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct from 1992. If you wonder about what kind of marriage Catherine and Nick Curran (played by Michael Douglas) in Basic Instinct might have had, perhaps Amy and Nick’s marriage might be one version of such a marriage, at least at the point when it started to crumble.

Neil Patrick Harris did a great job as Desi Collings, Amy’s presumed stalker from her college years, manipulative in his own way, but no real match for Amy. He can’t see through her, or see that he’s being manipulated, and he pays with his life for his stupidity. Kim Dickens character, Detective Rhonda Boney, the cop assigned to the case of the missing Amy, is smart, tough, and demanding. It was a real pleasure to watch her in action, to watch her deal with her colleagues; she could definitely hold her own. The same was true for Nick's sister Margo, played by Carrie Coon--another good performance. 

The part of the story that dragged in the book, Amy’s experiences toward the end with Desi Collings, has been shortened and makes for a much more intense ending. The music score is appropriately jarring and creepy exactly at the times when it should be.

The film reminded me in parts of the film Presumed Innocent from 1990, with Harrison Ford and Bonnie Bedelia as husband and wife. He has an affair with a colleague who ends up raped and murdered, and he is accused of the crime. In reality, it is his wife who has murdered her to make her husband pay for his infidelity; the explanation for how it all happened was way out there, just like the ending in Gone Girl, and quite unusual for its time.

Gone Girl is an unsettling film in yet another way—one that’s often discussed these days. It depicts clearly the power of TV/media to make or break a person, a case, a cause, and the power that talk show hosts wield over the American public. It struck me that Gone Girl is a peculiarly American film; nowhere else in the world do talk show hosts have the type of power they have in America, at least as far as I know. They are the judge and jury, and if they like you, you’re saved, if not, you’re sunk. Innocent people, who don’t know how to play the manipulation game, will have their jugulars ripped out by these packs of dogs. This world is peopled with psychopaths, who manipulate the people and situations around them to serve themselves and their ratings. 


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