‘Gone Girl:’ Bye Bye Bennie

Here is a spoiler warning: I will talk about the plot of Gone Girl in the review below. If it’s important to you to not know specifics of the plot of this movie, including a big twist that isn’t evident from the trailer and whatnot, stop reading this. Though, I will roll my eyes at you. Because I can see you. I can see everything. And I have a lot of thoughts on this movie that I want us to talk about.

Anywho, Gone Girl had an effect on me. Not a positive one. The film is so problematic for me on so many levels, and it’s only complicated by the fact that I was riveted and caught up in it pretty consistently throughout, which is a remarkable thing to say A – for what I think is my actual opinion of the movie, and B – for the way I usually view Fincher films (immediately able to point out the at least half-hour chunk of the movie that could have been lifted). But Gone Girl fascinated me with its flaws at every turn, and when I left the theater, I began ruminating.

I haven’t finished ruminating, which makes this a difficult review to write, as I don’t want to make convictions I’m not positive I have. That seems unfair and unwise to do on something as permanent as the internet (how permanent is the internet, really? do we have a verdict on that?). Also, I have a decades-old habit of staying silent until I know how I truly feel about something, but with movie reviews, I don’t have that luxury of time. So just know, that for every opinion I’m about to express, I have also negated it in my mind, I feel really unsure about it, and I would like to talk about it with you.

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a pretty bad husband to his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Their marriage is falling apart following some financial troubles as well as a relocation to Missouri in order to care for Nick’s dying mother. Then, one day, Amy goes missing. It looks like an abduction, but as more evidence surfaces, it becomes evident that Nick had something to do with her disappearance. He wasn’t crazy about his wife, and his ambivalence, or hate, is too hard for him to mask for the cameras. Members of the media jump all over him like rabid dogs, tearing apart his character, over-analyzing his every look, his every creepy side-smile. And in all fairness, it looks like he did it.

But through diary entries of Amy’s, flashbacks and voiceovers, we learn that she framed him. Nick was having an affair, so she studied up on how to forge the perfect crime and spent months planning and placing things just so, so it would look like he killed her. And she almost got away with it, too. But Nick knew his wife, and he figured it out. And he played her little game, garnering sympathy on national TV, putting up a good fight.

So, when Amy returns, miraculously, she plays her fabricated story furiously, cornering Nick into sitting pretty for the cameras and blabbing about their healing relationship and moving forward when the reality is, he’s trapped for good.

My gut feeling when exiting the theater was that Gone Girl is so not the story we need right now, as a society struggling with the definition of the word “victim,” especially when it comes to cases of sexual assault. Then my quick, second thought was “Ugh, Robin, it’s just a story. Isn’t it kind of cool that there’s this badass female villain? Plus, it’s written by a woman!” and then my next thought was, “No, it’s not badass. It’s not a story of justified female revenge. It’s a psychopathic woman going to extremes and falsely accusing several men of violating her physically for no reason other than to punish them for their man-ness. Maybe the book is more nuanced, but this movie is not.” We learn that Amy falsely accused an ex of rape years before she met Nick, apparently because the guy didn’t want to date her anymore. Then, she frames Nick for murder because he cheats on her. But murder is a separate category from infidelity. The latter does not justify the former. Then, she uses her obsessive ex, Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) for food and shelter, and when she decides she doesn’t need him anymore, she slits his throat (but not without staging a violent assault). This leaves us with a downright “crazy” female villain. Just not what we need right now.

Then, there’s the case of the media. Missi Pyle plays Nancy Grace, basically, a sensationalist TV personality who rips Nick apart from the very beginning. It’s a film commentary on the problems with television commentary, which seems accurate until the reactions that we see from those who’ve been swayed are only ones of women. Supposedly, the whole town, the whole country, is convinced that Nick is a slimy, awful killer, but the only visible evidence in the film is Missi Pyle’s character, Amy’s mother, a housewife who wants a picture with Nick, a makeup artist that rolls her eyes, and a female producer who gives Nick the death stare before his TV appearance. All women who have been convinced with little or no evidence to hate this man, because he’s a man, so he must have done a bad thing. It’s an interesting choice to highlight these female reactions and practically no others, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then again, Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) is a consummate professional, and her sidekick, Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) detests Nick from the beginning. But that’s mostly played for comedic effect, and they are both separate from the media frenzy.

Maybe David Fincher wanted to make this an over-the-top revenge tale, in which case he should have made Death Proof. Perhaps it’s a failure of tone that contributes to my feelings about the movie. Some reviews have labeled Gone Girl a thriller, some a dark comedy. Fincher himself tried to infuse a lot of Hitchcock, a master of horror. But in a theater full of people, there was a lot of laughter, and I don’t think that was ever Hitchcock’s goal. Plus, the film is shot like every Fincher film. Beautiful, stark, stunning, and expansive – even his close-ups feel massive in size and importance. But maybe Gone Girl would have benefitted from being more intimate, or a fully realized noir, rather than Fincher’s overtly fabricated realism – his superbly stylized version of our world. His style asks us to trust that this is reality, and this story is too fantastical for that.

In addition, Fincher’s supporting actor choices, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, somehow poke a hole in the credibility he tries to create with his cinematography (not that Neil Patrick Harris isn’t fantastic, but he is out of place, and as for Tyler Perry, I have one word: Madea). It “Lifetime Movie’s” it up a bit, and confuses things further as far as Fincher’s storytelling goals go.

The other part of it is there’s no one to root for. Nick is being played, but he’s not such a sympathetic guy. His twin sister, Margot (Carrie Coon, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere and taken masterful control of The Leftovers and this movie), is the only fully realized character we feel bad for, but she doesn’t have a goal other than to help her brother. There’s no solid ground to settle upon, no moral center to grasp, no one to really make you care, which creates a distance. Maybe the story really is just a pulp-y, noir-ish tale of a crazy, murderous wife, but in that case, Fincher missed the mark by trying to make it something more grounded. If it is supposed to be something more grounded, I guess I wish it wasn’t.

Grade: I don’t fucking know, B-?

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9 years ago

You raise some interesting points, but why do movies have to have people you root for to drive a narrative? I think Fincher is attracted to people who do horrible things to each other and then stuffer the consequences in ironic ways.

Robin Zlotnick
Robin Zlotnick
9 years ago
Reply to  Harold

You’re totally right. Movies don’t need people you root for. In fact, many characters are more interesting because you can’t root for them. But (and I definitely failed to make this clear in the review), when there’s a lack of sympathy or empathy, there has to be something else – some level of admiration or jealousy or relatable connection – for example, Walter White in Breaking Bad wasn’t exactly someone to root for, but he had a level of intelligence and an allegiance to his principles that could be construed as something to be envied or at least appreciated. Plus,… Read more »

D Lupia
D Lupia
9 years ago

Worst review ever. Read the book. David Fincher did an amazing job of recreations the nuances of Gillian’s work. He captures the pain, anger, mystic and fear that the book created brilliantly. I beg if you to read the book. Then go back and re-write your review. There have been very few adaptations in the recent past that have done such a great job of putting pages on a screen.