Is Gone Girl the date movie of the year? Judging by the crowd in my theater at the late showing on Sunday night, you might think so. Perhaps it’s the combined punch of the film being based on a runaway bestselling book popular, particularly, among women and the directorial presence of man cave staple, (don’t talk about) Fight Club helmer David Fincher, or maybe it’s the considerable buzz surrounding the film because of its “he stabs/she stabs” subject matter, its more salacious, soap operatic plot elements, and its base characterization of men and women, or perhaps the film’s popularity is due to its plot that twists more than a wedding ring on the hand of a person eager to cut marital ties. For whatever reason, Gone Girl is the must-see movie of the moment for couples.
Though I wonder if the theater-crowding pairs are well-prepared for the kind of Finchian cynicism awaiting them in Gone Girl. I have not read the book, so I don’t know how much the film deviates from the bestseller’s story, but given that the book’s author (and former television critic for Entertainment Weekly), Gillian Flynn, is responsible for the screenplay as well, I imagine the timbre is complementary. However, the film does fit right in with David Fincher’s other films, so perhaps he has made the story his own.
Fincher’s Gone Girl is a sensationalistic exaggeration of the human proclivity to assume and assign roles in any given situation rather than act and interact genuinely. Every single person in this story is playing a part depending on what is best for them at any given moment. The film is replete with explicit and subtle references to projections and roles – feminine/masculine, victim/savior, bad girl/good guy, wife, husband, favored son, maltreated daughter. One of the main characters has spent her entire life as the literal avatar for a beloved projection of what a perfect, amazing woman looks like. The list goes on.
My favorite role is that played by Tyler Perry, a man intimately familiar with assuming roles of his own accord and with accepting and rejecting the roles projected upon him by others. His character, “Tanner Bolt,” enters the town where our protagonists (antagonists?) live by announcing “Elvis has entered the building.” As he leaves, another character announces “Elvis’” departure. He’s a man in a suit, there to perform, a myth not a man, and he disappears as soon as the show is over.
Everyone is playing a part. No one is who they really are. The fun of the film is watching the layers get stripped away—whether those layers be attractive or repulsive, sympathetic or psychopathic—and seeing what layers lie beneath. “Lie” is the key word there, because the newly revealed layer is rarely anymore honest than the one just stripped away.
The film longs for confession, for the abandoning of pretense in exchange for contrition and the promise of redemption. Gone Girl does include a scene of confession (in the form of a network TV special, of course), but even this moment of supposed transparency is nothing more than another ruse meant to manipulate those watching. Perhaps the confessor, in this case, is a bit more like the Pharisee loudly proclaiming his remorse in the sight and hearing of many and considerably less like the poor sinner falling penitent and self-effacingly on God’s mercy. There aren’t any examples of this truer kind of confession in the film.
The only truths Gone Girl seems to believe in are the truths that people will not be truthful, that people will only ever love themselves, and that any apparent aspirations for something else are mere facade. Like all of Fincher’s films not written by the same person who wrote Forest Gump, Gone Girl appears to pride itself on its honesty about the inherent wretchedness of humanity. To that, I say, yes, we are wretched, but we are also loved just as we are without requirement of any kind. That love is more powerful than anything else. It renews. No one is lost forever. No one, boy or girl, is inexorably gone.
Gone Girl is as entertaining a film as I have seen this year. There is something deliciously enthralling about it’s pulpy narrative. It’s a slick film, and I struggle to pin down the reason for its slickness. When we recorded the RS Podcast earlier this week focusing on Fincher, A.C. Neel suggested it’s due in large part to Fincher’s sense of pacing. I think there’s something to that. I think also its slickness has to do with his simplicity. The screen only ever includes exactly what each shot needs, nothing extra.
Gone Girl‘s narrative is one we are all too ready to believe, not just at the movies or the bookstore, but in our nightly news reports as well. Believing the worst about the rest of humanity helps us feel better about ourselves, and self-righteousness might be the most damaging sin of all, as it inures us to our own sinfulness. If we are the kinds of people who take great pleasure in watching the wretchedness of others, if “condemned” is the role we most enjoy assigning and “holier” is the role we most enjoy assuming, take heart. We are still loved just as much as the souls we condemn with our viewing habits, whether they deserve it or not.
You might also enjoy these reviews of Gone Girl:
Larsen on Film
Reel World Theology