by Julia Gibson
A few Sundays ago, my roommate and I were enjoying a lazy day around the house in our pajamas when a preview for David Fincher’s Gone Girl came on the TV. “Oh, I want to see this!” my roommate said, and turned up the volume. When it was over, she leaned back onto the couch and thought for a moment before saying, “Ben Affleck makes a perfect Scott Peterson, just less bloated.” That sums up the expectations I had going into the theater the following Friday. I had not read the book, and I thought that what I was about to see was a movie that mirrored the infamous disappearance of Laci Peterson and her murder at the hands of her husband. I had no idea what I was in for.
Director David Fincher has delivered a thoughtful, mesmerizing, and disturbing film, another in a long line of pivotal movies including The Social Network, Fight Club, and one of my favorites Zodiac. His distinctive murky chiaroscuro is the perfect style for the story of a marriage that unfolds into a horrific mess. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s chilling score complements Fincher’s visual direction, and they use their musical talent to spur moments of intense anxiety and add to the overwhelming sense of dread in the film.
Gillian Flynn, author of both the bestselling novel and the screenplay, has conjured a story that is both complex and suspenseful. We meet husband Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) the day that his wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, and from that point the movie flashes back and forth throughout their time together, uncovering their all out war for power in the relationship. It is incredibly difficult to talk about the plot after that because of the insane twists and turns that Flynn has written into the story. The few times I’ve been asked by friends to explain what the movie is about, the best I can do is just say that after the first half hour, everything gets crazy. It definitely doesn’t do the story justice (sorry Gillian).
All jokes aside, Affleck is a good fit for the role of Nick. He has a distinct talent for playing an asshole, and in this case plays an asshole that manages to periodically elicit sympathy from the audience, myself included. At times, I feared that the movie was veering into misogynist territory (I bristle anytime the phrase “crazy bitch” is used lightly), but the fact that neither Nick nor Amy is profiled as blameless keeps it from leaning too heavily in either direction. Both main characters are deceitful, unreliable, dysfunctional, and manipulative. Nobody is likeable, but they are certainly interesting.
Gone Girl finds its strong female lead in Amy. The talented Pike is able to capture her internal tension brilliantly. I have never been so set on edge by a pair of crazy eyes in my life. Her character is sexually autonomous, has a clear voice, and boasts enough character flaws for multiple people. For her whole life, Amy has had to compete with the star of her parents’ series of children’s books known as “Amazing Amy.” Always she has felt less than amazing next to the fictional version of herself who is given everything that the real Amy wanted but never received: the accolades, the affection, even the dog. This leaves her practically starving for validation.
Just watch for the scene in which Amy is wheeled out of a hospital, covered in blood, with cameras flashing and onlookers cheering. Her eyes are hungrily taking in all of that attention. Although her actions are demented, her desperation to be told that she is amazing is painfully understandable. The story invites the viewer to identify with that, and I think that many of us do. Given what she does with those feelings though, that is a pretty terrifying thing to identify with.
The beginning stages of the relationship between Nick & Amy are presented in a series of flashbacks and come off as artificial and trite. They flirt in a way that inspired some cringes of secondhand embarrassment in the audience, and their first kiss in a storm of powdered sugar was, for lack of better words, totally lame. “Is this how people flirt?” my roommate wondered aloud as Nick and Amy sipped beer and stood too close to each other at a party. Luckily, it isn’t. Each flashback follows a voiceover of Amy reading aloud from her diary. Quickly it’s clear that Amy is not reminiscing about their courtship, but redrafting it. We have to sit through their banter, but Amy did not. The movie reveals in a few short hours what can take months or even years to realize in real life: that the first few months of honeymoon style bliss are not the truth of a relationship. Deception is part of attracting and seducing a partner, especially in Gone Girl’s world.
Sometimes people allow themselves to get caught up in fantasies about other people, and are blinded by their projections of who they think that other person is or should be. Amy and Nick are no different. Nick muses, as he strokes his wife’s head, “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” In moments like this, the film addresses the idea that you don’t know, you can never fully know, just who it is you are in a relationship with, and sometimes the information you’ve filled in is completely wrong. There are always those moments where you’re forced to separate fantasy from reality and wishes from facts. In Gone Girl, those moments come abruptly.
As I thought harder about all this, I considered that maybe I was supposed to be picking up on the fact that not only do Nick and Amy not know each other, but also that Amy doesn’t even know herself. Maybe she’s been wearied to the point of being unable to realize an identity. But I don’t think that’s it. The issue is that she knows that she is not who other people think she is. Whether it’s her parents who coddle their flawless daughter or her husband who fell in love with her act (and the sex), Amy knows all of that is a lie, so she rejects it in the most violent way she can imagine. And though the praise she gets in the film seems to suggest so at times, rejecting a forced identity doesn’t free Amy so that she can become a saint. It frees her to become human, and sometimes humans are awful.
I felt both frightened and validated watching the real Amy in all her unkempt glory. During her now ubiquitous rant about the male fantasy she calls “the cool girl”, Amy wears loose and unflattering clothing, eats chocolate with abandon, and washes it down with glugs of soda. While some of this is emblematic of the “cool girl” she despises, her actions are different because of the motive: she is eating candy because she wants to eat candy, not because she wants to appear cool or sexually appealing for doing so. She is doing whatever she wants because in that moment, Amy is free from not only the male gaze, but also the public gaze. Those Kit-Kats might as well be chocolate covered middle fingers. These moments were some of my favorite parts of the movie because they expose the seething fury that is a byproduct of pretending to be someone you are not. I also liked it because it felt as though Amy was holding a mirror up to the audience, as if to say, “What have you given up? Who are you pretending to be?” Though hers is an extreme case, I couldn’t help but feel as though she was calling the rest of us out too.
If you are even slightly considering seeing Gone Girl, stop thinking and just go see it. This movie will stick with you. You will fall asleep thinking about it and wake up doing the same. Bonus pro tip: If you are squeamish, turn away from the screen when the setting switches to Desi’s lake house. Your friend’s terrified facial expressions are probably almost as entertaining, and the memory of them won’t make you shudder the next time you see a wine bottle.
Julia Gibson is working on degrees in Literature and Creative Writing at California State University Long Beach. She is originally from Marin County and currently resides in Long Beach. Her heroes include Joan Didion, Kathleen Hanna, and whoever came up with the name for the “InSinkErator.” She enjoys seeing live music, drinking coffee, and laughing with her little sister.
lipstickparty mag has also published Julia’s creative nonfiction essay “Lust for Life.”