Monday, October 6, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

I'd expected the mall smell as we entered: that temperature-controlled hollowness. Instead, I smelled old grass and dirt, the scent of the outdoors inside, where it had no place being. The building was heavy-hot, almost fuzzy, like the inside of a mattress. Three of us had giant camping flashlights, the glow illuminating jarring images. It was suburbia, post-comet, post-zombie, post-humanity. A set of muddy shopping cart tracks looped crazily along the white flooring. A racoon chewed on a dog treat in the entry to the women's bathroom, his eyes flashing like dimes. ~from Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
The New York Times bestseller Gone Girl is now a major motion picture. I just got around to reading the novel, which is, as I was told it was going to be, a page-turner. This is due to the skillful build-up of suspense by author Gillian Flynn and the way she weaves surprises all though the novel. I found the book an intriguing portrait of modern marriage in which a couple, who are bound together by nothing deeper than sex and pleasure, along with money and pleasure, find themselves in a nightmare of their own making. Another major plot element, along with the shallowness, is that one of them is a sociopath. The way the author builds characters is awe-inspiring as is the general assessment of life in a Missouri town in financial hard times. The scene at the deserted shopping mall is absolutely apocalyptic, symbolizing the end of western civilization as we know it. Since marriage is the building block of Western civilization, the dead mall reflects the demise of the most basic of human relationships on its most basic level of sacred commitment. The book does not leave us without hope, though, for in the end, the last thread binding the couple together is the promise of a child.

The only problem I had with the novel was that it is in places intensely graphic, especially in a stomach-turning way. I wonder what can be said of a society that focuses with the glee of a peeping-tom on every single physical function and bodily secretion. Yes, I know that Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are checkered with bawdy jokes but nothing so ornately detailed. And the main characters are supposed to be sophisticated and cultured, or at least fancy themselves so. It does demonstrate, however, the workings of a certain type of mind.

I have not yet seen the 2014 film but here is a review from The New Yorker:
“Gone Girl,” directed by David Fincher, starts with Nick (Ben Affleck)—in his own words, “a corn-fed, salt-of-the-earth Missouri boy.” He used to live in New York and write for magazines, but the work dried up and he returned home, to the uneventful town of North Carthage, with his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). According to your point of view (and the film is all about viewpoints, and the urge to shuffle them around), Amy is one or more of the following: the inspiration for the “Amazing Amy” series of children’s books, written by her parents; a flat-out dazzler, too cool for the neighborhood; a rich kid, spawned by a snotty family; the original desperate housewife, becalmed and unadored; or a heap of trouble—the Clytemnestra of the Midwest. Oh, and another thing. She may be dead.

Nick owns a bar with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), and he stops there one morning for an early Scotch. He then drives home to find the front door open, a glass table smashed, and no sign of his wife. Their cat is a witness, but, if it knows anything, it’s not coughing up. The police arrive, and Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) declares a missing-persons case; before long, Nick is knee-deep in press conferences, candlelit vigils, and public appeals, flashing a polite, reluctant grin that is parsed, by tabloids and TV hosts, as proof of guilt. (You can’t blame them. The Affleck smile, from the dawn of his career, has looked more creepy than consolatory—softening that firm, all-American jaw but never quite reaching the eyes.) Suddenly, after an hour, we flip to Amy, and to her version of what happened—so different, and so close to wacko, that it seems like another story altogether. I would happily unveil the rest of it, but, in deference to the twenty-one people who have yet to read the novel, I will say nothing more without a lawyer present.
At first blush, “Gone Girl” is natural Fincherland. Not geographically; he seems less absorbed in North Carthage, described by Amy as “the navel of the country,” than he was in the California of “Zodiac” or the Harvard of “The Social Network.” Those are his masterpieces: the two movies that I can’t not watch when they turn up on TV, and the two occasions on which his pedantry and his paranoia have fused together, engrossing us in a crazed aggregation of detail. Nothing could equip him better for the coiled and clustered goings on in the new film, and, for good measure, he has hired Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whom he last used for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” to compose the score. They don’t let him down. “Gone Girl” boasts one major act of savagery, drenched in a downpour of blood, and what we hear during it sounds like the wah-wah pedal of Satan. So why doesn’t the movie claw us as “The Social Network” did? Who could have predicted that a film about murder, betrayal, and deception would be less exciting than a film about a Web site?

The glum fact is that “Gone Girl” lacks clout where it needs it most, at its core. We are accustomed to Fincher’s heroes being as obsessively smart as he is, if lacking his overarching patience, whereas Nick remains, to put it gently, a lunkhead. Amy has twice the brain, and ten times the cunning, but, despite the best efforts of Rosamund Pike, her character, onscreen as on the page, feels cooked up rather than lived in. That can work on film, as shown by another beauty, Gene Tierney, in “Laura” and “Leave Her to Heaven,” but the scheming of Tierney’s heroines was matched by a rare, ornate febrility in the movies themselves. Fincher’s method, on the other hand, is dogged and downbeat, so that Amy sticks out like a cartoon in a newsreel. (One expected the same of the title character in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” who was equally extreme, but somehow Rooney Mara gave her life—all drilled intensity where Pike offers elegant drift.) “Gone Girl” is meant to inspire debates about whether Amy is victimized or vengeful, and whether Nick deserves everything he gets, but, really, who cares? All I could think of was the verdict of Samuel Butler on Thomas Carlyle: “It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.” (Read more.)
Now a major motion picture starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.


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