Brad’s post on October 27, “Gone Girl and Protest,” left me thinking of my own takeaways from David Fincher’s latest. I remembered walking out of the theater with Charis on one of our very rare nights out and both of us saying it makes for a heck of a date movie. Clearly, as Brad makes evident, the film is deeply unsettling, and part of what makes it so unsettling is how familiar it all seems. Indeed, the whole premise is to give us a twist (after twist after twist) on the 24-hour news fodder of small-town America’s vanished wife. This kind of headline has evolved into part archetype, part syndrome, and the sardonic insight that Gone Girl provides is how such yarns are so carefully spun, diffusing through and implicating all parties in the process.

The film’s depiction of the media storm around Amy Dunne’s disappearance and Nick’s potential role in it demonstrates how fickle the public consumption of such stories can be. Interviews, comparisons, and off-the-cuff diagnoses and characterizations drive the endless circularity of the “More-As-This-Story-Develops” ethos. And with each such development, the media talking heads can change face at a moment’s notice, as Missy Pyle’s Ellen Abbott does.

Under the demand to strike while the iron is hot, these scenarios condition those involved to become calculating strategists, constructing their public image, anticipating others’ next steps, orchestrating as much of the process as possible. Think of Tyler Perry’s Tanner Bolt, an attorney who’s made not just a living but a brand around defending husbands like Nick. Bolt knows how to play the game so well that his savvy-Jiminy-Cricket counsel does not concern itself with saving souls but saving face, especially the face that one “puts on.”

It’s this dynamic in Gone Girl that seems so damning of what marriage is (or, at least, what it can become). Hollywood has given us a marital battle of wits before, but Fincher’s take is something else. Where Mr. and Mrs. Smith suggested that marriage is more about keeping up appearances than keeping up with the Joneses, Gone Girl suggests that the strategy of keeping up appearances is taking place prior to whoever might be on the receiving end. Presenting the best version of ourselves becomes loaded with pretense, as if our first impressions lock in our identities throughout the duration of a relationship.

What results is not merely a refusal to be honest, but an inability to do so at all. Gone Girl’s marriage is stark isolation: each can know his or her self, and all else is guesswork. It’s a “partnership” constructed on positioning at the expense of trust. And it’s the absence of trust that renders vulnerability so frightening and the facades so totalizing.

4 Comments

  1. Abby Zwart

    I finally saw Gone Girl last night. I hadn’t read the book and had somehow escaped hearing any spoilers. I think both you and Brad had really astute things to say about the film! Thanks for giving me things to think about as I watched.

    Reply
  2. Brad

    Yes. I actually think the film’s portrayal of media hysterics (and how they bear significant effect on our relationships) might be its most interesting theme, and you hit the nail on the head in your evaluation here! Thanks, Jake. I almost think this lack of trust shows up in knowing our own selves. There’s so much positioning that we don’t even know who we are. Also, this review is really good and says a lot of things that prompted my thinking: http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/david-fincher-gone-girl-movie-review/

    Reply
    • Brad

      Although I will say that I liked the film more than the Grantland reviewer. It just messed me up.

      Reply
    • Jake

      Definitely the part about knowing our own selves. The constant positioning (even projecting) taking place in the movie really seems to hark back to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and its self-encounter through others. And thanks for sharing the Grantland link!

      Reply

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