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.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.