Don’t Get Married… and Don’t Have Kids… and Don’t Trust Anyone
by Thom Yee
When I was a kid, I never understood why marriage was so tough. Why is it such a big deal? Why does it take so much hard work? And maybe most of all, how can two people who (in most cases) consciously and willingly entered into a relationship end up hating each other so much? While there may not have been many of them, there were people in my life who I could act normally around, spend enormous amounts of time with, and never really get that tired of. Was it really that different being married?
Examining the marriages I had most ready access to, generally it seemed like the best most couples could hope for in their days of supposed wedded bliss was quiet back talking and mild relief that that inevitable fight would have to wait for another day. It took me a long time to realize why it was so different finding friends and confidants — with whom communication came easily, without guile or deceit — and finding somebody to spend the rest of your life with. It took me a long time to see the difference, but eventually I figured out why a good marriage is so hard to find.
It’s because all you married couples suck.
Gone Girl isn’t a movie about marriage as much as it is about the mentalities, illusions and ignorance some people need to enter into it. While it questions the levels of artifice necessary in any relationship where terms like pre-nuptial and alimony and child custody often come before terms like loving or caring, it’s not necessarily fair to label our Gone Girl “protagonists” as typical. There does, however, seem to be more than just a mere hint of commonality between what our subjects do to each other and what a lot of long-time couples contemplate in their more… creative moments. Where once marriage culture seemed satisfied merely with the broad normalization of divorce as a realistic and desirable option, by now, much of the culture has evolved far beyond marital termination and well into the realm of post-nuptial revenge fantasy. It’s not enough to divorce, it’s not enough to gain custody, it’s not enough to spitefully bleed each others’ assets dry (even if that means most of the actual money goes to the lawyers); no, today’s couples would rather separate, save face to their various (and often imagined) publics, and bide their time and space to figure out how to really hurt their former partner.
It isn’t enough to throw your partner out for cheating, you should cheat on them too. Preferably with someone they’re close to.
It isn’t enough to gain primary custody, the kids have to loooove whoever it is you end up with. And that person also has to make a lot more money.
It isn’t enough to just drift apart. No, your partner should suffer. Maybe go to jail. For murder. Even if the person murdered has to be you.
On the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home after visiting with his twin sister at the bar the two co-own. Finding broken glass and overturned furniture in his living room and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, Nick contacts the police, hoping for the best, suspecting the worst, but also…maybe a little relieved. As the search for Amy goes from local curiosity to national spectacle, the nation becomes more and more convinced of Nick’s role in the murder of Amy Dunne.
With much of the story told through a series of flashbacks, we’re taken through the Dunne’s’ initial meeting and romance, their lives as writers in New York, the effects of the 2008 market crash, and the couples’ move to Nick’s hometown of Missouri. As we dig deeper into the couple’s life, what becomes clear is that everything we’ve seen can’t be taken at face value. It’s not that any one moment is questionable, it’s not really that any one deception is particularly egregious or misleading, it’s not even that Nick or Amy seem to have anything in particular to hide, it’s really more of the general tone. Other than Nick’s perspective of what’s happened post-Amy-missing, the primary narrative voice in the film’s first half is that of Amy herself, told through voice-over from her diary. Amy’s narration comes across as at least a little bit stilted if not largely detached, and I don’t know if it was a calculated part of the casting process or just circumstance, but what can initially come across as merely the British Rosamund Pike’s attempt at an American accent soon stands revealed as very much an affected voice and a manufactured view of the couples’ time together.
Starting out as a perfect and maybe even too-cute romance, the couple’s relationship is eventually strained by their finances in the wake of the 2008 market collapse. One of the most commonly cited reasons for marital strain is money, and in Nick and Amy’s case, the two are not only jobless and nearing the end of their comfortable surroundings and finances, they may be about to lose Amy’s nest egg: a trust fund built on the Amazing Amy series of books written by her parents and loosely based on her childhood, a trust that Amy’s parents now need to access. Though the two quickly resolve that all they really need is each other, when they move back to Missouri to take care of Nick’s ailing mother, purchasing a house, furnishings and even a bar for Nick and his sister Margo to run — all with Amy’s remaining trust and all purchased in her name — the two drift apart through equal parts neglect and resentment. They gradually become “one of those couples”, avoiding each other and limiting their interactions to the absolute minimum. By the time of Amy’s disappearance, her quasi-Amazing-Amy-celebrity combines with mounting evidence against Nick, including Amy’s diary-expressed fear of Nick and her suspicions that he might kill her, to make him one of the most hated men in America.
Summing it up, none of the above is really all that extraordinary, and much of it is pretty standard stuff. What ultimately makes Gone Girl so compelling is the direction of David Fincher whose career now seems virtually locked into cynical, disturbing explorations of what makes humanity so terrible, whether it’s serial killers (Zodiac), existential psychotics (Fight Club), thieving CEOs (The Social Network), or aliens (Alien 3 – okay, so maybe that last one isn’t so human). It’s through Fincher’s deft storytelling that not only are you engaged throughout, but you really start losing conscious track of where you are in the film’s progress and how much it’s resisting a more typical flow of storytelling events.
If there’s one thing we all love, it’s a media frenzy — giving into mob mentality — and that’s the one thing that I was most attracted to after seeing that first Gone Girl trailer. Occam’s razor may tell us that the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is usually the best one, but there’s a chillingly frozen heart at the centre of a society that would so willingly and gleefully blame the closest family members for a person’s death. Many of you may be too young to remember the case of JonBenet Ramsey, the six-year-old, child beauty queen found murdered, her parents the primary suspects. I too was a little too young to care about or have any interest in the case (and I really don’t care about that stuff in general), but no matter what came of that case, the main thing I took from it was how truly horrible it would have been to be the innocent parents (and who knows what really happened), but the entire world was thoroughly convinced of your guilt. Imagine dying of cancer (as one of the parents did), not knowing who killed your child but well aware of the fact that everybody thinks you did it. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, no matter how much fun people have watching it all unfold on TV. That’s also basically the kind of scenario the entire plot of Gone Girl revolves around, even if neither Nick nor Amy is portrayed as especially sympathetic or guilt-free.
In many ways it’s only natural to empathize with the apparent victimization of the fairer, physically weaker sex if for no other reason than an average man is much more physically powerful and given to violent behaviour than the average woman. There’s a fundamental difference in strength that only an extreme amount of women’s self-defense training can overcome (“That’s my purse! I don’t know you!”), and every time we see Nick strike Amy down, even though the narration suggests that he probably never hit her, we’re hit both with the impact of the moment and with the certain, tacit knowledge that this man broke the code that a man can never hit a woman. Even towards the end of Gone Girl, when motivations are fully explored, responsibilities are borne, everything stands revealed (to the extent we can trust anything we see in the film), and we understand just how depraved one of the two Dunnes has to be to take things as far as they did, it’s still hard to watch Nick hit Amy. It’s those primal, foundational instincts that almost inescapably convince us of our most deeply held beliefs and truths, and it’s a testament to the film’s storytelling strengths that we would have any mixed feelings at all after seeing plot points that pretty clearly blame one of the two Dunnes more than the other.
I think this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to openly talk about Ben Affleck before, and I’m not sure if that’s an opportunity too good to pass up or too easy a target to hit. Like Rosamund Pike’s casting, the choice of Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne works for the film both literally and at the meta level. We could go into Affleck’s status in Hollywood (who cares?), we could talk about his acting ability (slightly underrated), we could talk about the movies he’s directed (somewhat overrated). Without going too far into tangential topics like what I think of his Batman casting (weirdly brilliant), Affleck’s natural screen presence — just a little too handsome and charming and doofy and unlikable all at once — works perfectly for a victimized husband who seems too together and too nice to believe. Affleck’s Nick Dunne, for whatever reason, just believes in being nice to people, and it’s a characteristic that works against him throughout the movie. While we may never reach consensus on how to feel about Affleck or Affleck’s Nick, one thing we should all agree on is that he has a really, physically gigantic head, and his scenes with the comparatively dimunitive Emily Ratajkowski really drive that point home (Affleck is nine inches taller… and 19 years older).
I’m trying to limit how much I talk about individual acting performances just because I don’t really have that much to say about actors unless they’re bad, but I feel it has to be said that every one of the roles in the film seems perfectly realized, whether it’s Nick’s twin sister Margo, neighbourhood idiot Noelle Hawthorne, the two primary investigators, or Amy’s parents, Rand and Marybeth Elliott. Similarly, I feel like it has to be said that Tyler Perry gives a very strong and very commanding performance as Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt, one that almost stands in direct opposition to the works he’s most well known for. As a former boyfriend of Amy’s, Neil Patrick Harris is convincing as an emotionally dependent stalker weirdo, especially given his more public profiles as self-involved, former-child-star stoner (Harold & Kumar), ladies man (How I Met Your Mother), and likable, measuredly flamboyant Broadway performer (real life).
Through a combination of expert casting, precision storytelling, and intelligent direction, Gone Girl succeeds on every level I was looking for, and it’s heartening to see movies like this actually make money (even if it did take a ton of marketing and it only barely beat some movie about a haunted doll). It’s riveting and intriguing and exhausting, and even though there’s perhaps nothing more to learn from the film than don’t get married and don’t trust anybody (and maybe I kind of already knew that), I still think it’s one of the best movies of the year.
Gone Girl final score: 9.5
On the Edge
- And that’s how you write a 2,000+ word movie review about Gone Girl without any direct spoilers.
- So does it benefit brands like Volvo and Roku and Nestle to have their products associated with spousal abuse and murdering? If I’m being honest, I do feel like a Kit Kat right now.