An intense thriller that has sparked an intriguing debate on gender roles
Warning: Spoilers Below
Many come out of Gone Girl merely terrified, and even rather sympathetic for Nick, the husband played by Ben Affleck. Yet the film continued to resonate with me. I came to recognize how “off” Ben Affleck’s character was. I began to reason with the ever meaningful “cool girl” speech that in the moment I dismissed as psychopathic ramblings, for better or worse. I’ve never found a movie that causes me to disagree with my own initial assessment so much. My main opinion that has managed to carry through is the overwhelming feeling of discontent. The cinematography, score, and acting all contribute significantly to this, reaching the level of eerie perfection David Fincher is known for.
Their stories are increasingly in conflict, and because Affleck and Pike are unnervingly good at keeping you guessing about which of them you can trust, your allegiances will almost certainly shift as David Fincher’s direction delivers jolts designed to make audiences squeal, while also letting you identify with characters one moment, and wish you hadn’t the next.
His moody, atmospheric work struck me as more intriguing early on, when he’s showing how social forces can put pressure on any marriage, than it did later, when he gets deep in the weeds of Nick and Amy’s marriage.
By the end… things have gotten so plot-driven and pulpy, there’s nothing to challenge the director or make him stretch
By the end of Gone Girl, the social issues that animate the film’s beginning — job loss in an economic downturn, differences in wealth and class, media manipulation — have receded, and things have gotten so plot-driven and pulpy, there’s nothing to challenge the director or make him stretch. In the film’s final stages he seems to be relying entirely on craft — but, boy, is it effective craft.
If there’s a complaint to be made—and it’s a relatively modest one—it’s that for all the technical skill of the movie’s Fincher-ization, something has been lost. This was, to a certain degree, inevitable: The chief pleasure of the book is Flynn’s funny, nasty, first-person prose, and while the film retains as much as is feasible, a good deal is nonetheless omitted or diminished. But even beyond the necessary contractions and translations, Fincher has upped the grimness of the story at a cost to its wit and singularity.
But Fincher is as Fincher does. And what Fincher does better than almost anyone is create moody, meticulously crafted thrillers that straddle the divide between genre and art.
It’s the film the book deserved, I think: carefully directed with respect for its mystery and suspense/horror elements, led by a fine cast, and able to take advantage of the fact that because a film must elide certain things that are made explicit in a character-narration-driven novel, the ambiguity in people may even increase. We know less about Nick here than we do in the novel, because he tells us less. Because he’s so much more opaque, he can be that much more surprising. It seemed almost impossible that the structure of the book could be followed and made into a good, satisfying movie, but that’s what they did.
I’ve heard, seen, and read a number of people criticizing the film’s ending by calling it “unsatisfying”.
I don’t disagree with them; it IS unsatisfying, but I think it’s intentionally unsatisfying. I think we were meant to feel about as unsettled as Margo in her final scene.
These were two terrible people, and they realized that they deserved each other. Nobody wins at the end of this movie, and that’s part of what makes it so affecting. I left the theatre with a pit in my stomach and I loved it.
The film’s stabs at social commentary – the constant barrage of tabloid TV coverage – are crushingly obvious. Affleck is smoothly proficient but (this is probably Fincher’s failing) skimps the darker shades that might have flipped this film from melodrama to drama. Pike is riveting without being altogether interesting. She holds the screen with her beautful blankness.
Feminist and Gender Role Implications
The film is a bracing corrective to years of thrillers on screens both big and small that reduce their female characters to victims designed to die because they were the wrong kind of woman, or married the wrong kind of man (which was completely their fault, of course). They are bait, or objects to be protected, not characters in their own right. And even when these movies try to turn their female characters into something more, they tend to fetishize those characters’ suffering — as, ironically, happened in Fincher’s own Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But Gone Girl is different. It takes a character who would just be a corpse in so many other stories and turns the entire movie over to her.
Gillian Flynn, who wrote both, seems to think her rendering of Amy will advance the female cause. According to her, “women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves – to the point of almost parodic encouragement – we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.”
Amy doesn’t just kill. She makes false allegations of rape. She’s believed, because these days officialdom assumes such accusations are well-founded. Rightly so, but Gone Girl offers filmgoers a vivid counter-image. Amy also traps a man by stealing his sperm to make herself pregnant. She doesn’t merely “forget” to take her pill. She plans with much malice aforethought to treat her husband and her own child as mere instruments of her will. It’s these actions, not her real and attempted homicides, that may well resonate.
Today, in polite society, you won’t hear a word against women. Yet attitudes elsewhere remain less comforting, as is evident in everything from the web-trolling of celebrities to the reluctance of rape case juries to convict. In some quarters, the endless promotion of the female cause seems to be creating its own backlash. Women, some seem to believe, are self-serving, venomous and deceitful but can get away with whatever they want. It’s this outlook that Amy’s adventures could foster.
The Cool Girl Speech
The “cool girl” speech is one of the most hotly debated aspects of both the film and original book. Some see the films implementation of it as lacking, causing most people to easily dismiss it. Others feel that the reason it was shot the way it was is to prevent a “Fight Club”-like reaction to the film, with people idolizing a psychopath with disgruntled views. There’s also the nagging idea that “men’s rights”-type people will see the film as a validation for their alleging to the commonality of false rape allegations, the supposed danger of a woman being the richer or more powerful member of a relationship, etc. Amy is a shining example of a female character in a film. She’s written like an individual, even if her individuality happens to be a terrible person, and even if it may bring misconstrued glee to some, it has an overall positive impact. Most films portray females as not unlike a men’s rights ideality. -Tyler Simpson, 10/22/14, ThatOpinion
That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl…Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version—maybe he’s vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”
-Gone Girl (film)
In Fincher’s movie, the speech somehow ends up seeming even more offensive at first glance. It’s delivered via voiceover as Amy is making a run for it, cruising down the freeway. She looks to her left and sees in an adjacent car a brunette girl with dreads and ear gauges and concludes that this woman’s boyfriend must be into tattoos and comics. To her right is a car with two women laughing and, therefore, Amy declares, they must have boyfriends who like hamburgers and Hooters (the restaurant, but presumably also breasts).
Meanwhile, there are zero men present for whom these girls would hypothetically be performing. They could be single, or lesbians, for all we know. It’s possible that this shift in target is a sign of Fincher missing the point, as some have already argued. But it seems just as likely to me that Flynn herself made this change to distance herself even more from the ravings of Amy: to show us that this much-cited rant contains more crazed disdain for womankind than sociological insight. Also, to remind us not to put too much cultural stock into monologues spoken by psychopaths.
When I first read the Cool Girl speech, I nodded my head. Out of context it contains a lot of truisms, and I identified with the pressure to pretend to be someone else at the beginning of a relationship. (A pressure, which Amy later points out, men do not feel, otherwise we’d see a lot of boyfriends learning to knit and pretending to like girly drinks to impress their girlfriends.)
Amy does touch on a fundamental problem with the way men and women interact. While Amy was pretending to be the Cool Girl, Nick was pretending to be what I’ll dub the Charming Guy. This is how men and women court each other: they pretend to be something they are not.
But then I remembered these words that rang so true were being uttered by a woman who lied about being sexually assaulted multiple times, set her husband up for murder and killed someone herself. And that makes things complicated.
She does these things to rebel against the boxes others have tried to put her in
I think Flynn likes that complication: she and Fincher have constructed a movie that forces the audience to debate and pick apart its gender dynamics. There’s no question that Amy is a monster when she slashes Desi’s throat during sex or when she fakes her death to trap Nick. But she does these things to rebel against the boxes others have tried to put her in — “Amazing Amy” by her parents, “Cool Girl” Amy by Nick, beautiful and doting Amy by Desi. It’s an extreme form of rebellion, but an interesting meditation on society’s expectations of women nonetheless. The fact that audience members could answer the question, “who is most sympathetic in the film?” in several different ways is in and of itself an endorsement of the movie.