Gone Girl review: Ben Affleck's the hero in bloody film that leaves you scared of marriage and women
Gone Girl is two and a half hours long, tense, bloody and likely to leave you feeling positively scared of both marriage and women.
The first question on everyone's mind when they watch a Hollywood film in India is, "what's been cut out?" In Gone Girl, the answer includes Rosamund Pike's breasts, a flash of Ben Affleck's penis, a lot of thrusting and the word "cunt". This means a few minutes lopped off and less reason for those so inclined to discreetly reach for their crotches while watching Gone Girl.
Though if the sex in this film could actually distract you from how chillingly messed-up Gone Girl's world is, you probably need to get out more. Or maybe director David Fincher included all the frontal nudity and thrusting in the hope that our hormones would cloud our perspectives and we wouldn't notice the vicious misogyny in his new film. For better or for worse, in India, we see Gone Girl without distractions like sex and nudity. This means we follow a story and that's where things get both interesting and disturbing.
The twists in Gone Girl the film aren't as gasp-inducing as they are in the novel upon which it's based. But Fincher's version is significantly more twisted than the book.
On an unremarkable July morning, Nick (Affleck) leaves home for work, like he usually does. Soon after, he learns his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. The police are called in and one look at Amy and Nick's home convinces the detectives there's been foul play. Nick finds himself accused of murdering his wife. He protests his innocence, but considering he's been having an affair and the clues the police uncover while investigating Amy's disappearance -- from blood spatter to a diary in which Amy has written she fears Nick may kill her -- things aren't looking good for Nick.
Ironically, the worse Nick's situation is in the story, the better it is for him as a character. The uncaring husband of the first few minutes quickly turns into a victim and by the end of the film, he's a bona fide hero. This shouldn't be surprising -- after all Nick is being played Affleck, one of Hollywood drool-inducers, and the film is directed by Fincher whose chief talent is his ability to give grandeur to curiously-flawed men. Look at Fincher's filmography and there's a recurring theme: his heroes tend to be weird, often loser-ish, but they always come out as deserving of admiration and applause.
It works fantastically in stories like Zodiac, but often, women don't do too well in the bargain offered to them in Fincher's films. At best, they're aids that help redeem the men, like in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When the women in the film are 'strong', they either emasculate men or threaten to do so and Fincher often turns to sex and manipulation to save the day.
For instance, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander was brutally raped in a scene that was unnecessarily graphic and long. Later, she had her revenge on her rapist and marked him for life. Fincher makes us feel sorry for Lisbeth first and then, he makes us fear the rage that she's left with as a result of her traumatic experience. These events are from the book on which the film is based, but the rape gets far more attention in the film than it did in the book. This is partly because of the impact of the visual medium: watching a rape is usually far more disturbing than reading a description of it.
Technically speaking, the film Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn, is largely faithful to Flynn's bestselling novel. It's well-plotted and cleverly constructed. However, the differences between screenplay and novel are significant because they tip the scales in Nick's favour and against Amy. What was in the novel a short phone conversation in which Tommy, a high school friend of Amy's, tells Nick she dropped stalking charges against Tommy becomes a face-to-face conversation in the film. Tommy details how he was framed by Amy and has since had to live the with the tag of being a sexual predator even though he isn't one. In the book, Amy kills a man after drugging him; the film shows her slashing his throat while he's having sex with her and she's shown relishing the blood gushing out of him and onto her.
Clearly, Amy is the quintessential "crazy b*tch". She's gifted with not just beauty and intelligence as the Amy in Flynn's novel, but also, in the film, she's the stuff of men's rights campaigners' daydreams. This is a woman who shoves a bottle of wine up her vagina repeatedly because she wants to convince doctors she's been raped and then, just hours later, actually has sex with a man -- all this without even a wince of discomfort. That a woman, who should know how something as minor as a UTI or pre-menstrual cramps can physically handicap you, could write and perform this (without, at the very least, rolling their eyes) is mystifying.
Flynn's screenplay turns up Amy's manipulative violence by many notches while making Nick the innocent victim. The novel pitted a deceitful fool against a vicious psychopath. The film, on the other hand, is about a good man versus an evil woman. On screen, Amy is everything chauvinists have warned mankind against ever since women started doing unreasonable things like demanding equal rights and pointing out the power imbalance in society that leaves women vulnerable to abuse.
Then there's poor Nick, who has to deal with a diabolical wife, an immature lover, a bloodhound of a detective (also a woman), unforgiving women journalists and a sister who doesn't believe him. "I'm so sick of being torn apart by women," Nick whimpers at one point in the film. Well, it would have helped if he wasn't a liar, deceitful and had been alert enough to notice his wife is not quite sane. The film, however, doesn't make that point. It makes you feel for Nick by emphasising how he's trapped by circumstances and an evil Amy.
Still, for all his misogyny, Fincher is a masterful storyteller. Gone Girl is two and a half hours long, tense, bloody and likely to leave you feeling positively scared of both marriage and women. Fincher's pro-douchebag agenda is helped by Affleck, who is smoothly credible and lovable as Nick. Pike overdoes the cold, clinical side of Amy, making her seem vaguely like a psychotic robot rather than a real person. Neil Patrick Harris is largely wasted and of the supporting cast, Kim Dickens stands out as the hard-nosed Detective Rhonda Boney.
Gone Girl will hold your attention for its lengthy running time, but whether you'll laugh it off as chauvinistic pulp or be haunted by it depends on how much the idea of an intelligent woman scares you. If this film is any indication, she's the stuff of Fincher's nightmares.
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