Henry on Gone Girl


Having dedicated enough time to read Gone Girl the novel (Gillian Flynn) as well as watch its film adaptation (David Fincher) that released this weekend, I thought it apt to spend a little more time writing my thoughts on this whopper of a thriller about a seemingly perfect woman’s disappearance and its aftermath. Right from the beginning, Gone Girl explodes with a cool sense of style and attitude, laced with pop culture reference and meta humor, and in-the-know characters who appreciate such humor (Nick Dunne’s bar is named ‘The Bar’, and the police officer, investigating his wife’s disappearance, loves the name for being very ‘meta’). Nick Dunne even happens to be a journalist who writes about pop culture, on subjects like male grooming, how to act/dress like a gentleman (ironic, since Nick himself is a laid back, T-shirt and Jeans kind of guy which tells you how much he believes in his profession), and Amy is a Psychology Major, and a Personality Quiz writer whose quizzes, we learn, dig deeper than your usual internet personality quizzes. The point is quickly established that they are not your typical accountant and engineer types.

The story is told through alternating diary entries from the husband and wife duo, Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne, her Victorian middle name betraying the New York upper class upbringing. Not just well-heeled, Amy is the ideal girl, coy yet seductive, meticulous yet adventurous, great in bed and very easy to fall in love with (and hate as we discover throughout the story) and let’s just say Nick is not her equal, middle class, self-satisfied and indifferent to becoming a better ‘man’ except for Amy it seems. The only way their being together made sense to me was from an ‘opposites attract’ point of view. The diary entries, written in a voyeuristic, conversational tone, switching between present and past, reveal the now and then of their marriage with shocking directness. The very sentence of the book and the movie, is Nick Dunne, wondering what he would find inside his wife’s head if he were to crack it open, and that’s just the beginning.

In the first chapters we see their love developing rapidly in an almost dreamlike New York social scene, quickly followed by the onset of reality troubles, recession in this case, leading to both losing their jobs, that rupture a marriage which I felt would have disintegrated anyway.

Darkly satirical, edgy and cynical, Gone Girl is the perfect novel (and movie) for the i-Generation or anyone looking for constant shock-and-awe to keep them engaged. I found it difficult to resist its easy (devilish) pleasures – a tale of warring husband and wife that is an absolute blast to watch but would be terrifying to be a part of. Critics of the institution of marriage would go home even more convinced about the needlessness and worse, the nightmare that modern marriages can be.

David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network) is the perfect match for material this edgy and stylish. The film version is less complex and less layered than the book, but more fast paced, precise and shocking – one major sequence was so brutal that I began to wonder what really goes on inside David Fincher’s and Flynn’s heads.

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18 Responses to “Henry on Gone Girl”

  1. The blog has been in for a treat lately. First the Haider pieces by An Jo and Qalandar and now this from you.

    Are there any spoilers here? Haven’t seen the film yet.

    On a related note I’ve also heard great things about the Drop.

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    • Satyam: There are absolutely no spoilers in Henry’s piece. However, and in case you haven’t read the novel, you should avoid all the reviews of the film in print because even discussing the part of the plot is spoiler-y.

      Haven’t seen The Drop, but have read the Lehane short story on which it is based. In any case, it would be worth checking out for Hardy alone. I do want to see Affleck adapt Lehane’s “Live by Night” as well (The Town was such a gripping work).

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    • The Drop was a great, old-fashioned pleasure for me — gripping throughout, and a great evocation of a certain kind of New York-milieu. However, the end was a bit weaker than the film deserved (I am referring to the “resolution” of tyhe romantic angle in particular)…

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  2. Thanks for posting it, Satyam. No spoilers but it would be best to watch the movie or read the book first, whatever your preference is.

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  3. Just walked out of GONE GIRL- what a great movie! & what a crazy, crazy world!!! Unmissable!

    Thanks for the review Henry..

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  4. Finally caught it. Engrossing but ultimately not completely satisfying. Was left underwhelmed. Flounders in the last third.
    Works well as a dark, moody thriller for most part. But, in the end leaves you not overly impressed. As one rewiever said- very well made trash.

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    • I just saw it yesterday, and my views were similar to Rajen’s: in that I really enjoyed it, was never less-than-interested, but did feel the film went a bit haywire towards the end, after… but to say any more is to unleash a spoiler. Basically, I don’t agree that the film is “about” marriage, because the situation here is so crazy as to seem rather remote from anything I can relate to, even in a psychological sense. As a satire of American media culture (by now global media culture) it is quite effective, but the film isn’t consistently a satire… all in all I didn’t regret seeing it, but did find a lot of the acclaim overrated.

      (I do think Rosamund Pike was fantastic, though!)

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      • Completely felt the same. Really liked the film overall – 2hrs+ is a long time but I felt interested throughout. I think too the film loses it at a certain point (my guess is the same point you refer too) as it becomes a little too “crazy” and diverts from what is the original plot. I did like Affleck here for once, never really thought much of him but he was quite good. Rosamund was great.
        I also saw Nightcrawler … I expected a lot more here in terms of story and twist. In the end it was just about a good performance from Jake, other than that the film was pretty poor.

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        • Oh, I actually far, far preferred Nightcrawler to Gone Girl. Think it’s a really terrific performance vehicle for Gyllenhaal, yes, but even otherwise this is a weirdly off-kilter, subversive film that sheds a creepy light on the cookie-cutter idea of American ambition. Kind of also works as a portrait of a really messed up (film) artist. The American film of the year so far though is Birdman.

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      • yeah liked it a lot too but there is something to the idea that the film has two different strands and whether the film smoothly transitions from one to the other or whether it doesn’t become a different kind of film that the one is started out being are all debatable points. But nonetheless it was very absorbing at every point.

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  5. Gone Girl has been pitched—and in large part greeted—as a subversive work, a powerful attack on our most cherished fantasies about heterosexual love and marriage. (Fincher himself has joked that he expects his film to spawn “15 million divorces.”) But a person would have to be in an unusual state of cultural innocence to find any of the film’s ideas remotely startling. The tropes in which it deals—marriage is the only war in which you sleep with the enemy, love is the tender trap, and so on—will be wearily familiar to anyone who has ever seen Married…with Children or heard a Henny Youngman joke.

    Some fans of the film have claimed to see in it a liberal-minded indictment of the way in which heterosexual coupledom enforces oppressive gender roles. This is a perverse, albeit ingenious, reading of the film’s reactionary message. Gone Girl certainly takes a skeptical view of the guises that men and women assume in order to woo one another. (Amy’s much-remarked-on speech in which she repudiates the “cool girl” ideal is an example of this.) But the function of these guises, the film suggests, is precisely to obscure essential and unchanging differences between the sexes. In marriage, when the courtship masks come off, the inevitable antagonism of men’s and women’s natures is revealed. Husbands start eating messy take-out and wanting to sleep with other women; wives nag and peck in an attempt to tame these impulses.

    The film does not present these as socially imposed roles, but as the expressions of incorrigible male and female proclivities. Even a woman like Amy—a murderous, amoral genius, with a Harvard degree and “the ass of a twenty-year-old stripper”—has no interests, no ambitions, no sense of possibilities beyond the monomaniacal cultivation of her marriage. By the film’s end, she can still think of nothing more interestingly evil to do with her talents than stick around in Missouri, acting as Gauleiter to a cheating dimbo.

    That the film makes its jailor-wife a malevolent loon is part of what it regards as its subversive agenda. Gillian Flynn has said that she creates wicked female characters like Amy in order to challenge the feminist orthodoxy “that women are innately good.” Prior to the film’s release, Fincher predicted with some relish that this “naughty” attack on the idea of women’s inborn virtue would prove highly provocative: “I have a feeling by the time the movie reaches the last half-hour, women in the audience are going to be crossing their arms and leaning back in their seats in disapproval. We’ll see.”

    Some women have obliged Fincher by complaining about the film’s depiction of its female protagonist. The main theme of their allegations has been that Amy’s character endorses a host of antifeminist myths, including the calumny that women are wont to maliciously invent rape charges. (This is a particularly irresponsible misrepresentation, it’s been claimed, because statistics show the incidence of false rape accusations to be very rare.)

    But fictional plots are not obliged to reflect what is statistically likely. And still less are fictional characters required to act as goodwill ambassadors for their gender. The problem with Amy is not that she acts in vicious and reprehensible ways, or even that her behavior lends credence to certain misogynist fantasies. The problem is that she isn’t really a character, but rather an animation of a not very interesting idea about the female capacity for nastiness.

    The principles of her invention are consistent with the method of Gone Girl as a whole. In lieu of any interest in the textures, the details, the ambiguities of observed human behavior, it starts from the delusional premise that the goodness of women and the loveliness of marriage are potent modern shibboleths and then sets up a group of gender avatars to “prove” the opposing clichés: women are the deadliest of the species and marriage is hell. The film is a piece of silliness, not powerful enough in the end to engender proper “disapproval”: only wonder at its coarseness and perhaps mild dismay at its critical success.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/04/gone-girl-hard-work-marriage/?insrc=hpss

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    • This was a good read, and articulates nicely a lot of what kept me from really embracing this. It’s a well mounted film but there’s a lot that rubbed me the wrong way.

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