Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dial M for Marriage


Or Dial M for Misogyny, if you'd prefer, because I certainly wouldn't argue with you.  But, bent toward satire, it's such fun misogyny.  Gone Girl can be all things to all people, if you let it: it can be the dark comedy with macabre laughs, or the psychological melodrama with teeth, or, maybe best of all, the kind of gnarly, plot-mechanical thriller Hollywood hardly ever makes since Brian De Palma stopped being good at his job.  Often it is all of these things at once, and it is one of 2014's best.

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Gillian Flynn (based on the novel by Alfred Hitchcock)
With Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne), Ben Affleck (Nick Dunne), Carrie Coon (Margo Dunne), Neil Patrick Harris (Desi Collings), and Tyler Perry (a reference joke so dated it's very mildly funny again)

Spoiler alert: mild

Let's define exactly where we stand here.  The only reason I can't call Gone Girl David Fincher's best film is because I have so far avoided seeing the movie where Brad Pitt is a cartoon, not unlike an Oscar-nominated sequel to Cool World.  It's no return to form, though; Fincher already got his groove back three years ago, in his follow-up to his most widely-praised effort yet, an Oscar-nominated, exactly-par biopic.

And for this reason, can I just say that Fincher might be the most admirable man to ever work in Hollywood?  He had just come off of a pair of highly-regarded, financially-successful, award-hungry "serious" films, one of which was only barely good and the other of which is long and seemingly schmaltzy enough to put even me off my feedbut what did Fincher do next?  Well, he didn't go to Disneyworld.  He went to Sweden.

Another director might have redoubled his efforts, made a film even more asphyxiatingly airless than The Social Network, and gotten that Oscar.  But not David Fincher.  He looked at the last few years of his life and said, "I miss making movies for seventeen year old boys."  And I know this sounds like a slight, but it's possible that to find a director in the whole history of the moving image who has been better at making movies for seventeen year old boys, we will have to start learning the names of the behind-camera talent responsible for our best-made pornography.

What Fincher found with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that there is a seventeen year old boy in everybody, including women, and in recognition of this discovery he no doubt would have been nominated for an Oscar again, if rape-revenge short films bolted onto murder-mystery potboiler plots were the sort of narrative traditionally rewarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  There are few things I'd like better than to undertake a retrospective of Fincher's work, but unlike better-organized bloggers I can never seem to manage to coincide such a retrospective with any kind of theatrical release schedule, so it will have to be sufficient to say that Tattoo is a great film (and vastly superior to the original).  Fincher gets that credit, even if one key decision elevating it to its super-classic status depended vitally upon Daniel Craig's surprisingly mellow musical tastes.

Three years later, we now see that Fincher doesn't want to leave the dark funhouseand if films of the same caliber as the somehow-even-better Gone Girl are the result, he should be locked in there and condemned to make movies like this forever.  But even though his newest effort is every atom the elevated pulp of Seven, Tattoo, and (after a fashion) Zodiac, it strikes very much the same chords as Fight Club, only nowand more insidiouslywith female characters that matter.

I want to have your abortion.  No, seriously.

Like Fight Club, Gone Girl is also a rousing super-thriller with surprises, and even more like Fight Club, Gone Girl posits that petty bitching leads inexorably to lethal madness.  The difference is it won't be half as easy this time for the irony-impaired to miss the satire cooking off of each frame.  After all, Tyler Durden made some good points, and we know now that blowing up banks was probably a good idea.  Only the dumbest seventeen year boy, however, could witness Gone Girl's extraordinary retrogress and conclude that Fincher was not making a full-throated argument to absurdity about marriage, men, and women, and having a Goddamned blast in the process.

I didn't spend time discussing Tattoo entirely by accident: Fincher is lucky his last movie was a movie that was serious about the horrors of rape.  It doesn't hurt, either, that the writer of the novel and, refreshingly, its screen adaptation, is one Gillian Flynn, and that she seems to know what she's doing, too.  That's because the parade of misogynist tropes that is Gone Girl only stops when it slams into an ending too gonzo to ignore yet too full of juicy spoilers to describe, an ending so utterly outrageous that, at first, I recoiled, before realizing that it is exactly the ending it neededa vicious and terrible punchline to one of the darkest jokes ever told.

While declaring loudly that, "Hey! This movie's about gender politics!" possibly sounds like code for "Hey, this moving is boring," I'll simply make the modest point that one of the most deliberately gender-political movies ever made is Silence of the Lambs.  So, knowing that, know also that when I tell you that Gone Girl is the tale of a marriage gone supremely bad, you don't have to check out while some humanist dork tells you the cinema is about feelings.

Nick meets Amy at a party, cutely.  As Nick looks like Ben Affleck and is English-fluent, Amy is enamored immediately by the smarmy men's magazine writer (get it? she writes for a women's magazine, in case you did not).  They go through the romantic comedy motions that would feel far more romantic, did they not take place beneath a thick filter of copper-tarnish green only a few nanometers removed from The Matrix.  This is but the chronological beginning of their tale, after all; we know thatin the presentshe's already gone, leaving only smashed furniture, a pool of blood, and an anniversary-related scavenger hunt behind, and while no one in the film is eager to voice the presumption that she's dead, the smart money is not on survival.  Even that's getting too far ahead: we begin, listening to Nick tell us about the "primal questions" of a relationship: "What are you thinking?  How are you feeling?  Who are you?  What have we done to each other?  What will we do?"  He adds, looking down at the beautiful woman he married, "I picture cracking open your skull and unspooling your brain, to see what thoughts are in there."

It's not whimsically I make the reference to Dial M For Murder, Hitchcock's second best film, and the one most concerned with the pure mechanics of committing murder (the killer collegiates in Rope, his very best film, certainly have no trouble with the dispatch itself).  Gone Girl is a film concerned foremost with the Perfect Murder, and precisely like Dial M, it is a film where marriage itself is made a weapon.  But unlike Dial M, it is a mystery too, and the question is who the Grace Kelly is in this scenario.

There are nits to pick, of course.  First and most patently, the plot requires a hearty suspension of disbelief; but this is true of all perfect murder thrillers, for all perfect murder thrillers require a level of detailed planning on the part of the murderer or murderers that approach an omniscience impossible to realize in the real world.  Beyond that, there is a great smuggery to so many lines, especially by Nick's hypersupportive sister, Margo ("Go" for short, natch), that titling this review "Chasing Amy" instead was sorely tempting.  But this is just part of the tapestry, since we are, after all, dealing with soulless assholes whose fundamental psychosis is that they have no true inner lives, and so seek out meaning in other people, unaware that they have nothing to fill them with either.

The media satirein contrast to the social oneis unabashedly trite.  It's so stale that we get a Johnnie Cochrane figure, by way of Jackie Chiles, of all things.  (Nonetheless, Tyler Perry is remarkably effective at underplaying this quintessentially comedic role.)  Only in one regard does Gone Girl's media circus function, and it's not in a satirical vein, but as an ally to the tension.  In their quest to exploit America's desire to see blonde white women hurt, and then to purge us of our guilty feelings by tearing apart a presumptively innocent but also uncharismatic man, the media are able to put more pressure on Nick than even the cops can at first.  That leads us to the legal aspects of the thriller, which are as facile and stupid as you've come to expect from the genreNick has been cheating on his wife, of course, and thinks he can keep this a secret, of course, and he can't, of fucking course.

Finally, there are problems with the acting in the climax, but I cannot tell if those problems are inextricable from the script, which I have decided is perfect, or if they could have been overcome.  Worse, I cannot talk about them in any detail.  In the vaguest possible terms, then: the performance is surely fearsome, but almost too-much so.  The masks worn over the course of the film by the character are gone, but what we had intuited as a palpable emptiness behind them is instead a true vacuumblank and horrifying but also cartoonish in its nothingness.

I probably cannot say another word more, without ruining something.  Perhaps I have already, although I pray the impact was minimal.  So let me say only that Gone Girl has the best kill of the year, possibly the decade, built up with a patient grace, and in its execution an arterial wonderland worthier than anything Fincher has ever made.  It is leavened with a less-obtrustive brand of that Prometheus trailer editing, presently all the rage, using quick-fades to black within the scene, deployed either to preserve the R-rating or to make a point of how Fincher would never dream of cutting from this stunning death.  You might think that violence no longer has the power to genuinely shockparticularly in a film from the man who brought us Seven and Zodiac.  But it does, and even though it is foreshadowed with the inevitability of a solar eclipse, it also retains the power to surprise, simply for how awesomeand awefulit truly is.

Gone Girl is Fincher at his most brilliantly exploitative, combining his proclivity to make a joy out of human misery and his desire to draw meaning out of it.  Meaning adds power to Gone Girl.  It is meaning that transforms its occasionally-ridiculous plot into something truly affecting.  It is meaning that makes it an extraordinary film...

...Oh, I'm lying a little bit, and we all know it.  It was that kill.  So grody.  So gruesome.  So good.  But the other stuff?  It's pretty neat too.

Score:  10/10

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