Gillian Flynn is an airport novelist, right? We see her novels in the WH Smith’s in Terminal 5, and we know where these books lie, alongside the Peter James and Clive Pattersons of this world. Her 2012 novel Gone Girl is a pacey thriller about a missing woman and the murder investigation surrounding it. But beneath the trashy thriller exterior (weren’t we always warned not to judge a book by its cover?) was a novel that dealt with the microscopics of a relationship, and did so in a darkly sickening manner. The novel is violent and repulsive, dealing with misogyny from women as well as men, and against women and, counter-intuitively, men. It’s a novel that deals with the moral repugnancy of the American household, doing so in a pulpy, cultish manner that’s too subversive to be trash, and too trashy to be literature. It’s an airport thriller that fucking hates airport thrillers.
From hereon in, there will be spoilers.
David Fincher’s adaptation of Flynn’s novel (retaining Flynn as the screenwriter) knows exactly what it’s doing. When Fincher adapted The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, his very fine film was undone for two reasons: 1) People mistakenly thought he was remaking the Swedish-language version, and 2) The source material took itself too seriously for Fincher’s naturally comic filmmaking panache. Gone Girl evades those problems by taking a unique text and making the quintessential adaptation – not to mention the fact that this was always going to be a jet-black comedy. Make no mistake, Gone Girl is a thriller that occasionally becomes a psychological horror, but its most resilient and enduring genre is comedy.
Ben Affleck makes a perfect Nick Dunne. The film, for him, could be read as a parable about media entrapment. Watching it, he probably recalls the Bennifer days when he could scarcely leave the house without being harangued, harassed and, for certain stretches, hated. He’s the films protagonist, the paragon of the #NotAllMen ideal: a shitty guy who also happens not to be a murderer, an abuser or a rapist. It’s a role that flies in the face of contemporary thought; the sort of character who should never be given a voice. But, in giving him a voice, the novel and the film are challenging, upsetting and alienating – and that’s exactly the point. Flynn and Fincher want their audience to both hate and love what they’ve seen. It’s that combination that Jennifer Lawrence’s character talks about in American Hustle (in relation to her nail polish): it smells like flowers and then there’s that hint of something rotten that gives it its edge and makes it unique.
So I can see why the film is dangerous. False rape allegations are, in reality, incredibly unlikely, and a mainstream media depiction may influence the way that people feel about reporting their rape. This is, perhaps, where the audience need to feel out the texture of Gone Girl’s horror origins. If you think that Gone Girl is an Oscar baiting family drama, then you’ll be sickened by the irredeemable content. But if you look at the actions of Rosamund Pike’s Amy Elliott Dunne as the workings of a horror movie psychopath, then it’s a different ballgame. I’m not trying to be an apologist, I’m just trying to define the film in its generic context. Violence, and sexual violence, is something that is a given in the horror genre, and there are countless examples where the audience’s enjoyment of the film is predicated on the continuation of violence – what fun is the Saw franchise without the mutilation? Would Fincher’s own Se7en be any good if they’d caught the killer after the first murder? And didn’t we want to see Brad Pitt blast Kevin Spacey’s brains out at the end? Horror encourages violence and repulsion, and Gone Girl brings that into the family arena in a way that harks back to films like Straw Dogs and The Shining.
Amy is the antichrist. I heard people muttering, as they left the cinema, about certain bits and pieces of the plot not making complete sense. They’re looking at the film as being in the mould of Zodiac – a real-crime police procedural – rather than Se7en – a quasi-religious psychological horror film. Flynn and Fincher are asking the question of whether the ‘American dream’ can harbour and hide a force of pure evil? That question is fundamental to understanding (and excusing) Gone Girl’s social and sexual politics. If the roles were reversed, and Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne was the psycho-killer, then no-one would be surprised. Flynn takes the patriarchal presumptions about the ‘American housewife’ and fucks them. Amy’s the fantasy of a misogynistic imagination, but she’s also the oppressed-turned-oppressor in a small-town, patriarchal community. And then there’s the ‘cool girl’ monologue, which makes it brutally clear where ‘post-feminist’ America has failed.
Gone Girl is an opportunity for Fincher to restore the sort of enfant terriblé reputation that he fostered with Fight Club and Se7en (and then destroyed with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). It’s the most ambitiously nasty film that will get a mainstream release this year, and is far more disturbing then the usual jumps and bangs of contemporary horror. We should celebrate its subversions and the fact that it is challenging and shocking, as good cinema should be, rather than didactic, preachy or reputable. Fincher has staked his reputation on a tale of how awful women and men are, and the gamble looks like a good one.
|Starring:||Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Emily Ratajkowski, Carrie Coon|
|Running Time:||Like an hour and a half|
|Certificate:||A strong 15|