Spoiler Space: Gone Girl

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.

Gone Girl’s first hour hinges on the audience accepting certain scenes uncritically. The meet-cute at the party, the perfect proposal, the eventual breakdown of Nick and Amy’s marriage—these scenes are severely overwritten and riddled with clichés, and yet the viewer accepts them because he or she knows that Gone Girl is a work of fiction. Sequences like the first meeting between Nick and Amy—in which they exchange paragraph-sized chunks of oh-so-clever observation—may not be believable examples of human behavior, but they are believable parts of a story. Of course Amy would want to have a child to save their marriage, of course she would feel alienated upon arriving in Missouri, of course Nick would rather go have a drink with his buddies than continue a conversation…

Except that it’s mostly fiction—or, more accurately, meta-fiction. In essence, the movie is feeding the audience archetype-strung bait—the emotionally distant husband, “the cool wife,” the educated and ambitious woman who just wants to be a mother—and letting them swallow it whole. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes the hook: Not only is Amy alive and well, but she has gone to elaborate lengths to fake her own murder and pin it on Nick, inventing a pregnancy and a string of financial problems to make it more credible. Readers of Flynn’s novel tend to focus on this switcheroo, and it’s likely that viewers of Fincher’s movie will, too, but there’s much more to unpack in the way Amy is able to execute her plan (as well as the gruesome plan at the center of the story’s second major twist) than in the motivation behind it.

Fincher is a process, procedure, cause-and-effect-type director who likes nothing more than to lay out how one thing leads to another across a series of crisp cuts—a tendency that reached a kind of fever pitch in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which depicted every time the protagonists smoke, hunt for cellphone reception, eat, get on a train, or cross a bridge in exacting detail. He is, in short, a “how” director more than a “why” director, and the focus of Gone Girl—and the thing that gives the movie its satirical edge—is how Amy is able to fake her death and then return home. She does it by playing into countless stereotypes and preconceptions: writing a fake diary than portrays her as a forgiving-to-a-fault spouse done in by her callous husband; laying low at a motel, pretending to be a Southerner escaping a violent ex; reappearing as a “survivor” who gives faux-modest interviews on TV talk shows.

It doesn’t matter that there are countless holes in her story; it’s believable because it’s composed entirely of familiar elements that people like to believe. How does she prepare for framing Nick for her murder? By watching TV and reading bestsellers. “America loves pregnant women,” so she steals her neighbor’s urine to fake a doctor’s office pregnancy test. She secretly buys golf clubs, guitars, and a big-screen TV using her credit card. She commits the perfect crime by fabricating the perfect troubled suburban marriage.

Why does she do it? Gone Girl doesn’t provide much of answer. Actually, it provides multiple answers, all of them similarly rooted in archetypes—because she felt suffocated, because Nick cheated on her with a younger woman, because she felt that she’d sacrificed too much and gotten too little in return. In one version, it’s because she saw him making a gesture toward his college-student mistress, Andie (Emily Ratajkowski, of “Blurred Lines” semi-fame), that he had made toward her when they first met, and realized that he too was playing a role—that the way he moved his thumb across her lips before their first kiss was a practiced move.

Flynn’s novel was accused, in certain parts, of being misogynist, and some of the same accusations have cropped up in relation to Fincher’s film. It’s an understandable take, especially because Amy has a history of faking rape—something that she does again in the movie’s lurid, bloody climax. But this interpretation is also very problematic; in order to subscribe to it, one has to accept Amy on her own preferred terms, as an “archetypal” woman. Amy and Nick operate by convincing others that they are somehow representative of all women or all men—which they are only because they choose to be. If anything, Gone Girl is about the way in which ugly cultural baggage—about gender roles, relationships, and sex—can obscure the truth. People can be predictable, but only because they consciously conform to certain norms and roles; what’s going on in their heads is a different matter altogether.

Join the discussion...