Monday, 6 October 2014

Gone Girl and the Joys of Marriage


Poor heterosexuals aren’t having a good time of it at the movies lately. The gays got ‘Pride’, a film about solidarity, activism, youthful exuberance and courage, with characters you’d be hard pushed not to cry over the fate of; the heteros -notwithstanding getting most mainstream films the rest of the time forever and ever- got ‘Gone Girl’, a film about the most horrific marriage imaginable, in which none of the characters are even remotely likeable. But hey, Trent Reznor did the music!
I had no preconceptions about the movie by the time I went to see it, but when I first saw the posters I was concerned that given the title and aesthetic and fact that Ben Affleck was in it, it might be a sequel to Affleck’s shockingly bad directorial debut ‘Gone Baby Gone’. From what I can remember of GBG, a cute blonde girl with an evil neglectful slutty ‘white trash’ mom (film’s way of framing her, not mine) goes missing and a decent, hard-working, handsome, rugged cop, much beloved by the community (proven by the fact that the opening credits show old people, disabled people and black people smiling at him gratefully) must go on the hunt for her. At some point, a marauding paedophile kidnaps and kills a Latino boy, but that’s just to show how tortured the decent cop is, for he tried desperately to save the innocent young plot device. At least that’s how I remember it. There might have been some twist or a deeper message I missed or I might be remembering it wrongly but never mind. It was reminiscent of (based on?) the Madeline McCann case and displayed the exact same level of saccharine sensationalism and  lack of self-awareness the media had, and still has, around her. Of course that case was tragic but the way in which the cute blonde girl became a conveniently marketable figurehead for innocence, whilst the marauding unknown paedophile was a convenient figurehead for evil was pretty vile. What happens then when the victim isn’t cute, blonde, conveniently marketable, or innocent?  
Anyway, ‘Gone Girl’ was far from the po-faced shite of GBG, although it was a completely ridiculous film and probably one you’ll only watch once but that doesn’t mean it was without merit. ‘Gone Girl’ also features a missing blonde, but a grown-up, and much of it is a send-up of the media sensationalism ‘Gone Baby Gone’ embraced, and a take-down of marriage/family. I found it a bit disturbing, but also gripping and at points wrongly hilarious.
Essentially Nick (Ben Affleck) is a writer who marries another writer, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Amy was made famous by her creepy media-savvy parents who detailed/cashed in on her life throughout her childhood (when she was a cute blonde girl) via a well-known picture book series called The Amazing Amy. The first two years of Amy and Nick’s marriage are blissful but then shit happens such as recession and the illness of Nick’s mother, which means they both relocate to his home state of Missouri to care for her. She dies but they remain, unhappily. They have money troubles and Amy’s enormous trust fund starts to waver, they begin to resent each other. Nick is a pretty useless human being and completely unmarketable to the TV-watching public, so when Amy disappears under what look like violent circumstances and the media begins its personality-driven circus of a campaign to find her, Nick’s wooden lack of charisma, and the news that their marriage was extremely unhappy, means he is believed by all to be an abuser and a killer. My favourite character in the film is the bitchy Southern Belle news reporter who revels in gleefully diagnosing Nick as a sociopath in an incestuous relationship with his sister, on the basis of one photo. Nick’s character doesn’t win any hearts and his apparent confusion in the first third of the film is interspersed with excerpts from Amy’s diary which describe him as violent and abusive. It seems like it really is him. Having built up all that we cut to Amy, who it actually turns out is insane and has set up her husband to look like he killed her so that he will be charged and get the death penalty. She employs several methods to do this such as writing over two hundred phoney diary entries, meticulously studying internet web sites related to crime scenes and murders in order to stage her own, befriending one of the gossipy suburban locals (whom she actually has nothing but contempt for) and convincing said suburban local she is pregnant and Affleck is dangerous. Amy intends to commit suicide by throwing herself in the river eventually, with the blame firmly on Affleck, so deep is her hate. Things don’t go entirely to plan and, after a real murder and some more setting up of another deluded, highly strung, ex-boyfriend, Amy eventually returns to her horrified husband who has by this point worked out what she’s been up to.
With the media in the palm of her hand Amy makes it so that her husband can never leave her, kind of the most terrifying bit of the whole movie for me is that realisation. My favourite part is when Affleck’s character implores Amy they should get divorced after she has returned, stating that if they stay together they’ll only make one another’s lives a complete misery and destroy each other. She turns to him without missing a beat and states, ‘That’s marriage.’ It made me so glad to be queer and single.
Of course, like absolutely everything, it’s problematic. I mean, Amy frames the loserish but essentially average dudes she dates not just for murder, but for rape and domestic violence as well. The reality is that it’s usually the case that rape and DV are excused and covered up, particularly in the sacred realm of ownership that is marriage. BUT the film is so trashy and far-fetched that it does not hold itself up as credible. The only parts which really ring true are the send-ups of media scapegoating and small-town gossip, rather than it being commonplace for there to be Amy-like characters motivated to do what she does and capable of doing so. It also takes shots at the sentimentalising of certain types of woman, and the factors which get women deemed virtuous and worthy. Amy pretends she is pregnant which makes her instantly beloved by the nation because -of course- the true destiny of all women is to breed. All this is ridiculed with dark humour of which I am a big fan.
                So yeah, a pretty unsettling film, but very funny in parts, and also a total movie equivalent of a page-turner (unless you read this first, in which case it’s RUINED) and one that cuts through the sanctity of marriage, monogamy, nuclear family and heterosexual relations. Also, everyone who suffers the most in the movie is a cis white straight man, so that’s fun, given what movies and the world are usually like. It’s pretty special too, the way it keeps you gripped without having a single likeable character in it, though I did love the news reporter because she was so shamelessly evil and vacuous.
Not bad for a cheap Sunday night! Even if I never did get to see Ben Affleck’s junk, allegedly featured for a fraction of a second in the shower scene near the end.

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