Sunday, October 5, 2014

Piece of Cake


Gone Girl is a zeitgeist-fueled masterpiece of exurban, media-drenched, cynical, creepy, hilarious, 21st Century, true-crime-porn, all of that fermenting and fomenting inside a McMansion straight out of a Sominex commercial, with a backyard shed filled with man-cave accoutrements as if Santa Claus has had a bipolar episode.  It is maximally vicious and empty-headedly blissful at the same time.  You watch with a sense of dread and also a strange giddy anticipation.  David Fincher has directed it as a grotesque yet hyper-elegant gloss on film-noir, as well as a shiny-switchblade parody of Lifetime TV movies.  It moves effortlessly toward a bunch of conspicuously unbelievable yet completely realized revelations that shed light on nothing but what movies can be when they are ridiculously well-constructed.

Ben Affleck's Nick is in a shitty marriage to Rosamund Pike's Amy, and the movie begins with her supposed abduction.  I think the conceit the movie is based on (from a bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn who also did the screenplay) is that you don't know who is telling the truth.  But that conceit within a minute or two of the movie is completely vanquished:  the conceit in fact is deliriously deceitful.  It's obvious from the get-go Nick is victim and Amy is victimizer, and that Gone Girl is a charged-up reboot of the old-school femme-fatale plots of  potboiler books and movies like James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and/or Double Indemnity.  While Nick is not really innocent (he has an affair with his young creative-writing student for Pete's sake), he is framed in the movie as a goofy but sweet, five-o'clock-shadowed loser, playing board-games with his twin sister while downing late-morning bourbon in a bar his wife purchased for him.  In the first five minutes of Gone Girl his put-upon stature is cemented:  he arrives home to make sure his pet cat is okay only to find evidence of a break-in and the disappearance of his beautiful blonde wife, an effete, over-schooled knock-out who had to move back to Missouri with him because Nick's mom was dying.

From that initial scene of surprise to a rush to judgment to Nick having to find a defense attorney, the movie's elegant race between back-story (Nick and Amy's first kiss in a "sugar storm" outside a bakery at night, Nick and Amy getting married, Nick and Amy's first fight over money, and so on) and the churn of present-day abduction-story to-dos (Nick and Amy's uptight parents holding a press conference and vigil, suspicious police detectives pursuing the truth and so on) culminate halfway through the movie to a point-of-view switch.  We find out -- guess what? -- Amy has not been abducted or killed or anything like that.  She's just plain pissed and by pissed I mean she's created and executed a whole abduction narrative so detailed and fierce it's obvious this bitch is crazy.  She makes up diary entries to incriminate Nick, draws her own blood to splatter in the kitchen, befriends an idiotic pregnant lady next door so she can steal her pee for a fake pregnancy test.  And on and on and on.  Amy obviously is a femme-fatale Fincher and Pike have assembled as a collage of Madonna in all the videos Fincher made with her, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and a plethora of other blonde-haired, steel-eyed super-sexy ladies who do really terrible things and look fantastic doing it.  Pike's performance is gorgeous and stony and joyous to watch.  She's a robot Medusa, and her voice-over sections as she lets us in on  all her secrets are venom and music combined.

Fincher is the superstar here though.  This is one of those movies you watch knowing how meanspirited and pissy it is and yet the style overcomes the substance, and you are in the presence of true movieness.  And by "movieness," I mean this is a movie that is not about real life in any way shape or form:  this is a work of art referencing (i.e. stealing from) other movies (including Fincher's own back catalog classics like Zodiac, Panic Room and Seven) and spectacularly using those references in pursuit of pure, stupid, cinematic ecstasy.  Fincher, like Hitchcock, understands that movies are not pieces of real life.  They are pieces of cake, and this movie is a morally rotten yet deliciously decorated wedding-cake.  You enjoy every slice not as a reflection of reality, but as an orgasmic joke on it.  Movies like this make going to the movies an experience beyond verisimilitude or an exercise in getting blown away by computer-generated images of oceans toppling over skyscrapers.  Style is Fincher's goddess here; he worships it with every shot, and you follow him wanting to be awestruck by his audacity and dedication to doing what he needs to do.  By the end of Gone Girl, you understand nothing about male-female relationships or 21st Century America or any of that.  You're just grateful Fincher made a movie that makes you feel somehow enchanted, even overcome by, what movies can be and do, no matter what they are about.