Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Great Debate: GONE GIRL **SPOILERS**

Image from Wikipedia

**Seriously, this book (and movie) does have some pretty awesome twists that it would be a shame if you ruined them for  yourselves. If you REALLY don't care, don't say I didn't warn you.**

A while back, my wife and I saw the movie Gone Girl, the David Fincher adaption of Gillian Flynn's fantastic novel. I love Gillian Flynn. I bought Sharp Things a little over a year ago because it had a blurb by Stephen King on the cover--and I fucking love Stephen King, but I quickly became enamored with Flynn's stories. They're usually about women, but Flynn’s women characters are kind of terrible people, and usually extremely fucked up. They're bleak as hell. Deliciously so.

As everyone in the world has mentioned, the second half of Gone Girl is where things get interesting. In the second half, it's revealed that Amy orchestrated the entire kidnapping herself. Once her journal entries run out, Amy herself takes over narrating alternate chapters from the moment of her disappearance onward. And Amy is a goddamned monster. Nick may be a shitty human being, but Amy is a selfish robot hellbent on manipulating everyone and everything to get what she wants. She is a textbook sociopath.

I’ve read a few essays by some women (and men) that think the point of the film is “Bitches be Crazy.” And I get coming to that conclusion because Amy does exhibit all of the worst things people say about women. Amy is definitely crazy. But NPR's Linda Holmes wrote a post that put into words what I’d been thinking since reading the book:
"What has always kept Amy from troubling me in this particular sense is that she does the things she does not because they are in her nature as a woman, but because they are in her nature as a psychopath. One of the problems with the relative paucity of interesting female characters is that they become responsible for representing all women, for speaking to What Women Are Like. The more scantly represented any demographic group is, the more each person seems to reflect upon everyone. But here, it has always been perfectly clear that Amy is an aberration. She is a woman, but she is not only a woman. She is also a monster, and the second half of Fincher's film is, in many ways, a horror movie about the great difficulty — and eventually the impossibility — of defeating her."
Another interesting read of the movie I've seen, however, is taking Amy as an empowering figure. My wife thought this, and at first I thought she was crazy. But I've seen it popping up a few times online, so my wife’s not alone. And looking at it a certain way, I see why. In my wife’s mind, Amy was a scorned wife taking revenge against her awful husband. She said that, obviously she went too far with her vengeance, but Nick was a shitty, unfaithful person, a cheater that had anger issues and generally made Amy feel unsafe, unloved, and that he deserved what she did to him. This idea is supported by some particularly awesome and insightful commentary on society’s treatment of women by Amy.

There was a telling moment in the movie theater where, after Amy's return, when Nick and Amy are trying to out maneuver each other and see who can screw the other one over more, Nick learns that Amy has gotten herself pregnant using some of Nick's stored sperm, and he knows he'll need to stay for the sake of the child. For just a moment, he gets pissed off, grabs her by the neck, and shoves her, hard, backward into the wall. Everyone in the theater gasped.

It was an amazing moment of movie making and storytelling. Nick had been mostly very restrained up until that point, served very well by Affleck's quiet, whisper-like voice. There were moments where he got angry--in one outburst, he shattered a glass on the floor because the police clearly thought he killed his wife and it pissed him off--but mostly he portrayed either confusion, annoyance, or quiet anger at his situation.

It was interesting to me that everyone viewed that moment for Nick as crossing a line, and doubly interesting when compared with the over-the-top rage and violence (hurling her against a stair banister) exhibited in the fake moment of violence that Amy describes in her diary.

Amy faked YEARS of diary entries, her own murder, ran away, and left the crime-scene just sloppy enough that people would believe careless, kind of dumb Nick tried to clean up the crime scene and was just too stupid to do it properly. She creates an anniversary scavenger hunt where each clue has multiple layers, both a meaningful place for him and Amy, but also a place where he cheated on Amy with his mistress--which he obviously couldn't admit to the cops without looking like the sleazeball he is. She also got credit cards in his name and intentionally bought up a bunch of Dude Stuff to make it look like Nick wanted to get rid of Amy so he could live the Ultimate Dude Dream of video games, stupid toys, sports, and chicks.

And, as they point out, Missouri has the death penalty.

Amy wanted to ruin Nick. Not just have him arrested. Not just have him murdered by the state. She wanted to destroy every aspect of his life. She wanted his relationships with everyone he knew ruined. She wanted every person in the country to hate him. She wanted his very character to be destroyed completely.

After all that, after finally getting Amy home so he could be cleared of murder, after trying desperately to figure out a way to prove she’d orchestrated the whole thing, to find that he'd been outmaneuvered, that he’d have to stay to protect that child, he snapped.

My wife and I debated about this for hours,

The key, in my opinion, to understanding this story is to remember that the Amy of the second half of the movie--the cold, calculating monster--has been the real Amy the whole time. The sweet, well-meaning, complicated woman from the first half of the book/movie--the diary entries--was a fabrication, created to garner sympathy. It was part of her plan to frame Nick. She wasn't real.

Sociopaths are master observers, master pretenders. She wanted life a certain way and put on a costume that would grant her that life. She liked the way Nick presented himself when they met because it complemented the kind of life she wanted. When she realized that was only an ideal, that people are always more complicated than they seem at first, that you can’t always be on your best behavior, she got mad. Nick was robbing her of her dream.

Nick choosing another woman over the ultimate “ideal” woman--the Cool Girl--that she crafted specifically for Nick was the push too far. It would be like how a chef feels when someone rejects her three course gourmet meal for McDonald’s. She wanted him punished.

Although Nick is clearly the more sympathetic character, in the book, Amy drags him down to her level. He becomes, by the end of the book, just as scheming, just as conniving, just as ruthless as she is--if not as smart or clever. And the absolute best part is: he likes it. Because, in the book, he admits that he likes the type of person that Amy forces him to be, even if that force is the threat of death--of himself or the baby. He gets off on the game of cat and mouse. It’s the most fucked up version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith imaginable.

The movie, however, pulls back on this a bit. It makes Nick seem too sympathetic, like he’s just a victim of circumstance. In the movie, Nick stays for the baby. Sure, his sister, Go, says that he secretly likes it, but there’s no real indication that that’s so. The deadly, fucked up tango is significantly reduced. And that is a shame because that is my favorite thing about the book. In the book, Amy is a monster, but by the end, Nick is not much better. They deserve each other even more by the end of the novel than they do at the beginning, Each forces the other into their idealized role, into the type of partner each wants the other to be. In the movie, Nick is too sympathetic at the end for my taste.

I want to do one more post about this, because while I felt obligated to cover the Amy vs. Nick thing that everyone else has been taking about, there’s another aspect of the move and the book no one has touched that I've seen.

Next time, I want to talk about Amy’s character foils.

Oh my God I wish I could write like Flynn.

So, did you see Gone Girl? Or read the book? What did you think?