Gone Girl

I saw the adaptation of Gone Girl last night, and thought it captured the book well. Gillian Flynn and Fincher did an excellent job bringing it to the screen. I loved the book. I thought it was a fantastic, dark satire of our culture’s image of gender roles and especially how the media views marriage and relationships vs. how they actually are. I feel it has to be viewed through that lens, the same way Silence of the Lambs is grand guignol and not realism. If you have not read the book, it depends on twists, so you may want to stop reading now.

gone-girl-missing-poster

Amy Dunne functions as a modern femme fatale, threatening men with something worse than death: a woman controlling their life.
She is a fascinating creation, an entitled psychopath. Part of me wants her to be as popular as Hannibal Lecter, so we can see prequels of just how messed up her childhood was, having her parents write books with the Improved Version of her! (The parents were perfect in the movie, those smiling shitbags.) It’s too bad Amy didn’t move on to another victim, like Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, or Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, but she’s a different. She doesn’t inspire fear by punishing sexual desire with the death penalty, her weapon is worse: Life Without Parole. Or at least 18 years of it. The perfect night terror for cads.

That’s the great fear among Men’s Rights Advocates. That a woman, or “Crazy Bitch,” will poke holes in the condom and lock them down for paternity when all they wanted was a one-night stand. Their other bugaboo is the woman who cries rape during consensual sex. Amy does both of these: She fakes rape twice, and fakes pregnancy once (or twice, depending). This could be held against the story; are you saying women are like that? No, not any more than Thomas Harris was saying “men are cannibals, or want to wear your skin.” But it’s our nature to want a hero, and this story has none. Neither spouse was innocent; Nick is more sympathetic in the film than the book, though part of that is the nature of film and using a ubiquitous actor like Ben Affleck. And I am not a fan. He was well cast because it’s easy to see him as the puppy-faced douchebag that Nick most certainly is.

If the story is lacking, it is in identifying exactly what’s wrong with Nick, other than being a cheater. If I missed it, it’s my own myopia. He’s been raised to want to please women; he’s the typical Nice Guy who isn’t, and that may be all we need to know. He wants the Cool Girl (one of the best soliloquys of the novel and film) but she also wants the Good Guy. We never get a clear view of their marriage, though she does accuse him of putting a false version of himself forward, “the Best Nick,” the one he will now have to be for the rest of his life, or she’ll come up with an even more twisted punishment for him. I wish this was explored further, but it wouldn’t have been so taut a thriller if it had been. There are other books for that. I expected Nick to be more passive-aggressive. He has no friends except his sister; that is telling in itself, in the same way Amy’s lack of friends is a warning flag. (While it’s not always an issue, I’ve noticed that when someone only has friends of the opposite sex, there is often a good reason).

In the movie, Amy’s murder of Desi is much bloodier and I felt that was a bad choice. She’s dangerous enough without going Basic Instinct on us for shock. The ending was also drawn out a little too much for me, but other than that, the film hit every note the book did. The Nancy Grace-alike was incredible, and the story’s depiction of how the media plays on our perceptions, and expects a fantasy perfection of relationships and criminalizes the reality, was spot-on. Take for example when Mr. Affleck said that his relationship with Mrs. Garner was “work.” Relationships do take work, but we’re not allowed to say so. No no. We must only show effortless grace, like Amazing Amy.

 

Dialer Turden

Sorry I’ve been scarce lately. Something to remember from a great, often misunderstood film.

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Like Starship Troopers, I see this movie largely as a satire meant to string along many of its fans and mock them. Do I think Chuck Palahniuk was suggesting bare-knuckle brawling and domestic consumer terrorism as the solution to the fatherless young male malaise that grips the navel-gazing, whiny office culture? No, it’s just as amusing as making soap out of liposucted fat and selling it back to the women it came from at $20 a bar. I certainly agree that our materialistic culture has made us identify with pre-fab furniture and posh vehicles as our spirit totems, but I don’t think that revelation is some sort of enlightenment.

This comes from someone who pays to get punched in the face twice a week at a mixed martial arts gym. Is that what makes a man? To paraphrase The Dude, that and a pair of testicles. Emptiness is as banal as evil; trying to be a modern caveman, the latest Fight Club-esque trend, is as ridiculous as donning medieval armor and championing knighthood as the natural state of man. There’s nothing noble or pure about hunter-gatherers, if you study anthropology. Belief in evolution doesn’t require that we adhere to its ruthless creed. Compassion for the weak is not weakness. We were all weak once.

Tyler isn’t an unattainable ideal, he’s a childhood daydream of the hard man the Walter Mitty in us wants to be, the lone killer Eastwood cowboy who solves our problems with a cold utterance and a gun. Or a clever quip and a few hundred pounds of explosive. We forget that in the end, “Jack” wins, sort of. Maybe Tyler’s plan wasn’t to blow up those buildings, but to get his other side to stop whining and stand up for himself. That’s what I like to think the movie’s final message is. Project Mayhem internalized. As much as I hate Starbucks, the wrecking ball should be aimed at the impatience that makes me a customer of theirs, ever again.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Like Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth, a beloved director has come back with a story of a man who begins aging backwards, and it’s a disappointment. I love David Fincher- after eating the shit sandwich he was handed with Alien3, he made some excellent, stylized films- Seven and Fight Club, the serviceable Panic Room and The Game, and the excellent police procedural and period piece that is Zodiac. Now he’s back with another period piece fantasy based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man born old, who eventually un-ages into infancy. With a screenplay by the guy who gave us Forrest Gump, we have another film about a joke stumbling through history.
But the similarities begin to snowball. The film is endlessly narrated by its main character, who puts on a rather bad Southern accent. They are both men whose age belies their naivete, who are innocents of a sort. Instead of giving us conversations, we get Benjamin telling us what they talked about. He showers us with platitudes like, “that was the first time I’d been kissed by a woman. It’s something you never forget.” He’s a child no one would want, but is raised and loved by someone who sees beyond his infirmity, and he lives an unlikely life, traveling the world and meeting all sorts of extraordinary people. He leads a charmed life amid historic events. He even walks with braces at one point.

The make-up is fantastic but a tad uneven- at some point it seems that Fincher expected the audience to be crying out to see Brad Pitt’s mug without wrinkles, and he looks a lot younger, just with white hair. This happens when he meets the always excellent Tilda Swinton, who plays the wife of a British minister in Murmansk. She and Ben have an affair after many nights of tea, where he listens to her and seems knowing and sympathetic, when he’s just innocent. This part reminded me of Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardner in Being There. And I missed when Tilda left the movie.
The film has many enjoyable scenes- it’s hard not to be engaged by the brief scene during the Second World War, but then it ends with something so smarmy I wished I didn’t know that the Forrest Gump guy wrote this. A man with a tattoo of a hummingbird on his chest dies, and shortly after, a hummingbird shows up like a feather on the wind in a very improbable place. It’s the kind of thing I can’t believe Fincher didn’t cut out of the script. A man named Button who made buttons is buried with a jar full of buttons. It’s framed by a woman on her deathbed as Hurricane Katrina brews off the coast. What does it mean? Is it supposed to be deep? I’ll see Troubled Waters if I want detail on that disaster, not this insulting Hollywood hat-tip.

The movie is not that bad; it’s a decent, if overlong fantastic drama about … I’m not quite sure. Is there some sort of wisdom to be gained by seeing a man age in reverse, when he still hasn’t the wisdom of age? He’s got the worst of both worlds. One amusing point is that Tilda Swinton looks like an older Cate Blanchett, both “all knees and elbows” redheads; and Cate once again turns into Katherine Hepburn as she ages. Two actresses I adore, taking a back seat to Forrest Button, playing his “Jenny” and following the whims of the plot instead of being characters and following their own. I must say the second half of the movie is less exciting, but more enjoyable and less smarmy than the beginning. We know how it will end, and there’s no real meaning to its premise; I made the mistake of reading Ebert’s review before watching it, and I think he sums it up well when he says that Fitzgerald’s story was a joke, and this is a drama based on it. We begin life in diapers and we wind up back in them if we live long enough. But this is the first 3 hour movie explaining that platitude.
At least we’ll be treated to The Curious Case of Benjamin’s Butt-Cheeks if the porn industry has any gumption.

3 butt cheeks out of 5