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Anatomies of Modern Murder and Modern Marriage
Written on 10/13/2014, film first viewed by author on 10/09/2014
It is probably a good thing that people cannot tell what other people are thinking, especially the people they trust the most. What someone doesn't know may actually, in fact, end up hurting them, but they sleep easier in their obliviousness until then. The most dangerous thing a person has is their ability to be underestimated. A person who always presents themselves as tough or lethal is always anticipated by their enemies, so they will be presented with a challenge before they succeed, or they may not succeed at all. But, if one always puts up a weak and innocent front, and saves their ferocity for just the right moment, then they have their foes by the throat. So, what does that say about our relationships? What does that say about how other people see two people in a relationship? In turn, how does that set the various perceptions of a society?
When Amy (Rosamund Pike), the famous subject of a series of children's books, disappears under suspicious circumstances, her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) becomes the most likely suspect. At first, there seems to be nothing that really solidifies his guilt. Though not incredibly emotional, Nick seems concerned and on edge. He even shows up to all vigils and search party events. However, just as in every good thriller, nothing is quite as it seems. In this twisty tale of a film, David Fincher's Gone Girl (based on Gillian Flynn's novel), nothing is definitely quite as it seems... and then nothing is quite as it seems again... and again.
What looks like a classic mystery of "who done it?" is actually a dark, sleek, sexy, and critical suspense story about modern western marriages and the anatomy of "typical" murder cases. Add to that another interesting and psychological aspect: the effects of public perception. Fincher's film and Flynn's story are so rich with social commentary wrapped in its roller-coaster plot that it will be difficult for this writer not to spoil the fun in his attempt to continue this discussion. He will do his best!
Of course, murder (or at least, the possibility of murder with strong indications) is at the core of Gone Girl, and more specifically, how all players (victim, suspects, the law, and the public at large) are involved. It seems, especially in western cultures, foul play in the areas concerning kidnapping and homicide have a cookie-cutter pattern: the victim is dead or missing with the tell-tale signs of a struggle (staged or otherwise), the prime suspect is usually the spouse, and the police grill that suspect until they confess, or they burn enough time to compile a case. That is precisely the formula that Nick has stacked against him. His character falls under a darker shadow at the discoveries of his financial recklessness and his infidelity, which do not help his side of the story with Amy missing and indications of foul play in their home.
So, did Nick do something to Amy? Might it involve jaded and suspicious ex-boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris)? Or, is there a third possibility that lies in the realm of the nearly-far-fetched? Could the "perfect murder" be so perfect as to be fabricated with a certain tender love and care?
Clues to the answer are found in the other ingredient to this recipe: the relationship and marriage of Nick and Amy itself. It starts as a typical love at first sight kind of situation, evolves into a passionate flame, then begins to burn out and spiral into monotony, meaningless sex, and money problems. One could argue that this element is the most normal and relate-able to an audience. Anyone who has been in the modern relationship is familiar with how easy a spark can fizzle and smolder to death. It can get to the point where couples are even on each other's nerves and testing each other's patience. In the most extreme situations, things have even been known to get out of hand, to get violent. These private matters have been known to escalate into the public eye in the forms of crimes of passion, and the engine to drive the sensationalism is the modern media circus.
The media has become the second court when it comes to such high-profile cases. The cases of O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, and Casey Anthony echo eerily in the back of one's head when one watches Nick's case unfold on screen. Not only is Nick in a cat and mouse game with police, but he is constantly under the microscope of the news and yellow-journalism-style crime shows. He is at their mercy as they paint whatever picture they want of him. Now, Nick must not only maintain his innocence, but attempt to play the part of the grieving husband the best he can. Every step is watched by the great collective eye of everybody. This brings up the problem of how the media can be harmful to the laws of the land. Where people should be innocent until proven guilty, TV, publications, and the all-powerful internet can tip the scale of public opinion, and make the most innocent of people appear the absolute guilty.
Gone Girl is a fresh and original thriller, a Hitchcockian escapade with Fincher's dark touches of sexual and violent tension. And, most importantly, Flynn's subject matter remains intact with her screenplay. In her story, the anatomies of marriage and murder go hand in hand in a marriage of their own, and warn society that bliss and terror may not be too far apart.