2000 Years Gone
Like most people my age, I’ve consumed massive amounts of entertainment. And occasionally, I’ll digest something—usually some product outrageously hyped—that goads me to levels of outrage so deep that I feel compelled to set the world aright and explain why said product should have been thrown across a room, flushed down a toilet or left completely on the cutting room floor, rather than being foisted upon the unwitting consumer.
Now, I pride myself on my ability to usually avoid such experiences … I mean, who needs that kind of aggravation? I live in San Francisco, which means I get plenty of aggro just driving to Union Square. But I thought I’d be safe with “Gone Girl.” The book was labeled “domestic noir” (on Wikipedia); the film garnered praise and an Oscar nom for Rosamund Pike. What could go wrong?
Oh, what a tangled web we weave …
If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, turn back right now. I mean it. The rest of this blog will be dealing with issues related to the much-publicized plot twists. You’ve been warned.
Before I explain why “Gone Girl” is the most insultingly archaic piece of misogyny to come down the pike (sorry, couldn’t resist) in a long time, I need to add a disclaimer. I have not read the book. I expect that the book is a better (and hopefully more balanced) experience than the film. However, because the author of the novel, Gillian Flynn, also penned the screenplay, I am making the assumption that the elements she prioritized in the film, narrative and character-wise, were what she considered indispensable. The film was long (2 1/2 hours), so length is neither excuse nor defense.
So what’s wrong with “Gone Girl?”
Forensic/police procedural plot holes large enough to insult any thinking person.
For me, this is a misdemeanor in comparison with the film’s other offenses. I mean, I understand plot mechanics—I’m a writer. We often force ourselves into the position of needing to make the impossible seem plausible. But because this story’s lauded twists depend on Amy’s criminal genius, said criminal genius better be believable. It isn’t. What happened to the injury that supposedly caused all that blood loss? What happened to the video tape that showed her arriving at Desi’s house willingly? Why weren’t the red panties tested for DNA? Why did no one recognize her? Why didn’t anyone test the ink on the journal or question why it was only partly burned but alone in an incinerator, waiting to be found? And why is it that not one of the medical personnel who examined her for her supposed rape reported that she showed no sign of previous pregnancy, as her medical records had indicated (from faking the urine test)?
I guess the ultimate lesson to be learned here is that if you’re going to have a mentally imbalanced stalker obsessed with you, make sure he’s incredibly wealthy and as sweet as a teenage doctor.
It’s the media’s fault.
Some people have asserted that the actual meaning of the film revolves around the media/public demonization/deification of Nick. I beg to differ. If you want to see a really good film that illustrates media manipulation, try “Ace in the Hole”, a Billy Wilder film noir. If you don’t have two hours, listen to Don Henley sing “Dirty Laundry.”
“Gone Girl” is not about the media. In the contemporary arena of reality TV and 24/7 “news” coverage, the media obviously plays an important role, but the film is not “about” the media. “Gone Girl” is about shocking people, either with a plot twist, with language, or with manipulative female evil (more on that later).
And the point of the film is?
News flash: crime exists. Men, women and children commit it. Good people do bad things, bad people do good things. Middle-of-the-road people do, too. Anyone who has ever lived with any violence in her life—or who has suffered from loss, family mental illness, drug abuse, etc.—understands this basic fact and ceases to marvel at it around the age of seven or eight.
In “Gone Girl”, we are given a portrait of a highly intelligent, wealthy, beautiful, presumably successful woman who is presumably a passive-aggressive sociopath. Because this mental condition was not a barrier to her societal success, it would be far more interesting to explore its roots than to shout about its existence (Was it fostered by an odd but fascinating competition with her fictional self? Was it her narcissistic parents? Did it manifest itself in other ways? Maybe the book explores some of these themes—the film, with the exception of a minute allusion to her parents’ fictional heroine, does not).
No, it seems enough for “Gone Girl” to just say, with pride, that Amy is a bad, bad bitch. Her husband is intended as an emasculated weakling who may actually get off at the idea of his wife’s psychosis and domination. There is no exploration of how his affair with a student (a crime itself) may be reflective of someone trying to reestablish the winning hand in a power struggle.
Because these characters were not explored or developed—or the filmmakers chose not to do so—we are left with two despicable characters. That’s not so unusual for a noir. What is unusual is that the lack of depth in character exploration means that they are not only despicable, they’re boring (a far worse crime in a movie). Pike does an admiral job of infusing a cardboard character with as much life as she possibly can, but in the end, that’s not enough. And what we’re left with is a big “shocking twist” and an ending that reads more like a day’s worth of therapy for a very damaged marriage, and, of course, the fundamental reveal: women can be nasty, too.
Which brings me to the worst of the film …
I don’t throw the term around lightly (I’ve been called all kinds of things), and Gillian Flynn had no idea when she wrote the book that 30 women who have accused Bill Cosby of rape and assault would be ridiculed, mocked and disbelieved. But for Ms. Flynn to say that her creation of Amy is a “feminist” act—simply because Amy is a sociopath—is the most asinine and outrageous piece of author denial I’ve ever witnessed.
Ms. Flynn needs to read more.
How about Semonides of Amorgos? Translations aren’t too hard to find. He wrote about the different types of women in the world, nine of whom are highly negative, all of whom are compared to animals. This was the 7th-6th series BCE.
Or she could try the Bible—both approved and unapproved bits—stuff about Lilith and Jezebel and Delilah and the godmother of us all, Eve. There’s also the Ramayana.
Still too old? Let’s see, there’s the Pandora myth or Pygmalion story (best read in Ovid), or we can skip right to Dickens or, let’s see, Henry James “The Bostonians” or Lady Brett in “The Sun Also Rises” or Nathanael West’s “Day of the Locust”. Of course, we can cut to the chase and list “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity” and nearly every noir novel and film written or made from 1940 to the present.
The fact is that smart, successful, beautiful, sexualized women—women with power—have been portrayed as transgressive criminals of one type or another for more than 2000 YEARS. Traditional noir elevated the formula into a lyrical art form. “Gone Girl” is absolutely, positively, unimaginably unoriginal in this regard which—as I mentioned above—seems to be its entire raison d’etre.
This bothers me because my career has been built around a character and a series created to countermand the very stereotype for which Flynn is applauded. I consider Miranda Corbie not just a personal choice but an ethical one. And let me be perfectly clear: whether or not my books ever attain the financial success of Ms. Flynn’s, I will always be proud of the choices I’ve made.
Let me be clear here, too: I can understand creative chafing. I’m not suggesting that the very fact of writing about a woman who fakes a rape is, in itself, unethical. But if you’re going to write about something so heinous, so potentially damaging to the millions of women who are sexually assaulted and too afraid to report it—then, by God, what you write had better be so good, so deep, so memorable and so alive that it doesn’t leave the grimy residue of female self-hatred behind.
Unfortunately, the grime is not gone. “Gone Girl” is just another layer of two thousand year-old dirt.