Gone Girl: a dark parable for anyone in a relationship

Why are you reading this?

Do you trust my opinion, or is it simply passing the time?

Do you want to find out what’s going on in my head, or is it a way of helping you form your own opinion?

That’s a glimpse inside the world of Gone Girl. It’s a parable of contemporary relationships that consistently destabilises the narrative direction; that portrays intimate relationships as minefields of (dis)trust and self-justification; in which there’s scarcely a single sympathetic character but still has the gall to ask you where your sympathies lie … and why.

Directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac) and adapted from her own novel by Gillian Flynn it’s best understood as a neo-Gothic melodrama/thriller. Yes, really. The film opens on the morning of Nick and Amy’s 5th wedding anniversary; Amy goes missing in suspicious, possibly violent circumstances. The finger of public and police suspicion starts to turn on Nick, and we see the truth unfold in parallel with the flashback story of Nick and Amy’s relationship from the day they first met.

It’s hard to say much more than that without spoilers. So though I’ve tried to avoid any, proceed in the rest of this post with caution; I hadn’t read the book, and managed to avoid spoilers. From the point of view of pure plot, it is a deliciously dark thriller, constantly taking the truth and twisting it just out of the viewer’s reach. In the final sections the film turns into strange territory, but that it does so without ever feeling false is a measure of just how good this film is. David Fincher is on top form here, meticulously constructing every scene and narrative beat with a painter’s eye; the performances  – especially Rosamund Pike as Amy and Tyler Perry as Nick’s lawyer  – are pretty much on the money; and the film is shot with a sheen and style appropriate to the film’s themes. It nods to all sorts of films – from Hitchcock, through Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct and in one startling moment, Carrie – yet is definitively its own vision.

For all that, the film demands more from you. It has a dark vision of human relationships, and more or less forces the viewer into some uncomfortable reflections. For me the film touches genius in making you to pick a side; then undercuts that by showing you how shallow it is to do so. There’s a question around the source novel as to if it’s misogynist or feminist; such a debate may miss the point completely, in fact. Truth isn’t to be found on one ‘side’ or the other; it’s to be found in the combustible chemical reaction of two broken people. In the film’s deliberately over-stated central relationship we see writ large a deeper truth; that the sum of a relationship is greater than its constituent parts. Hence the uncomfortable reality the film leaves us with – give yourself to your relationships; don’t hide. The more you hide, the more exposed you are. The less you give, the more you lose; the more you give, the more you gain.

It’s not just relationships in Gone Girl‘s crosshairs; it’s a scathing attack on celebrity culture, on media obsession with making info-tainment out of personal tragedy (it felt apt to see this film in the week that Oscar Pisotrius was sentenced for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp), gender and domestic violence, and parenting. It needs a hearty running time to do all that without collapsing under its own weight. It is a long film, but necessarily so; it flies by. Mind, heart and eyes are fully engaged throughout.

In the end, however, it’s the nature of intimate relationships with which it is most concerned. For all the heightened reality that is a feature of this and Fincher’s other best work, it leaves you with pertinent and uncomfortable choices to make and questions to answer. It’s impossible to come out of this film and not find yourself sitting in judgement one character or the other; analyse that for long, though, and you find the finger pointed back on yourself. Which is what a parable should do, really.

I rated this film 9/10 on imdb.com and 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com

Sunshine On Leith

Sometimes being predictable can be a good thing. My wife and I were in celebratory mood having received some long-awaited good news. We believe in marking the good things in life, so we decided on a movie (not exactly unusual for us, I guess) and a bite to eat after. So off we headed to Cape Town’s finest cinema, one of the very few independents left in the country, for Sunshine On Leith; a British film finally on a limited South African release, several months after it arrived in British cinema.

It’s a musical. Based on a stage show; which in turn was based around the songbook of Scottish pop duo The Proclaimers. The musical is itself a family drama/love story set around the return of two soldiers from service in Afghanistan; it is, of course, set in a beautifully shot Edinburgh, as much attention given to obscure back-alleys as it is to sweeping skylines. The film’s helped by some fine casting  – Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks adding heavyweight talent to proceedings as the parents; the rest of the cast can all sing more than well enough, and look as comfortable acting as they are singing.

It helps, of course, that the songs are near perfect of their type, and with their folk inflected tone fit naturally into a storytelling structure. The context some songs end up with may be obvious a mile off, but no less the worse for it – what you’re imagining right now about Letter From America, for instance, is almost certainly right on the money.

Ultimately insubstantial as it is, the film is an addictive and life-affirming smile. I’m sure there are people who won’t enjoy it, and this may be my celebratory mood talking, but I find it hard to imagine how you end up in such a place with this film. The cast and director give themselves so entirely to the project that you’re swept-along on a tide of good feeling and well-wishing. It’s a joy, from start to finish.

I rated this film 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 8/10 on imdb.com