Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gone Girl: Some Comments

This is a thoughtful, well written piece. The problem for me is that while the movie is just ok, worthwhile in a stolid way, weighed down by Affleck's one note lugubriousness, as well as flawed by small inconsistencies, too glib dialogue at the outset, and a preposterous ending, most of what Rothfeld writes is overwrought. (I haven't read the novel.)
Here's an example of the latter:
...This is the patriarchy that Amy is up against: one in which men don’t have to care, or even respond to female caring, because they hold all the cards. One in which even the most accomplished and capable women are forced to mold themselves into the incarnations of male fantasy in order to matter, in which every heterosexual love story is a retelling of Pygmalion. One in which women are powerless to hold men accountable—in which female emotion is valued as a fundamentally worthless currency....
Some such notion of a shifted patriarchy may be evident in the novel but it's not organically present in the movie despite the one slapped on monologue about "cool girls." Amy, let's be clear is nuts, a psychopath whose acting out grows from faking a rape to trying to contrive elaborately a murder--getting Affleck executed, which he should be, critically, for his terrible acting and killing the screen--to committing a bizarre, bloody and horrible murder. 
Her psychosis is entangled with her central self- perceived failing--the painful distance between Amazing Amy and the all too human, real, deeply troubled Amy who writhes around in existential bad faith. The night of celebrating Amazing Amy's wedding is only salvaged for real Amy by Affleck's proposing to her. Real Amy is all external accomplishment and all inner failure evident in needing to fulfill herself in perfecting the intellectually inferior men she takes to herself: such as the first guy she falsely indicts for raping her when he starts to pull away from her relentless attempt to make him better; and such as Affleck who similarly pulls away from her to the point of an affair with his jejune student. Only Desi, who can't be improved by her and is, at a minimum, a match for her, it seems, in intellectual accomplishment, sophistication, and wealth, homicidally repulses her by his unstinting devotion to her. Affleck understands her psychotic need and plays on it in telling her what she insanely needs to hear in his interview in order to draw her out.
Rothfeld's abiding error throughout her piece is to use Amy's sickness as a basis for the weighty cultural pronouncements about the new patriarchy and the boundary pushing new femme fatale. But for Amy's crazy, literally crazy as in psychotic, idiosyncrasies, she needn't try to be a "cool girl;" she needn't saddle herself with mediocre men: she needn't seek to close the distance between the real and amazing her by creating an Amazing Nick. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, the saying goes: here a psychotic woman is just a psychotic woman, and Affleck is just another zhjlub, which shoots down entirely, I argue, Rothfeld's overwrought and misplaced cultural pronouncements about the new patriarchy, about the relation of this movie's femme fatale to the tradition of femme fatale in noir, and in her overall reading of the movie in these terms. 
One other example:
....The traditional femme fatale cannot be faulted for availing herself of the only weapon available to her—her sex appeal—but we cannot fully endorse her tactics either. Her beauty was too conventional, too much a realization and reinforcement of male fantasy—perhaps a means toward more radical transgressions, but surely no more than one step on the path toward greater, more destabilizing disruptions...
"Cannot be faulted," "cannot fully endorse": by whom, by what standards, based on what unargued for assumptions? There seems to me some ultimately unstated feminist ideal set of principles, values and ideals running through this piece and forming unstated bases for judgment. And that, in my judgment, both ties in to the overwrought notions of a new form of patriarchy and Rothfeld's general overthinking of this movie. 
One other note: aside from Affleck's leaden dolefulness, in small ways his character just doesn't add up. He picks Amy up by a lot of slick, smart talk, joking about a beer not belonging to a guy who looks like he's doing a thesis on Proust. He describes himself as a writer, and writes for a men's magazine. He's trying to write a novel. He teaches creative writing. Yet this is the guy who thinks quinoa is a fish, wants just to play board games with his sister, guzzle beer and watch reality TV. I don't think so. These jarring inconsistencies blend in with his incompetent acting to make him and his character wholly unsatisfactory.
No one is dismissing her as crazy. She's being recognized for what she is: namely, crazy. Really, the gender-inflected power dynamics of both the boardroom and the bedroom have little to do with anything in this movie.
Yes, I read the review. You're confused. That's evident in your positing a film based on a novel vitiates the literal, whether literal is or isn't in scare quotes. What's literal is what actually happens, the actual story. A film from a novel has nothing to do with it, or anything else really. They're separate and distinct works, with their own themes, genre specific techniques and either successes or failures. The more acute point is that to oerleap what actually happens and start airily talking about symbolism is an error, which error gets accentuated when what's posited as symbolic makes a hash of what actually happens. Then you're squarely in the realm of silliness. The facts of the story involve a woman who falsely indicted her first boy friend for rape and ruined his life thereby, who has with obsessive and phenomenal elaboration contrived to have her cheating husband murdered by a Missouri execution and then has in a scene of utter bloody horror brutally murders the wealthy, sophisticated guy obsessed with her and who takes her in at her desperate request. All without an ounce of remorse. All with cold, conscienceless calculation to get what she wants. I'm no diagnostician of mental illness, but it's patently wrong to understand this homicidal woman as anything but sick and evil. All of that knocks the shit out of any airy and nonsensical view a of "symbolic representation of the long-term effects of interpersonal gender dynamics." So, again, of course I read and understood the review. It's, as are you in endorsing its argument, wrong. Finally the literal, what actually happens in the film,, and even more so, I understand, in the novel, is light years away from men often calling their ex-wives crazy and dismissing them. I hope you can get it through your head that this woman is actually crazy in the world of the film.