The Cinema Done Gone
— I am now convinced that David Fincher is the most overrated filmmaker working in Hollywood today. One of the 1980s music video generation directors, Fincher’s first major Hollywood feature was Alien 3 (1992), a bleak entry in the sci-fi/horror franchise in which Sigourney Weaver is stripped of all femininity to live amongst murderers and rapists on a distant planet infested with the least of the planet’s worries, the drooling aliens with projectile jaws.
It didn’t get any better from there. 1995’s Se7en forced me to endure Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box. 1999’s Fight Club delivered the shocking revelation that capitalism is bad, and the men who are entrapped by it are, surprise, hopelessly violent. 2007’s Zodiac droned on for 157 minutes as Jake Gyllenhall moped after a serial killer in San Francisco. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button accomplished the seemingly impossible dual feat of making both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Brad Pitt look bad, in more ways than one. One of my students compared 2010’s The Social Network to Citizen Kane. When is the last time anyone talked about The Social Network? The greatest American film of the 20th century, it ain’t! The best part of 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a hyper-stylized CGI credit sequence; alas, the Swedish novel’s abject sexism was kept completely intact for Fincher’s Americanization of the abused female computer hacker pornographic fantasy.
And now comes Gone Girl, a film everyone in Southern Illinois seems to love. It is true that one can see the Cape Girardeau bridge throughout the film. However, everything else about the film is execrable. The point of the film seems to be that the missing white girls carted out every month by The Today Show are not the victims of patriarchal abuse that we sociologically know them to be, but instead liars who ruin the lives of their flawed but lovable Ben Affleck husbands.
And yet, as disgusting as the film’s abject sexism is, what really irks me is what the stylist Fincher does to the history of cinema. He is indeed a talented post-modern image-maker, returning to the well of greater films to make his look better than it deserves. The major victim of Gone Girl is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In what is surely the film’s oddest moment, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), covered in blood, gets into the shower with her husband Nick (Ben Affleck). However, unlike the famous shower sequence in which rapid fire editing merely suggests the knife penetrating Marion’s body, and a glorious aftermath in which the camera spirals in search of the swirling blood traveling down the drain, graphic matched to Marion’s dying eye, the shock of Gone Girl’s shower sequence is that the sexual tension from Psycho is drained away—this is one of the deadest marriages in the history of cinema—instead overwhelmed by paranoia. Amy makes Nick get undressed and join her in the shower, not for kinky passion or murderousness, but to convince herself that he is not wearing a wire! Absurdly, all the while, Amy is covered in more blood than is spilled during the entirety of Alfred Hitchcock’s six decade-long oeuvre. If you asked thousands of people which scene in American cinema is more potent—Norman Bates’ murder of Marion Crane in the shower of room #1 at the Bates Motel, or Carrie being doused in pig’s blood at her prom—one would suspect only a few lunatics would choose Stephen King and Brian DePalma over the master of suspense. I dread to tell you that David Fincher seems to have put his stock in the wrong investment.
In keeping with this decision, the rest of Gone Girl refers to other warmed over, New Hollywood Hitchcock knock-offs. The cold calculations of the sexually and morally dead Amy remind one of both Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. And yet, at least those crazy femmes fatales had their ice picks to wield and rabbits to boil.
Beyond gender, the film’s other major offense lies in its class politics. In an absurdly long Act Two tangent, Amy hides out at a low rent bungalow where she befriends a down on their luck working class couple, Greta and Jeff. These two make characters from a John Waters movie look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Alas, as in a D.W. Griffith melodrama, the poor are not to be trusted: they steal all of Amy’s money, explaining they need it more. Again, Psycho this is not. In Hitchcock’s grand irony, Marion Crane steals her rich boss’ money so that she can help her married lover get a divorce. At the Bates Motel, she decides better of her transgression. At the moment she decides to return the money the next morning, Norman exacts his revenge. There’s no such irony in Gone Girl, just the standard nonsense that the members of the working class are visibly more untrustworthy even than a murderous rich girl.
At the end of Psycho, a flatulent psychiatrist drones on for ten minutes about the source of Norman’s psychosis. Hitchcock lets the air out of this blowhard with the final shot, a superimposition of Mrs. Bates’ skull over Norman’s face, while we hear the old woman scolding Norman for wanting to kill a fly. I am sorry to say that there is no such relief from the mess that is David Fincher’s Gone Girl. It’s all hot air, and no irony, and not a murderous pack of birds in sight.
– Walter Metz