Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’

Chris Palazzolo revisists Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher 2014.

Gone.GirlFor thousands of years, male (and sometimes female) thinkers have banged their heads against the enigma of woman. Socrates disparaged woman as the opposing principle of everything he considered rational, even as he awaited execution on trumped-up charges brought against him by jealous enemies (all men). Freud, in a lecture late in his career, famously announced that after decades of studying female psychic processes he was still none the wiser about how such beings could possibly exist and that from now on they could sort their own problems out. Nietzsche, in one of his aphorisms, denied woman any qualities at all, even shallowness.

David Fincher’s Gone Girl is in the genre of a domestic thriller (crimes of marriage and property), but, like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, its structure serves to position us over this unbridgeable fissure bedevilling all the systems and programmes of men, not unlike those apparatuses which position a high resolution camera over bottomless trenches found in the ocean. Woman incomprehensible, woman anomalous. At the centre of this narration, the very thing impelling it is this vacuum or black hole of female motivation; what the hell is she doing? And why the hell is she doing it?

When Nick Dunne’s wife Amy disappears one morning from their nice, childless, middle class St Louis home, suspicion immediately falls on him. He denies any wrongdoing, but clearly has things to hide. Questions turn on what was going on in their apparently trouble-free marriage; was he abusing her, was he having an affair, did he want to kill her? All the evidence, including her diaries, seem to point in that direction. The answers to these questions come in a spectacular info-dump half way through the movie where we find out that Amy has staged her own disappearance, and framed her husband for her murder. She’s done this for 2 reasons; 1, he was slobbing around the house playing PlayStation and not living up to the brilliant ambitious writer he made himself out to be when he was courting her, and 2, he was having an affair. It’s an extreme case of ‘hell hath no fury…’

There is a serious disjunction here between the motivation (chastising a negligent husband) and the methods. Amy is not an ordinary woman; she is beautiful, brilliant and utterly ruthless. She plans and executes her disappearance like a master criminal. She exploits another man who wants to possess her, by a calculated use of what the feminist philosopher Catherine Hakim calls her erotic capital, murders him and then fakes rape by injuring her vagina with a wine bottle. But why? All to get her slobby husband to clean up his act so that they can continue to maintain the appearance of a perfect couple (an appearance she makes clear in the info-dump she despises)? Why? Why? Why? If her husband is such a disappointment, why not just divorce him and go and marry some hot shot who’s going places? Or, even better, do it on her own; she’s brilliant and ambitious enough to do anything. Instead she does it all for the appearance of marital bliss.

Perhaps I’m reading Gone Girl incorrectly, and that it is not a thriller in the mode of Vertigo at all, but is in fact a satire. Or maybe a sequel. To The Stepford Wives. The Stepford Wives’ Revenge. Amy’s subjectivity seems to turn on a carousel of images created by other people about her. This process started when she was a child, when her parents published a series of books about her as a precocious girl known as Amazing Amy. The books made her a media child, the inference being that electronic simulacra of herself has swallowed up her adulthood. Her subjectivity, armed with all the formidable erotic talents detailed in the narration, consists of an assemblage of images of perfection, coupled to a drive to make the most perfect arrangement of those images; The Perfect Wife with the Perfect Husband. She has no pity, no conscience, she will stop at nothing to be Perfect. She is not a human, but a robot, a Domestic Goddess Machine. Only in this household it’s the machine calling the shots.

 – Chris Palazzolo


Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

The Gone Girl official website can be found here http://www.gonegirlmovie.com/

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