Nick Dunne - Ben Afleck at his commendably least Afleckiest - is just any other suburban self-centered oaf. He doesn't know as much about his wife as he should, spends more time on ESPN and beer than any deep and contemplative thoughts, and just can't stop looking like a jackass when the national media needs to depict a grieving husband. In Nick, David Fincher presents an Everyman with the very unflattering warts of every man thrust into a crisis with the whole world watching and judging.
It's a mystery not just of what happened to wife Amy Dunne but also what happened to the happy couple that had once been Nick and Amy. As the police, represented by the smartest detective in the South and her doltish sidekick, uncover more clues so does Amy's diary reveal more and more of just what went wrong between her and Nick.
That's the first third of the movie. Then everything blasts off to Bizarro World.
Amy not only faked her death - spoiler alert - she did it in such a way as to frame Nick for murder. And not just frame him, she intentionally cultivated a friendship with the bubbly baby factory neighbor so as to both provide a counter-narrative to Nick's after she disappears but also to harvest pregnant lady pee, so that the whole world will think Nick Dunne murdered his pregnant wife. She even contemplates suicide just so as to further implicate Nick. It's a brilliant and alien cunning that feels utterly detached from the slow boil that has been Gone Girl up until this point.
It could almost work if it served as the finishing twist of the film. A great big "Gotcha!" on both Nick and the audience as the last anniversary scavenger hunt clue she leaves him essentially explains her whole grand plan. If we'd faded to black just as realization dawn's on Nick's big stupid face, this would be an okay movie.
But it keeps going. And going. And going...
Amy runs into a snag in her grand scheme when she gets mugged by reality. Reality in this case being a young couple at the motel where she's hiding, the better half of which delivers the fantastic line "You look too rich to've ever really been hit," and then proceeds to really hit her. If the movie had stuck with this brutal logic it would have been great but no, Amy gets Doogie Howser to come rescue her not just from poverty and privation but from the implosion of her schemes.
While Nick's affair with a hilariously dense girl becomes national news, Amy forges a new narrative in which she escapes from Doogie's sex dungeon. This involves sticking a wine bottle up her hooha to simulate rape trauma, which Amy is adept at faking. She did it once to a boyfriend because, despite being invented by a woman, Amy Dunne is a caricature of every MRA fear.
|"I shall rule them all with my hypno-vagina!"|
This latest narrative takes hold because Amy's disappearance - and stinking rich parents - have made her the nation's sweetheart. Nick goes along with it because, like any mediocrity who lets slip his latent misogyny from time to time, he is absolutely worthless. And Amy had kept some of his frozen sperm, just in case she needed to manipulate him with pregnancy. Seriously, a woman wrote this?
It's utterly laughable by the end, not because of Amy's psycho-bitch evil but because it all started out so good. David Fincher is turning into the second coming of Kubrick with his camera work, infusing the early scenes with both the flat emptiness of the American heartland as well as the creeping dread not only of what could have happened to Amy but how the media gleefully scrambles to graft a narrative onto a tragedy with little regard for the truth. Plus the best cinematic use of an orange tabby other than Inside Llewyn Davis.
Then it all goes so far off the rails. And what most worries me is that this sort of ham-fisted madness isn't just hailed as brilliant, it's viewed as acceptable.
Fincher maintains a studiously realistic tone all through these shenanigans that would have been better handle by a blackly comic satire like Schizopolis. To reiterate - Amy fakes rape claims as a matter of course, outright murders Doogie Howser, and it's hardly a secret between her and Nick by the end, with even Tyler Perry and the hyper-competent Southern detective having a good laugh over it all. As someone on Twitter put it: "Help me famous lawyer and detective!" "Nope, that would undermine the plot."
Yet audiences and even the highbrow critics accept this lunacy at face value. "Well, it just illustrates how messed up Amy is," some say. A collection of human ears would show just how messed up Bree Van de Camp was, but the makers of Desperate Housewives had the good goddamn sense not to take such a cartoonish leap. So too does Amy's Hannibal Lector level of hypercompetence obliterate the excellent noir tone Fincher spends the first third of the film establishing. What could have been the best movie of the year turns into a kaleidoscope of plot holes and paranoid fantasies.
That it takes for fucking ever to resolve this nonsense is almost the lesser crime.