A Study in Sociopathy — “Gone Girl”

Gone Girl Pike Affleck

by Gabriel Valdez

Gone Girl is the movie you go to in order to have your mind race, and to keep yourself up well past any reasonable bedtime because you’re still thinking about and discussing it afterward. It’s the chill up your spine you feel not when something is lurking in the shadows, but rather when everything is in the light, smiling at you, and you still can’t shake the feeling that it’s not quite right.

The plot for director David Fincher’s latest movie can only be described in basics. A couple’s marriage goes south. She disappears. We see the evolution of their relationship via flashbacks from her diary. As these flashbacks turn violent, we begin to suspect that the husband Nick (Ben Affleck) has killed his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). The police, and the public, slowly turn on him.

To say any more would be to ruin any of the mystery’s dozen twists and turns. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, who also adapts the screenplay, Gone Girl is a tone poem of steadily mounting tension and gradually revealed half-truths.

While I’m a fan of the Fincher who directed Se7en, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, dark films that batter your defenses down and overwhelm you, Gone Girl is his gentlest delivery yet, and at the same time his least sentimental. The film is uncomfortably cold in the way a brutally honest truth is.

Gone Girl inspiration

Much of the film’s intrigue is in learning how every character starts off a sociopath, or learns (or remembers) to become one in order to survive and cope. In order to deal with a predatory media, the honest learn how to act honest for TV. The liars don’t need to; they already know how. Even the film itself adopts these traits – half the fun as a viewer is in realizing exactly how you’ve been played, by characters and by the filmmakers alike.

This may sound unappealing, and it would be in a lesser director’s hands, but Fincher takes a haunting snapshot of modern society. I’d be willing to call Gone Girl a dark comedy in places, but this is comedy that scars. The national media culture lampooned here, tripping over each other for exclusives and making up stories on the fly, bears close resemblances to our own. The film’s most disturbing elements have little to do with murder, and everything to do with the appetite we’ve developed for it. In one scene, a ridiculous Nancy Grace analogue and guest experts judge public figures they’ve never met by analyzing brief mannerisms, as if you can judge a human being’s makeup by how they raise their hand or nod their head.

Gone Girl is a Rorschach Test of a movie that everybody’s meant to fail. Like the ink blots you’re asked to assign shapes and stories to, Gone Girl can reveal where your head is in its mystery. How much do you base assumptions of guilt on facts, and how much do you base those same assumptions on personality, presentation, and narrative?

Gone Girl Neil Patrick Harris

This is complicated by using actors we’re familiar with more for their status than their talent. Affleck is a lightning rod, in the news more often as a celebrity than as an actor. Pike is best known for her role as a Bond girl in Die Another Day. Comedians like Tyler Perry (the Madea franchise) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) hold serious roles, and are quite good. Even Emily Ratajkowski, best known for her role in Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” music video, plays a crucial supporting role. We can’t help but bring our presumptions about these actors into our experience watching the movie. Fincher knows this, plays with our assumptions, and never misses a chance to undermine you as a viewer.

Gone Girl is a masterful thriller that stuns with its complete ability to misdirect you. Staging, casting, editing, the musical score by Trent Reznor – Fincher may not want to coddle his audience, but there’s no mistaking that every detail here is built around the viewer. That’s what makes a consummate storyteller. Gone Girl is not the Fincher thriller I expected; it’s something far more subversive. There is no way to anticipate how it evolves, but its twists and turns are handled deftly and the film’s satirical elements are discomforting in all the best ways.

This is one to experience in the theater, with a picture three stories tall and the sound coming out of dozens of speakers. Be warned, it’s not a movie for kids.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Gone Girl have more than one woman in it?

Yes. It stars Rosamund Pike, an incredible turn by Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, and Sela Ward. In fact, women outnumber the men nearly 2-to-1 in the picture.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. This would ordinarily be the section where I name the conversation or two that women have together in the film, but Gone Girl has too many to cite.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. The mystery of the film – investigating the murder of a woman – means that conversations center around Amy as often as they do her husband Nick.

The lone difficulty lies in Nick’s resentment of being molded by Amy over the years. It’s made a point in Nick’s mind, and I have no doubt that some viewers out there will hold sections of the film up as banners for Male Rights. This would represent a complete misreading of Gone Girl, however.

As I said earlier, everyone learns to be a sociopath by the end of the film, but Nick and Amy start that way. He writes for a men’s magazine, she writes online quizzes for women. The two are meant to represent what we teach young men and women to be, what we teach them to value. As such exemplary students of these lessons, they act the way those magazines always tell us to act.

As creepy, walking satire so dark it’s chilling, the murder investigation on hand interacts with the satire of our media and celebrity culture. So yes, you could insist that Nick is a Men’s Rights hero or a victim of Feminism, as some have, but it would mean you have a blind spot a mile wide when it comes to his character. If you do that, you’re either the most selective viewer I’ve ever met, or you have an agenda.

If anything, most of the women in Gone Girl are by the end forced to act counter to their natures. The film’s very critical of how society forces both men and women into preconceived roles. Most of the film is spent watching characters perfect the roles society expects them to play, regardless of who a character really is. I spoke with Eden, S.L., and Vanessa after the movie. We’ve each had an opportunity to see the film, and we all agree – Gone Girl is a deeply Feminist movie. It’s a vicious indictment of what movements like Men’s Rights Activism have made of us, the roles our most conservative critics expect men and women to play, and how those roles make us so much easier to exploit.

This is the “Come on in, I’ll make you a drink” at the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, extended into a frightening movie of people playing into the deep expectations our society mines.

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