SPOILERS AHEAD. LIKE THE PLOT OF THE FILM PRETTY MUCH IN ITS ENTIRETY HUGE
I began this series by asking how far film identity politics had come since the explicit racism of 1915’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’. Although I do not believe any filmmaker could get away with the racism of ‘Birth’ in 2014 (the year, after all, the Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ won Best Picture at the Oscars), films like today’s pick, David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’, show that we can still find films build around nasty pervasive stereotypes even a century on.
In many ways, 2014 marked progress across many of the key areas of radical politics in film. Apart from ’12 Years’ we had the release of ‘Pride’, perhaps the greatest gay movie ever released and certainly one of most celebratory, with 90% of the film’s heroes gay or lesbian in a hilarious and moving film I really never thought I would see the like of in my lifetime. Both of these I toyed with as my choice to represent 2014 before a conversation with a friend’s boyfriend (an aspiring actor) in which they told me how hard it was to break into acting when you were white, middle class and male.
This statement, which I had bizarre but was clearly strongly held by him reminded me of one of the oddest political movements of 2014, that of ‘Men’s Rights’.As feminism takes leaps and bounds in the digital age, a nasty undercurrent began to counter this with the assertion that it was men who now needed protected from oppression and sexism. A further vocal undercurrent was debating the issue of rape, building a victim blaming culture often terrifying to witness. It seemed amazing to me that I could share the earth with such ignorant, bigoted people (and that’s coming from someone living in a country where Ukip has somehow become an electoral threat.)
I say that these people are an undercurrent, but with ‘Gone Girl’ we were given a film poisoned by their views eating up box offices across America, a film that at its best is built of some extreme stereotypes of women and at worst plays like a men’s rights manifesto. It is a film, after all, where the Gone Girl of the title, Rosamund Pike’s Amy, fakes not one but two rapes taken seriously by the police on Amy’s word alone. A film where all of the female characters either hate each other, or are shown in negative lights for supporting each other as is the case with Missi Pyle’s TV news anchor’s support for Amy. A film whose Harvard-educated, beautiful lead character is a psychobitch of the highest order, a manipulative psychobitch that makes Lady Macbeth look like Lady from Lady and the Tramp, or Glenn Close from ‘Fatal Attraction’ with a bob. A film where a man cannot leave said psychobitch because he believes that he has zero chance of paternity of their as yet unborn child – a scenario that actually appears in many men’s rights arguments.
David Fincher tries to deaden the impact of these views through a certain amount of directorial distance. For him, this material is a perfect companion piece to his masterpiece ‘Zodiac’ a film as fascinating with the media’s impact on a crime and the people who have to live with the ramifications of that crime. ‘Gone Girl’ could even exist within the same universe as the former film, with the post-Watergate journalists of ‘Zodiac’ becoming the 24-hour news cycle and social media of ‘Gone Girl’. As with our last article on Birdman, this film has an interesting subplot about Twitter, and it is much more effectively handled here, with the social media site key to tracking the media manipulation that makes an interesting mirror to Amy’s manipulation of her husband. He also seems fully aware of how ridiculous his source material can be, with a few sly winks to the audience like Amy’s ridiculous post-it note to ‘kill self’ that is impossible to take seriously
This is all very effectively done, as are the clever plays on film noir tropes – after all, what is Amy if not the modern child of a character like Barbara Stanwyck’s in 1944s ‘Double Indemnity’. But, exactly like ‘Birth of a Nation’, none of this work excuses the nasty viewpoint expressed by the film, the racism of ‘Birth’ and the explicit misogyny that runs as freely in this film as Neil Patrick Harris’ blood does in his brutal slaughter scene (though frankly he had it coming for ‘How I Met Your Mother’). I haven’t read the book (also like ‘Birth’ this is based on a bestseller of its time,) but the fact that the source material for this is written by a woman terrifies me, and raises a whole stream of issues I sadly don’t have time to deal with here.
This film also introduces another theme that we’re highly likely to return to: the highly anti-intellectual bias we so often find in American cinema. Unless smart people are suitably eccentric (think of the Doc in ‘Back to the Future’,) they’re very likely to be either condemned or mocked in a Hollywood film. This film heavily implies it is Amy’s Ivy League education that goes someway to explaining her psychosis, as if she is smart like an evil supergenius in a Bond film. It’s a minor point here, but I imagine we will see it time and time and again.
We also see its opposite, the exaltation given to the ‘average American’. Although of course this is a false concept (to reference 30 Rock as we did with Birdman – I’m watching it a lot right now – there is a classic episode in season 5 dedicated to this), its a pervasive one, and one we see here in Affleck character’s assertion that he is an ‘average American’. Again, we will see this again and again, and see streams of actors making a fortune from it.
‘Gone Girl’, then, is a good film built around some bad politics, a politics that sadly defines our era. We have moved on from the pro-slavery assertions of 1915, but just because this film’s political points are more subtle and about gender rather than race does not mean they are any less dangerous.
In contrast to this ham-fisted sexism, next week’s first article looks at Palme d”or winner and definite Bechdel Test-passing lesbian drama ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’, looking at sexuality on film and the influence pornography has had on the cinema.
Do you agree with our judgment of ‘Gone Girl’? Let us know in the comments below and on Twitter @s_spencerwrites