Adam Gopnik on the way that images provoke terror in the post-9/11 era:
"We are at once inured to the undifferentiated imagery of horror and deeply vulnerable to specific images, to images of people like us alive and helpless in the face of death. The three elements—alive, helpless, like us—seem essential to provoking terror through imagery. The fear of the living moves us in ways that the bodies of the dead do not."
Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook
Gone Girl (2014)
The best movie.
"The hyphenated word “self-involved” describes any story that involves the self. Yet the term is wielded mostly against women with an interest in expressing their experiences in a direct manner, without filtering their reflections through layers of metaphor, or packing them into a serious historical context, or lacing them with literary references, or intellectualizing so relentlessly that every shred of emotion is ground to a fine dust. Women writers can’t tell a few simple stories — “Here’s what happened to me and here’s how it felt” — the way Chuck Klosterman or David Sedaris might, without inspiring the herd to pull out their poison pens and scrawl those same words: SELF-INVOLVED."
The Navel-Gazer’s Guide to the Galaxy -
My Bianca del Rio tanktop FINALLY came in!
if you’re not following this bitch i have no time for your punk ass
Remember in 2010 when The Social Network won three Oscars for Best Score, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay? Well, as I sit here listening to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score to Gone Girl for the umpteenth time I can’t help but feel that history is going to repeat itself – and hopefully a few more statues will be tacked onto that figure. David Fincher’s latest triumph is just more proof that his oeuvre is one of the strongest in contemporary cinema, if anything just for the simple fact that his maturation as a filmmaker is evident with each subsequent project. Based on the astronomical NY Times bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, we have the good fortune of having the adaptation written by the author. Adapting one’s work has the potential for greatness – knowledge of the story inside and out, thus allowing for a leaner narrative; and the potential for mediocrity/catastrophe – lack of awareness of writing for the screen; inability to cut so much of one’s own work. Flynn gives us the former. Taking a 400+ page novel and tightening it to 2 ½ hours is no simple task. I will admit my ignorance of the original work – something that Fincher’s film has strongly urged me to reconsider – so I cannot speak to the fidelity of the adaptation. This is beside the point. Film is its own medium, regardless of what the source material happens to be, and so it should be judged on its own standards. That being said, the film never ceases to be captivating. I was on the edge of my seat for 2 ½ hours; my jaw dropped for the entire second half. The dialogue has a Mamet-like quality to it: every word is jagged; giving rise to the idea that language exists to hurt each other. And Gone Girl provides plenty of evidence that it does – especially the one you love the most. But of course the best dialogue can come across as wooden, and as shallow, as Wal-Mart furniture if not convincingly delivered by the actors speaking it.
Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne) surely deserves the attention she’s received, and so much more, for giving one of the most bizarre performances in recent memory. In fact, the closest that comes to mind in terms of bipolarity has to be Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliantly violent turn in PT Anderson’s The Master. She’s that good; that unpredictable. It’s a lead female performance that perfectly demonstrates the type of work that women can offer us in film when provided material that isn’t belittling, flat, or arbitrary. And Cate Blanchett’s Oscar speech earlier this year is the writing on the wall: films focusing on women do make money. The rest of the award contenders this year seem to be male-centric (go figure), so I won’t be surprised if Pike takes home some gold. While we’re discussing gender, let me just say that while this film might not be the most flattering portrayal of its female characters, the men aren’t any better. Gone Girl is a nasty piece of narrative fiction, and no one escapes the brutal lens of Flynn/Fincher. Aside from its exceptional blow to mass media’s solar plexus, Gone Girl’s primary concern is marriage. Combining the aforementioned ideas of language existing to hurt, and the egalitarian nastiness of men and women, it’s clear that Flynn’s victim-subject is the way our bourgeoisie construction of the institution of marriage has provided an intimate, but not always private, social space for two partners to punish each other (Amy delivers a line similar to this that I won’t ruin because I want it to hit you like it did me). Now it’s time to speak about Amy’s “beloved” husband Nick, played by Ben Affleck. The major concern of Fincher’s cinema has been wounded masculinity – the bathtub scene in featuring Tyler Durden’s philosophizing on contemporary manhood to the Narrator might as well be Fincher’s manifesto. Though the focus is on the disappearance of Amy Dunne, Gone Girl is anchored by her Nick’s search and eventual downward spiral into the hellish lion’s den that is mass media. Without a strong, subtle, deceptive, and haunting performance by Affleck, this could’ve easily become a failure. So much depends upon Nick’s convincing us that he’s not the kidnapper/killer of his wife. We’re supposed to believe him when the media doesn’t, and not believe him when they do (sort of). David Fincher gets the same results from his actors that Woody Allen gets (with everyone tbh) from his actresses: the best damn performance they’ve ever given, or at least one of them. This goes for Michael Douglas in The Game, Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac, Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, and Daniel Craig in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Well, the trend shows no sign of stopping in 2014. Ben Affleck’s turn as Nick Dunne is like something straight out of L’etranger. I couldn’t help but think of Camus’ doomed narrator as he finds himself on trial more for the lack of public display of socially acceptable emotions than for the actual crime. The film rests on Affleck’s hulking shoulders, clearly showing the result of his physical dedication to his upcoming turn as the World’s Greatest Detective in 2016. Even when we know what’s going on, we really don’t know what’s going on. According to the film, such is the fatal flaw of the covenant between two people – you’ll never really know what’s behind their eyes. You have to take them for their word; their deed. We trust what we see.
And this wouldn’t be a David Fincher film if there weren’t some of the finest shadow-work by Jeff Cronenweth. Nominated for his work for Fincher’s prior three films, Cronenweth’s photography captures the nostalgia of a relationship’s early romance with warmth cloaked in darkness that easily invokes, and is indebted to, the photography of the late legends Gordon Willis and Conrad L. Hall, as well as to contemporary master Roger Deakins. If you’re not hooked with the visual aesthetics of Gone Girl by the “sugar storm” sequence, then I don’t know what to tell you. Cronenweth essentially had to light two films (four depending on how you interpret the following): Nick and Amy’s early marriage in NYC, and their present in Missouri; Nick’s world and Amy’s. When the narrative shifts, be it in time, location, or narrator, we see the change. The film actually gets brighter as we discover more of the truth(s), the apex coming directly at the film’s halfway-mark when the narrative is turned on its head. This gradual change in the photgraphy allows us to better discern the spatial and temporal relations between scenes. Aiding to ease with which time passes – one of Fincher’s finest characteristics – is Kirk Baxter’s editing. I’ll be looking forward to seeing Baxter potentially walk across the stage to pick up his third Oscar in a row for his work with Fincher. Like any master of their craft, Baxter knows when (and what) to cut. We get as much of a scene as we’re supposed to, as the camera never lingers on any one subject for too long. If anything, his work has us wanting more – crucial to any film in which suspense is indelible.
What is suspense without sound? Reznor and Ross provided the original score to Fincher’s previous two works, and with this third it seems that the collaboration between these artists is one that will last, as is the burgeoning relationship between Radiohead guitarist/composer Jonny Greenwood and PT Anderson, which has continued to the upcoming Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice. The score to Gone Girl is adequately described as uncanny. There’s something about it that sounds comforting, as it has accompanied me to sleep many times this past week and a half. But there’s equally a sense of discomfort – something rotting underneath a rug scrubbed clean; the pacifying background noises of spas, shopping malls, and elevators. It jars when it needs to, and it deceives you when you’re unaware. It builds to moments of seeming declarations of truth, only to collapse and carry you into the scene transition. Whereas The Social Network evokes the technological advancements of our generation, and our love for video games, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both violent and numb as the Scandinavian snow, their new work for Gone Girl is the sound of that which is that shouldn’t be, and that which should be isn’t. It’s deceptive. A trick. The brutal sound of decay. And then the restoration of the Band-Aid over the gangrenous limb of contemporary American middle-class values.
All of these pieces move with the scalpel-like precision of David Fincher’s direction. One of the four or five best American filmmakers in the industry right now, Fincher is a master storyteller. His control of time, paired with his obsessive and rewarding attention to the minutiae of his worlds, gives us everything we need to see these stories as ours, occurring in our spaces, our times. We feel as if we’ve just been told a story, not just shown. Fincher’s cinema of verisimilitude means that the horrors and absurdities, the strangeness and nastiness, are illuminated for being even more horrible and absurd, even stranger and nastier, than we initially believed. As bizarre as some of these stories can be, they happen. With Gone Girl, though the plot may come across as pulp fiction’s gruesome fascination with violence conflated with the melodrama of 1950s American cinema, ala Douglas Sirk, there are worse stories, worse truths, that happen every day – most of it satiates the avariciousness of mass media and its consumers. But again, Fincher’s direction of Flynn’s script takes up marriage as its primary whipping post. And that’s what I would say Gone Girl is really about. It’s not a thriller as much as it’s a thrilling drama; not a mystery as much as it’s a relationship and all its mysteries. The Dunnes are terrifying to watch on the screen because they say the things that would destroy us to think about, let alone admit. They’re terrifying because their marriage is one based on punishment and retribution, in which what seemed true was always a lie, leaving the lie to be the only thing that’s true. You don’t know what you have because you never had it in the first place.