SEX + ODORLESSNESS : : DAVID FINCHER’S ‘GONE GIRL’ (2014)

 

 

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I went to see Gone Girl yesterday at the local multiplex. Although by no means one of my favourite cinematic auteurs – he is too technical, precise, for me, almost surgically so, too male: his films like darkly-lit, immaculately oiled machines ( I like things more oneiric and primal, less rational, more lurid), at the same time I do appreciate director David Fincher’s great skill in producing high quality mainstream entertainment that can keep you gripped and pinned to your seat in grim, dystopian, and atmospheric, intricately crafted mood pieces such as Seven, Zodiac, The Social Network, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

 

 

Though it took a while for me to get drawn in this time, especially as a lot of the cinematography was literally too dark on the screen to see what was going on, as it gradually began to span out and release its gelid tentacles, ultimately, I think Gone Girl is the film I have enjoyed most of Fincher’s since Seven (1995), a film I found so horrifically suspenseful at the time, as Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman waited tensely in the desert for Kevin Spacey’s final act of maniacal cruelty, that I thought I was going to have a heart attack in my cinema seat. The suspense was unbearable, and I still remember my friends and I blinking out into the London daylight freaked out and nerve-stripped, laughing at our panicked, collective reaction. Only a born film director can achieve such an effect, and Gone Girl had me again leaving the cinema feeling consummated yet repelled: a coil of unease in my heart and stomach and a sense of something – the unflinching dissection of a marriage and the cruel dictates of heterosexuality; images of blood and horror retained in the retina, but most of all, at the abstract, artistic level, a convincing gut sensation, of a compelling, if archetypal, portrayal of female jealousy and revenge. This is Medea and Lady Macbeth in a crisp, Calvin Klein blouse; ferociously cool and calculating, yet, in her bruised and fiercely depilated guise, divorced from her corporal, and smelling, primal self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In essence, if you haven’t already seen it (most people seem to have done: it is Fincher’s biggest commercial hit so far), I will try not to spoil the twists and turns of what happens in this film, but the plot essentially concerns the decimated relationship of married couple Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his very W.A.S.P-ish trophy wife, Amy, (played quite brilliantly by British actress Rosalind Pike): a cool, elegant, almost Hitchcockian blonde who goes missing the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary and is presumed murdered (by her own husband). The rest of the film deals with the twists and turns of this setup, revelling in mystery and the grimly unexpected, and though many will find the film schlocky and unrealistic, melodramatic, offensive even, in its entrenched gender and thriller clichés, I gradually found myself enjoying the film immensely. For me, it was quite fascinating on a number of levels, both visually and aesthetically, but also in its sharp incisions: its knife-sharp depiction of what is expected of marriage in some quarters, and the effect that has on the individual: the potentially corrosive, even murderous, consequences of having to act the part.

 

 

 

 

This is a film of surfaces. Clean, cold, antiseptic surfaces. Of odourlessness, and of marriage as ‘performance’, an institution that must be perfect, unattainable, in that wealthy, upper middle class U.S manner: the gleaming artifice of pearl-toothed smiles and societal assumptions gleaned mindlessly from TV and the media, which, in the union we witness on screen at least, is quickly reduced, from a readily sanctioned ‘bliss’, initially, to a slowly corruptive poison as the cracks in the porcelain of scrubbed perfection soon become evident.

 

 

 

I write the word ‘bliss’ in quotation marks because it seems to me that even the apparent giddy joyfulness that Nick and Amy seem to experience at the onset of their relationship, quipping and jesting ironically in the way that people always do on American television, that acidic, ‘meta’ self-awareness, as if heartfelt, unselfconscious, dialogue were an impossibility, feels immediately forced and in the firm grip of their preimagined ideals of what ‘love’, ‘sex’, and ultimately, ‘marriage’, are. It is patently love at first sight, though, as they flirt at a party of mutual acquaintances, and hereafter we find them, out in the sugar snow, sealing their immaculate conception with a kiss, the pinnacle of romance already reached before they have even begun. And, thus, nuptials, and the moving in to their ‘beautiful home’ in Missouri, when Nick’s mother becomes sick, and the New York literary life is no longer a possibility because of the economic recession. We see that money is the devil that undoes the bond, also ‘elevating’ the human animal beyond its more instinctual desires: see Amy in her former (stalker) boyfriend’s lavish, hi-tech, lakeside house, again, so purely odourless, artificial, airless, yet so fully equipped: all the machinery, and gadgets you could ever want, automated; all the wrapped cellophaned designer fashion and makeup she could want, to ‘restore’ Amy to the doll that Desi ultimately wants to see her as. Here we enter a veritable vortex of fakery: motives concealed, Nick/Ben bristling with righteous hatred, yet still maintaining his ‘hot’, sincere, everyman quality (he definitely has a smell, even if it is just an honest smell of booze, man sweat and unwashed hair), as he makes a TV appearance with the most insincere and phony chat show sensationalist.

 

Lies, even at the external, real world level: Rosalind Pike, an English woman playing a Manhattan faking a southern accent; Neil Patrick Harris, gay playing straight in this velvet-roped prison, where the only release is a truly shocking scene involving a slit throat, false rape, and a Carrie-like return back to ‘reality’. Only blood-caked, and (very briefly) animal-like, does Amy attain any semblance of flesh and blood, odorous human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The homecoming. That home. Mine, and Duncan’s, idea of hell. That so -called ‘perfect home’, a ‘home’ (even that word has become an enforced viper’s nest of commercial and real estate directives), in fact, to my personal aesthetic in any case, so ugly; fixed and unmoulded; inorganic, and unappealing (many/ most viewers will of course not think so, they will be coveting it).

 

 

Unstained (except, on the day of the anniversary, with blood). Sanitary. Stripped of any life or colour, of anything organic, of smell. Vast and spacious, with its spiralling staircase, ‘storage space’; white, grey, pristine. Painted and dead with sealants. Polyurethane.

 

 

 

And Amy. While Nick has a slightly unripe aspect (as one reviewer puts it, Ben Affleck perfectly nails the role of the ‘golden boy gone to seed’), the cold and standoffish Amy, beautiful and magnetizing to behold yet curiously sexless, looks as if her skin and body have been bleached and completely deodorized (she even mentions the ‘brutal Brazilian waxes’ that have been supposedly been forced on her); a well heeled and educated, Upper West Side mannequin transmuted reluctantly to the south and preserved in a wax-like state of ‘feminine’ untouchability, of modern, all performing wifeliness.

 

 

 

Predictably, this state of grace is not to last, and although things are told in time warping flashback, with unreliable narrators and carefully misguiding clues, once financial woes take hold, the saccharine, impeccable nature of the couple’s marriage begins to quickly unravel at the seams, both partners finding that they have only the reality of their true natures (though at all times concealed) to fall back on. The rogueish country boy becomes a game-playing, but potentially violent, slob; the wife a directionless, depilated ice queen, distant and shrewish, unavailable, lost, the husband lazily committing adultery two years into their relationship with a needy, if voluptuous, university student he has coaxed into the bar bought for him with his wife’s savings.

 

 

At least his girlfriend looks real, scented: ripe with longing. Outward-looking; real. Amy, on the other hand, lost, seems to crystallize a thousand misogynist clichés of the clammed up ice-bitch, apoplectic, yet mute. Like Glenn Close before her in Fatal Attraction, she is a woman, a cipher, a body, to be used and tossed aside, invoking the hatred of the heterosexual male viewer fearing the ensnaring trap of the spider ( her snow white beauty notwithstanding): arousing anger in many female viewers, probably, also, for the valid reason that the character is possibly nothing but a sexist rehashing of the ‘hell hath no fury like a scorned woman’ trope. This aside, for me, a visual and atmosphere-driven viewer, the entire affair, from the cinematic perspective, was thrilling and perturbing, but also deeply alienating. Locked in their projected roles, the characters seem trapped in hell: of shiny, smiling superficiality, all in the name of procreation, money, and the keeping up of appearances. What for?

 

 

 

The coiling future foetus scars the mind tissue with its inevitability, the characters now back, inexorably, in their taupe, scent-free corridors, ready to face ‘the world’ and bring up a baby, even as they find themselves literally smashing each others’ heads against the walls – a total lack of true bodily and fluid connection once the stagey, self-aware and choreographed ‘lovemaking’ of their initial sexual attraction has subsided. Amy couldn’t possibly be less scented; less turned inward towards her own self in blanched out fury than she is; livid; frozen; and it is this pale, sickened, and etiolated self, that, despite its outward appearance of socially accepted attractiveness and ‘beauty’, we can’t help but find so repulsive. She needs to come alive again from within – become warm again in her own skin. She needs skinship, to get beyond herself and her enamelled surfaces with smell. Consequently, If ever there were a character in need of a good, soul-anchoring, body-releasing perfume to bring her back to the real surface and true connections with other human beings, to reach out wordlessly and communicate, it is she: this Amy, this odourless, self-obliterating ‘Gone Girl’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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36 Comments

Filed under cinema + perfume

36 responses to “SEX + ODORLESSNESS : : DAVID FINCHER’S ‘GONE GIRL’ (2014)

  1. What a wonderful review. I love your perspective. The way you view the characters, it is so right on. When I finished reading Gone Girl, I threw the book across the room. I was so mad that Nick would allow Amy to reinsert herself into a new updated version of marriage which they both were so wrong for. And then I thought about it, and realized that the world is filled with wrong marriages, that somehow work because of the twisted needs of their participants. I loved the movie, and I thought it did great justice to the book. Neil Patrick Harris was mind blowing as the obsessed perfectionist ex boyfriend/stalker. Great review!! This made my morning!

    • Thankyou. I was in full writing mode today! A day off work, the film yesterday, I just had to let it out untrammeled. The perfume link is a bit tenuous perhaps, but I felt something in my marrow, at least in her screen incarnation ( I haven’t read the book ). Where some cinematic characters ooze smell, she is the opposite. So wound UP. Honestly, if she were slathered in something warm, animalic, sexy, half the problems would be gone.

  2. empliau

    I haven’t seen the movie – the book was somewhat fun, in that I felt clever for knowing the main twists well ahead of time, but then felt manipulated because the twists were so obligatory. However, what struck me in the review was your description of Seven. I didn’t sleep at all the night after I saw it: what haunted me was in that desert scene, when Kevin Spacey says “I took her pretty head,” or something like it. The graphic depictions of death and near-death did not bother me over-much since I can shut my eyes quickly, but that line still gives me chills decades later. I will never forget the sheer horror of lying awake all night with that line echoing and re-echoing in my head.

  3. Wow, what a review! You are quite a writer (as we already knew) in all areas obviously. I have not seen the movie but am in the middle (almost) of the book. Now I will want to see the film as well. Thanks!

  4. Renee Stout

    I’ve been wanting to see this film so I hesitated at reading this review, however, it made me want to see it all the more as you’ve summed up what the veneer of American relationships basically are: “All we have to do is LOOK good to others on the outside”. If it “looks” good on the surface, people believe that it IS good and that, is, sadly, enough for mos.

    • That is the case in most societies the world over, not just America. It’s just that the American version, at least the TV/Hollywood one, is that little bit extra shiny.

      I am not anti-marriage by any means, but I think that people should do it for the right reasons, do it their own way, not follow any pre-decided ‘rules’ or cliches, including the physical lay out of the home and the way they bring up their children if they have any (just let them LIVE, not mould them); those kind of relationships have a much better chance of lasting. If people cling to this shimmering homely romance idea and crack up the second it doesn’t quite work then the whole thing is just headed for disaster.

      • Nocturnes

        No it truly is the American version…..we judge each other by the size of our houses, the types of cars we drive and how many designer underwear we own (not kidding about that one!)….I once had an acquaintance say to me as she entered my home “Where is all the furniture?” (mind you I had all the necessary essentials but my home was not as “cluttered” as hers with bric-a-brac and wall hangings). Now no one enters my home so I don’t have to justify the size/cleanliness/aesthetic appeal of it.

        As for marriage, in our society everything revolves around the fairytale wedding…..and then when the honeymoon is over the reality sets in and people become disillusioned and unhappy……needless to say my partner and I eloped….we had an extremely intimate ceremony at a very romantic place without anyone……and we work at our relationship every single day…..it’s about being authentic and being honest and being willing to compromise…..

        bringing up children? you cannot control who they are and the dispositions they were born with…..the best advice I can give is let go of control and accept who they are…offer words of advice but don’t anticipate they will follow them…..everyone eventually finds their niche and way in life…..just pray that they figure it out sooner rather than later….

        as for this review…excellent ….and now I want to read the book and see the movie……..

      • A friend of mine said the book was the worst thing she has ever read and if she hadn’t borrowed it from someone she would have thrown it across the room. Ironically, in direct opposition to this review, apparently the book has lots of references to the ‘repellent’ smell of women, even though it was written by one….I am not expecting high art from this novel.

        I also think that what you say is true of many places, but the shiny perfect wedding is certainly a very American thing, and I honestly think it dooms you from the start. Eloping and just being natural is DEFINITELY the way to go.

  5. Renee Stout

    I meant …that is, sadly, enough for most.

  6. jennyredhen

    I dont know about Gone Girl. I dont know if i want to see a movie about deodorised sanitised lost people. Theres too many of them in the world
    Have you seen Blue Jasmine. Its brilliant.

    • Again,our cinematic tastes differ. I adore Woody Allen, but Blue Jasmine left me cold! Duncan too. I don’t really like that ‘tour de force’ acting, riveting though it might be. I just couldn’t fall for any of the story, and the characters really felt like ‘characters’, stock characters. The ‘working class boyfriend’. The ‘slimy stockbroker’. I don’t like Cate Blanchett generally: I feel like she is an acting machine with no soul within. Of Woody Allen’s recent films ( I think I have seen all of his films bar a couple) I much preferred Vicky Cristina Barcelona which is so warm and hilarious, so much more full of humanity.

      • jennyredhen

        Yes Vicky Christina Barcelona was great but that was full of stock characters as well. Dont you agree?
        Woody Allen takes these standard social scenarios which are cliches and presents them with his own unique twist. Cate Blanchett was meant to be like a machine. Isnt she like the Gone Girl? Shes acting out a role expected of her and then it all comes crashing down and shes left jabbering on a park bench.The movie was about pretensions and illusions and what happens when their structure collapses. I once saw an interview with her and she used so many big words that Id never heard before, she was quite impressive. She and her husband are Australian Film Royalty. What about Match point that other Woody Allen movie about money, power and comfort and how it erodes and corrupts..Did you like that one?
        Id love to have a big discussion with you and Duncan about movies we would probably disagree about everything and it could turn into quite a bun fight!

      • I HATE HATE HATE Match Point!

      • Matchpoint caused me great pain, actually. Literally.
        We both saw it in Tokyo, hated it (so contrived, and ‘English’, but not actually English at all if you are from there), and the tension from it gave me a literal headache.

        We then went to a restaurant, and had a flaming argument, even though it was his birthday, and ended up mission the last train.

        We decided then, being the hedonists that we are, to go dancing, where I then proceeded to get tinnitus (which I have to this day) from going too close to the speakers in an attempt to to get into a good mood.

        As a result, not only did I dislike the film intensely for its ‘clever little plot’ (you are right, though, he does use stock characters and twist them, even in Vicki, although that felt much more natural to me somehow, burnished with lovely light and drippingly gorgeous women), but I blame it for injuring me.

        For the record, my favourite Woodies:

        September
        Another Woman
        Zelig
        Crimes & Misdemeanours
        Manhattan Murder Mystery
        Vicki Cristina Barcelona
        Interiors
        Celebrity
        Broadway Danny Rose
        Husbands And Wives
        Bullets Over Broadway
        Sleeper
        Deconstructing Harry
        Hannah & Her Sisters

        but I even like all the middling ones like Melinda & Melinda, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending and so on.

        Of course Manhattan and Annie Hall are great, but they don’t entirely touch me somehow and I don’t really like his dark ‘dramas’ like Cassandra’s Dream or Matchpoint. Anything Else didn’t entirely work for me either, and I didn’t really like Midnight in Paris.

        What an amazing director, though. Even when I went to see To Rome With Love this year at the cinema, I felt teary in my cinema seat seeing those titles, that jazz music, knowing that this can’t last forever, that we can’t keep having Woody Allen films.

      • jennyredhen

        Maybe it was Javier Bardem in Vicky Christina Barcelona that tickled your fancy. I had previously only seen him in No Country For Old Men where he chillingly and convincingly played a coldblooded psychopathic serial murderer so it was hardto relate to hime as a love interest and not scream “run for your life” when he was chatting up the two American girls. I expected to see them dead with bolts in their foreheads at any moment.

      • No! Seriously, I can tell that our eyes and brains just see films differently. Although I thought Javier was certainly a seductive hunk in that film, it was the women I loved – all of them, and it was they who made it for me.

        I didn’t like No Country For Old Men at all, in fact I have decided although I thought I liked the Cohen brothers (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, Burn After Reading) I have seen so many of their films now that I realize I don’t really like them. I couldn’t get through more than half an hour of True Grit, and went to see their latest one about the folk singer and was bored stiff.

  7. jennyredhen

    Match point was very disturbing and unsatisfying. I didnt like it much either. Were there any likable characters in it? I dont really Like Scarlett Johanssen.. Glassy eyed and monotoned. I never liked her in Lost in translation or any of these Woody Allen movies. Too vaccuous. and dumb. Woody Allen is a misogynist a classic Jewish fear of women..Look how he betrayed Mia Farrow and they didnt even live together, so he had nothing to complain about. LOL

  8. Brilliant review. I’m not sure if I want to see this as I found the book highly annoying mid way through when it all went very out of control and over the top. What you wrote about Seven took me back to when I first saw it – stupidly by myself as I didn’t realise it would be so grim. I felt very disturbed when I left the theatre but I do think Fincher is one of the best directors around. Interesting how they are treated by the studios though when you read some of those Sony emails – even someone of his calibre.

  9. jennyredhen

    The elephant in the room re Woody Allen is… is he or is he not a paedophile. Anyone who can seduce and marry their own adopted stepdaughter has got to have huge control and manipulation issues, especially as the seduction was carried out under the nose of his wife. These manipulative abilities are probably the qualities necessary to be a brilliant film director… unfortunately cf Roman Polanski as well. Thats why I wouldnt watch any Woody Allen movies for years until cinematic desperation led me to Midnight in Paris which I thought was adorable.. lightweight and frothy but extremely well made.then i caught up on a few in a bit if a binge but its all over now! The jury is still out

  10. These types of women always seem to smell of L’eau d’Issey. At least that is what I usually smell on them when encountering them. That neutral mock fragrance fragrance seems to be acceptable among their rank.
    I always find women who want to have that “clean” odour emanate from them suspect. I feel that anyone who wants to so suppress and camouflage their natural scent to be soulless.
    But this is what most men in the states would truly love to have as their partner, the perfectly polished WASPy little lady. One devoid of superfluous hair and smelling freshly cleaned.
    I prefer to be a skankasauras with my dirty scents and trailing sillage

    • jennyredhen

      Do you think the same applies to those Jo Malone perfumes.? They are very pretty but very dull also “soulless” I feel. I dont know what all the fuss is about.

      • Jo Malone scents make me think more of air fresheners or ambiance sprays rather than a proper scent. That said, the market seemed to have wanted what she had to offer, the company did well enough to be bought by Estée Lauder.

  11. Ana Maria Andreiu

    I love your film reviews Neil,so interesting and I’m usually thrilled to discover we have similar tastes.I’m very far from having your extended cinematic knowledge but I do know what I like.I’ve seen Zodiac,Seven and The girl with the dragon tattoo,and out of these I found Seven to be the most accomplished in its chilling to the bone way.I’ll never forget first time I saw it in a small theater in my small,provincial hometown where nothing truly horrific would ever happen. I had terror flashbacks weeks on end and the final scene truly shook my mind.I couldn’t watch another movie with Kevin Spacey for years,he scared me senseless.I don’t like Woody Allen as a director or actor,I despise the guy.There’s something so pathetic and at the same time gross about him,and he doesnt really like women,this is clear to me.Or maybe he does but in an exclusively libidinous way.Yuck!The only tolerable movie he ever created was Vicky Christina Barcelona.And I agree the Cohen brothers movies ARE boring.I feel sort of obliged to endure them,because they’re considered good and maybe I’m stupid and should just try my best to elevate myself.o

    • I am arrogant enough to believe in my own tastes now and so have given up trying to elevate myself.

      As for Allen, though, I absolutely do not see him as a woman hater: quite the opposite. His women are fiercely intelligent, witty, complicated, sexy. Think of Judy Davis or Mia Farrow or Dianne Wiest or any of them: they are real people with complex desires on an equal footing with the men. When the woman is presented as airhead, like Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite, it is usually done quite ironically and she wins the day anyway.
      I think he adores women but he doesn’t objectify them.

      • jennyredhen

        I completely disagree. Wood Allen Movies portray women as neurotic, pathetic, dumb or completely bonkers. They all have issues which stop them achieving or moving forward in their own lives and they are dependent on men to solve these issues for them. I cant think of one woman that I would call strong and independent in any of his movies.
        As for Mia Farrow… look what he did to her and her family… shocking… only a woman hater could do that.

      • I see what you mean.

        But this was supposed to be about David Fincher!

  12. jennyredhen

    I know… sorry.. i will shut up now!!

  13. jennyredhen

    I finally watched the movie.. poor Amy robbed of her childhood and adolescence by her parents who later robbed her trust fund. The rest of her money is used to buy a house for her and her husband and a bar for her husband and her husbands twin sister…with whom he has a much closer relationship, the twin sister doesnt even like Amy.. Husband and the twin sit around bad mouthing her … then he betrays her sexually as well.. the world must seem like a pretty evil place.. I Think her parents are the main villains in this story of greed, ingratitude, boredom and idiocy. The only nice people are the lady detective and the flashy lawyer.. all the rest are crap. The house is soul destroyingly bland.The bar looked pretty crap as well. Fincher seeks to portray all this empty crap by filming it in monochrome sepia. Death by a thousand small cuts. She stayed too long in that motor camp if i was her i would have kept moving.

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