Thursday, October 1, 2015

we're so cute, i want to punch us in the face

The opening lines (which reappear at the end of the film as well) of Gone Girl are:

When I think of my wife... I always think or her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains, trying to get answers. The primal question of any marriage: "What are you thinking?" "How are you feeling?" "What have we done to each other?"

The tone at the beginning is romantic. The cracking open of the skull is love, wanting that thing where you're not sure where one of you ends and the other begins--that's how I described romance once upon a time on the interwebs, on a message board back in the olden days before Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or even Myspace. Well, there might have been Myspace already. The couple who ran the message board--a semi-pretentious place called Cafe des Artistes--both called me a hopeless romantic, or something along those lines. And, I was. I've been rewatching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix lately and I can relate to (or I can remember being like, anyway) Ted Mosby--looking for "the One" and all that magical relationship bullshit. I'm more cynical now, in case you can't tell. I still like the idea of romance. I just don't... believe in it anymore. Or never did and it just took a while to figure that out.

Except, that's a line, I think. I mean, if you've been around this blog for any significant length of time, you would have seen that I can lapse right into romantic, hopeful, optimistic mode in no time, if the right movie is on. Presumably, the same would be true of the right person were around. Life is too busy for new people of late, though. So, it's just me and movies and my kids and teaching and coaching and writing my thesis (which could be going faster). Still, if you pay close enough attention--and keep in mind I recently went through and reread the first year of this blog, that year that I was watching the same movie every day. Groundhog Day. And, I couldn't do anything about it.

Okay, that last part isn't true. I could have given up anytime. But, I didn't want to. Same thing with my marriage, to be honest. In retrospect, I imagine that it was clear earlier that my wife and I weren't doing so well as a couple. I imagine that we held on longer than we should have. I imagine... I know that, yeah, we changed one another by being together. Something Gone Girl plays up into something far more dramatic than it generally is, but metaphorically gets so utterly correct--being married turns you into... So, I was watching the season five finale of How I Met Your Mother right before the movie tonight and--

Okay, if you don't watch the show, just know there's this ongoing thing about finding the doppelgänger of each of the five main characters and this episode--entitled "Doppelgängers"--involves the possibility of them finding the fifth and final one, and Ted gets into this spiel about getting older and how they've each changed in five years and he tells Robin: "Look, we've all been searching for the five doppelgängers, right? But eventually, over time, we all become our own doppelgängers, you know, these completely different people who just happen to look like us. In my cynical moments, when I figure another relationship isn't worth the time and effort, I figure Ted is right--over time we can become different people who look like us. I mean, there are fundamental details that remain the same--I, for example, remain the sarcastic, occasionally caustic guy I've been for as long as I could be him. Details change. And, lately, some significant portions have been altered. Go back a decade, I wouldn't have imagined I'd be a teacher. Go back two decades and I would have wanted to be married but was probably too pessimistic to think it would actually happen. Go back three decades and what would I see? I don't know. I know that in the third grade, when asked to write down what I was going to be doing for a living in the future, I had no fucking clue so I just wrote what my father did because that seemed like a thing.

A decade from now, what will I think about this guy sitting down watching these movies and acting like he's losing his optimism, losing his hope, even as his day-to-day life has gotten so much better than the aimless thing it used to be.

Some of the time. Other days, other movies, and I'm positive as can be. I mean, I enjoy most of this, as I enjoyed most of that first, repetitive year, but sometimes it's so obviously one way or the other, positive or negative, pessimistic or optimistic, cynical or whatever the hell the opposite of cynical is. There are the good days--that week of Groundhog Day a month ago, for example--and the bad days--the end of that week with Pretty Woman last year, for example. Give me murders and torture any day, but that cynical pseudo romance bullshit--no thank you. The fun think about Gone Girl is that is goes in both directions. It's got romantic stuff. It's got cynicism. It deals in love and hate, the ways we latch onto one another only to desperately try to change each other or support one another no matter what.

In fact, while--per yesterday's entry--this film doesn't quite come down on the side of feminism or misogyny, it does quite readily come down on the side of cynicism when it comes to marriage. The disappearance, the murder, all of the "thriller" aspect of this story--that can quite easily be jettisoned for something far simpler. Nick is cheating on Amy, Amy not only knows about it--she's got a clearly honest moment wth Greta (Lola Kirke) in which she describes catching Nick with his mistress (Emily Ratajkowski)--but, well, was probably done with him a good while before she knew. From the film version alone, it is difficult to gauge too exactly because--SPOILERS, duh--her side of the story in that first hour is invented. Like Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) doesn't have to be a good guy to be innocent, Amy (Rosamund Pike) doesn't have to be a bad person to want out of her marriage. (Her lies and her eventual murder of--seriously, SPOILERS, skip to the next paragraph if you haven't seen the movie yet--Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) suggest that Amy might have something seriously wrong with her, but so does Nick's anger.

Both of these characters have their problems. It wasn't just the recession taking away their jobs and forcing them out of New York that destroyed their marriage. It was that neither one of these people seems capable of being entirely genuine. The closest Nick gets is when he's playing board games with his twin sister (Carrie Coon), but then he is moody and he's drinking. The closest Amy gets is probably when she tells that story about discovering Nick was cheating on her, but this is when she is living under an assumed name and lying about who she is. Honesty and positivity never go hand in hand here in Gone Girl. Detectective Boney (Kim Dickens) catches on to what's going on but can do nothing. Same for attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry). Amy's parents mean well but fall for the lies and distrust their son-in-law. If there is a singular point to Gone Girl (the film, I mean, not the book), it is that people lie to one another and manipulate one another and love and marriage are just examples of this. It's not about feminism or misogyny but more like the idea that neither men nor women are worth a damn because society puts them against one another incessantly.

I haven't mentioned the Punch and Judy puppets that Amy leaves for Nick as an anniversary gift (just as I never got around to going over Punch and Judy in detail back when I watched The Wicker Man. But, the repetitive nature of the Punch and Judy show, the inherent and explicit violence, man against woman, husband against wife--this is an important element of Gone Girl. Josh Larsen (Larsen on Film) suggests that the opening voiceover, particularly that one line--"What have we done to each other?"--is said with disgust. But, I don't think it plays that way in the opening lines. The concluding lines, sure. But, the opening, even with the skull bit--that plays romantically to me, a little morbid but so what? Picking apart someone's brain to understand him or her--that can be entirely romantic. And, in the beginning of the film, it very much is. Gone Girl, itself, then is like a marriage that falls apart, so to speak, as it keeps going. It transforms itself along the way, but we go along for the ride. In the end, the romance is gone. Amy and Nick stay together over a baby on the way, like so many doomed marriages. We look on in horror and (presumably) celebrate that we no longer have to be involved with these people. It's fun while it lasts, but in the end maybe we just need the divorce of the end credits so we can get away from these damaging and damaged individuals.

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