There’s a select group of youngish directors these days whose work I generally just love. One is Christopher Nolan. Another is David Fincher.
David Fincher was the director of Gone Girl, the movie made from the Gillian Flynn book. I read the book last year and it was a vividly entertaining page-turner that ultimately left me a bit hollow. The movie – well made, well acted, and perfectly cast – had much the same effect on me.
Art is idiosyncratic, not only in how it is created, but also very much in how it is received. I can stand shoulder to shoulder to someone in an art gallery looking at the same artwork with each of us seeing something different, and responding to it in own our unique way. Music is a very good example of that, but it exists in books and movies too.
Interacting with a piece of art – no matter what medium – is not simply opening yourself up to it passively. Even if we wanted that I don’t think it would be possible. We may not meet art halfway, but at that meeting point we bring with us our personal experience, attitude, perspective, even our politics and personal baggage. That 70-80% of the art meets with and interacts with that 20-30% of our selves. That’s why we respond differently, because each connection is personal.
The book of this was an outrageous bestseller, and people came away from the movie reporting it was one of the best of the year. If there was one criticism – too strong a word? – then it is how the book, and subsequently the movie, is resolved. That’s cultural, I think. We have been conditioned by our movie viewing to expect an upbeat ending. Loose ends are tied up, and something like a happy ending delivered to us. It’s rare we don’t get – but it doesn’t exist in either the book or film of Gone Girl.
It’s clever perhaps that the girl in the title gets away with it, but it leaves viewers flat because justice as we know it in Hollywood terms is absent.
Cleverness was the books Achilles heel for me. It’s a great story and expertly written, but even as I was enjoying the book there was a part of me that felt used. There’s a look at me quality to the writing, cleverness for its own sake. There’s a cold heart at the centre of this. That’s one of the idiosyncratic responses I wrote about which, judging by the reviews, few others experienced. There’s nothing wrong with being clever, in fact it’s to be admired when it isn’t self-indulgent. By the end of the book I felt like I was enjoying something I didn’t really like – the elegant and attractive woman you never really warm to but continue to see because she has great stories, and makes you look good. Perhaps I am more sensitive to this than most people because cleverness is my Achilles heel too.
The male lead in the story, played by Ben Affleck in the movie, is an unsympathetic character. No-one is going to disagree with that, that’s the way he’s written, and he’s written that way to serve the story. All that I understand and appreciate, but a character like that is particularly difficult for someone like me to come to terms with. I didn’t care much about his moral failings, and even his questionable character made me no more than dismissive of him as a man. It’s the rampant stupidity in which he acts throughout the story which drove me up the wall.
This is the ultimate idiosyncratic response which is nothing about the book or movie, and is all about me – and revealing of me too. I realise that for all my failings – and failures – that in many ways I am a very focused and disciplined man. I’m analytical by nature and not prone to let emotion overtake intellect. The Ben Affleck character is just about the antithesis of who I am as a man, and made it difficult for me to read or watch without my frustration mounting to eye-rollingly derisive levels.
What can I say? This is my personal reaction to the story. I enjoyed the book, but wouldn’t read it again. The movie is expertly crafted, but I found my interest in it waning. Both book and movie got rave reviews, so perhaps you shouldn’t take my idiosyncratic take on them seriously. Find out for yourself – always good advice.