We're likely about to experience one of those seismic events in pop culture, the ripples of which will extend out in every direction. Over the next several days, morning shows will host smiling psychologists ready to offer their expertise on the subject of sociopaths and how to spot them, couples will have uncomfortable conversations in which they prod and probe for a sign of each other's true feelings, and tiny geysers of righteous indignation over alleged misogyny will flare up on the fringes. All of this because Gone Girl is finally in theaters, bringing with it the questions and controversy that accompanied the best-selling novel upon which it's based, writ very large.
If you're unfamiliar with the source material here, suffice it to say that all you need to know about David Fincher's version of Gillian Flynn's page-turner can be summed up in the ad which refers to it as "the date night movie of the year." That's a subversively pitch-black description of a movie whose storyline is even blacker than pitch-black. Gone Girl is a date night movie like Titus Andronicus is the perfect play for foodies. Flynn's tale of a brilliant, beautiful woman who suddenly disappears without a trace from the McMansion she shares with her seemingly perfect husband is the stuff of nuptial nightmares. It peels back the layers of artifice and outright deceit that wrap two people's lives and in the end slyly argues that those layers may in fact be necessary to protect a marriage -- any marriage.
I'm going to try not to come right out and spoil the big "twist" within the narrative, but if you haven't read the book and feel like you want to go into the movie knowing as little about it as possible, you might want to stop reading. I'll say that I figured out what was really happening within the story pretty early on -- I downed the book in a single day, setting it aside was simply out of the question -- and I can't say I'm entirely proud of that. Flynn's narrative is a masterwork of clever engineering; it feels as if the book was built as a puzzle more than written in the standard linear fashion. But the unreliable narration detailing a marriage that's anything but what it appears to be, even to each half of the couple at the center of it, struck a nerve with me and then kept rubbing that nerve raw.
I've been in a marriage where I lied. I've been in a marriage where I was lied to. I've been in a marriage where, despite what I believed were good intentions, I wound up gaslighting the hell out of somebody. Maybe as karmic payback for that, I was later in a marriage where the lies told to me seemed to create their own reality. They were like the Matrix, elegant and impenetrable to the point where they simply became all I knew and I didn't even bother to question any of it anymore; I just believed because it felt both comfortable and inescapable. It's probably because of these experiences that I saw through the diabolical machinations Flynn was putting on the page (which didn't make me enjoy the story any less). I'm willing to bet that others figured out what "Amazing" Amy Elliott and Nick Dunne were all about before the big reveal for these same reasons and because that's the entire point of the book in the first place: that relationships are all about lies and maintaining them.
Even before my last marriage fell completely apart, I spent a certain amount of time in my writing airing my insecurities and neuroses and exploring questions of trust: whether it was possible to ever truly believe in the person you were with; whether it was possible to ever truly believe in yourself; whether love could actually last without an admission that there were always going to be things you didn't know and didn't really want to. I kept returning to something Chuck Klosterman once said about how it's better to have your entire life be a lie than just one or two things because when the lie is absolute there's nothing to compare it against and so the lie, essentially, becomes the truth. Filtering out all the implied and explicit violence and rot, this is the eventual conclusion drawn in Gone Girl: that living an airtight lie is the same thing as being truly in love and when all is said and done if each person in a couple can maintain a flawless reflection of what the other one wants, what's underneath hardly matters.
In other words, mutual sociopathy is the key to everlasting marital bliss.
I can't help but look back on my previous relationships now and wonder how often I overlooked the ugly details or the evidence that contradicted my carefully crafted illusion and how often the person I was with did the same. Or how far she went to maintain her own illusion because she either felt that it was what I wanted -- what I had fallen for -- or simply came to believe that it dulled the sharp edges, slickened the rough patches and eliminated the friction that would ultimately be more traumatic than just putting on a 24/7 show for me. All relationships begin with each person putting his or her best foot -- and best face -- forward. When that facade finally falls, as it often does in time, does that mean it was always a lie, or simply what's to be expected from us as human beings? And in the end, since it's naive to assume that the perfect relationship actually exists and that the "next time" will somehow be different, would it be better to just maintain that illusion indefinitely if you find you have it in you?
Nobody's perfect. But if two people can pretend to be, really, what's the difference?
Enjoy the movie.