Sunday, October 19, 2014

Someone finally found the right role for Rosamund Pike


WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! DANGER! GONE GIRL SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!

Rosamund Pike has dead eyes.

After searching for years for a reason why I disliked this actress so much, I finally came to a concrete realization in the opening minutes of Gone Girl:

Her eyes are dead.

This is a problem when you are trying to portray, you know, a human being.

Fortunately, in Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike doesn't have to.

For probably the first time in a career that has involved primarily straightforward casting, Rosamund Pike is playing a sociopath. It turns out that this is something this otherwise artificial actress can do very well.

Considering how little I like her as a performer, I have seen quite a lot of Rosamund Pike movies. From Die Another Day to Fracture to An Education to Surrogates to Jack Reacher to The World's End, Pike has always struck me as a pod person, an alien skirting around the edges of what it might be like to play a human being, but never really getting there. She not only strikes me as false, she downright discomfits me. There's something, you know, wrong with her.

In a role that requires those dead eyes to say something about the depths of sociopathic behavior of which she is capable, though, Pike nails it.

What dead eyes are you speaking of, you ask? How about these dead eyes:


Finally, I am discomfited by Rosamund Pike for the right reasons.

I wonder if David Fincher -- or his casting director, Laray Mayfield -- saw in Pike what I saw. Or rather, what I didn't see -- namely, a soul. I wonder if they said "We need someone truly soulless for this role. I know -- Rosamund Pike!"

In any case, she does nail it.

In the first half of the film, we are seduced into the tempting narrative that she's a basically good trust fund baby whose life has been run into the ground after her husband moved them to the middle of nowhere, began cheating on her, and started demonstrating violent tendencies. I was sort of bothered, then, that there was nothing behind her eyes, even at the start when she is supposed to feel an uncomplicated love toward Ben Affleck's character. This was when my "dead eyes" theory really took hold.

But at about the halfway point, the performance -- or I should say, Pike's most common performative mode -- is totally recontextualized. She was faking. She was putting on a show. We won't get in to the psychopathology that has brought her to this point -- which is a bit more complicated and problematic -- but by now, she does have a total disdain for certain if not most human beings, who may deserve only a percentage of that disdain.

And when she slits Neil Patrick Harris' throat with a boxcutter, then writhes around on top of his body as she bathes in his blood (and as Trent Reznor's generally muted score reaches its sinister crescendo), we truly realize we've been looking into an empty shell all along.

My problem with Gone Girl, then, is not Pike's performance -- which I now consider one of the film's foremost strengths. My problem is how the film gets her to this point. By the end, the most obvious interpretation of the he said-she wrote story is that most of what he said was true, and most of what she wrote was false. At one point tempted to side with a battered wife, we are now left with no option but to consider her a contemptible whack job whose hatred of men has driven her to try to ruin the lives of at least three of them -- seemingly just for her own sport.

The reason given? She couldn't live up to the high standard set by her parents, who wrote a popular series of children's books starring a much more successful version of her.

Her husband -- who could have been a truly awful character -- is more than anything guilty of philandering and perhaps inattention.

Not only does her psychopathology seem dispiritingly simple, but the reframing of the narrative has the effect of vindicating men -- not just one, but several -- who are accused of dastardly deeds against women. Not only does Amy Dunne try to frame her own husband for killing her -- a frame-job she may nor may not being trying to cement by ultimately killing herself -- but she once framed a man (Scoot McNairy) for raping her. Women lying about rape is an extremely problematic narrative purpose, even if the person who wrought the bestselling novel was a woman. In fact, Gillian Flynn adapted her own book into this screenplay.

It's not that there can't be a movie about a woman who fabricates accusations against men, just that she needs to be grounded in an emotional reality that makes sense. She can't just be a psycho.

So while David Fincher's undeniable craftsmanship again elevates this to something of a technical marvel, it's in service of a half-baked idea.

The one who did spend enough time in the oven is Rosamund Pike, and now I actually look forward to seeing what she'll do next.

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