"What have we done to each other?"
Ben Affleck asks this question of his wife and of the audience in both the opening and closing scene of Gone Girl. Gone Girl remains one of the most troubling movies for me of the year, and not because of the twisty murderous sort of vengeance that's enacted within the folds of the narrative but because of this question that's inherent in the movie and of relationships in general -- "What have we done to each other?"
There's a definite theme of image and public perception in this movie. Nick Dunne's survival depends on the media perception of him and he nearly becomes undone because of his ineptitude in handling his public persona. Andi, the college girl he has an affair with, appears before the cameras in a modest dress in an effort to cater to a naive and modest image therefore playing down her role in the infidelity. Several times throughout the movie, director David Fincher draws back and cuts out the sound from the character's spoken words, forcing us to rely on our vision of the characters and what we believe them to be saying and feeling.
Nick and Amy Dunne's relationship, and so many of ours, rely on these perceptions however false they may be. Amy and Nick change for each other -- they become what they believe their partner wants them to be: the "cool girl" the "cool guy". Amy makes a list of the things she ends up changing and doing for Nick: drinking beer and watching sporting games with him, giving him "semi-regular" blowjobs, staying fit to remain a size 2: all things she does to adapt to him and to adapt within the confines of the relationship. Both Nick and Amy's ex-boyfriend talk about how she makes projects of them, buying them ties, expecting and asking them to elevate themselves beyond their norm in order to come to her level. In the end, Amy doesn't exact revenge on Nick for his infidelity. She lashes out at him because he's destroyed all that she was -- making her transform into something she didn't intend, and then he fails his end of the bargain -- he gives up trying and lazes back into his normal pre-relationship self instead of working to stay at her level..
Notwithstanding the whole faked murder and slashing of throats, how is this any different from a normal relationship or marriage? Oft-heard phrases couples say about how their spouse or girlfriend has "made me a better person" are supposedly benign, but it begs the question that Nick Dunne asks: "what have we done to each other?"
The most troubling aspect of their relationship to me isn't that it starts out so magical and it disintegrates into a hateful sort of purgatory where they know each other well enough to know exactly what will twist and hurt the most. This, of course, is savage in and of itself. There's also a knowledge of how unremarkable your first love is -- how that spontaneous wipe of sugar from your lips as a prologue to the first kiss can be easily reproduced and given away to another without any sort of reverence. But this isn't the only betrayal in NIck and Amy's relationship. The harshest transgression is how they betray the other's best self, taking away the other person's identity.
This, ultimately, is why Nick chooses to stay with Amy. And after much thought, I can't fault him for that decision or see any other decision he would have made for himself. He cites his reason as the fact that she is bearing his child, but the reason runs far deeper than blood. Amy says that he has never liked himself except when he was pretending he was someone for her, and Nick realizes this. He knows that he is his best self around her. He says himself in the interview that he was a nobody, a mediocrity until he was with her. Nick says it best when he says they work because they are truthful with each other. He and Amy have an understanding of each other, and Amy means it when she says that she would never hurt Nick (physically) and that she'll be patient with him as long as he works with her.
And funnily enough, isn't that what we ask of the best relationships? Desi Collings would never survive in a relationship with Amy. The only reason she allows him to remain in her life is because she thrives from the attention he gives her and his awed perception of her. Desi has this vision of who Amy is, which he enforces by imploring her to look like the old Amy when he brings her clothes, hair dye, and practically coerces her to utilize his workout gym that overlooks the woods outside. When he first meets Amy at the casino, his shocked look at her appearance isn't from the bruised face but at the deteriorated state of her body from his upheld ideal. It's a warped idea of a relationship in more ways than one. However, Amy doesn't escape Desi because he's becoming near-psychotic in his desire to keep her close and pristine, but because she sees on television that Nick has promised to her that he will start trying in their marriage again.
There's a give and take in every relationship, and the fact that there's no hard and fast rule to where that line wavers creates an interesting conundrum. And included in that give and take is how much give there is in who you are as a person. When talking about Her around this time last year, I discussed how being in a relationship can evolve you to someone that doesn't fit within the constructs of that relationship anymore. What happens when the person you're with elevates you into someone that is too much for that person? Gone Girl presents a different relational problem: how much is too much to give in a relationship, and how much is too much to ask for? Going too far in either direction can suffocate the relationship and the people within it. As twisted as it sounds, Gone Girl might have a relationship that seems the theoretical jackpot: being with someone that completely understands your faults while simultaneously makes you keep striving to be a better person.
This is a scary thought.
This is of course, overlooking the many other troubles of Nick and Amy as individuals and as a couple. When dealing with ideals in a relationship, you end up trapping the one you're with -- either becoming blind to who they are as a person or suffocating any desire they have to communicate. This goes the other way as well. Sometimes your ideal creates self-pressure in a relationship. Nick feels suffocated throughout the movie because he believes that the public is projecting their opinions onto his actions, mostly because he's not behaving in a way that is their ideal. He feels suffocated in his marriage because he believes Amy is judging him for his lack of success, or what the ideal husband is.
I think it's safe to say a good relationship is said to make you more ie the sum should be larger than its parts. This again, however, is a deceptively benign statement and the concept of "more" or "better" is grayer than people acknowledge, especially when you let your belief of what is ideal cloud the actual relationship.
Hence, Gone Girl and the Nick and Amy's relationship. You don't know what you've got until it's....