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Leos think about other leos a lot, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Tonight, I wanted to think a little bit more about OOMF Back in his Gone Girl Era, or, that specific Ben Affleck quality/intonation/villainous chin that makes everything he says come out all wrong. What better movie is a case study for this than the movie in which it was deployed demonically and perfectly? I am speaking, of course, about Gone Girl.
Tonight: a short Q&A with David Fincher: Mind Games author Adam Nayman about the 2014 David Fincher, um, love story. “Gone Girl is a culmination of one of the things I really like about Fincher: it’s a movie about communication, the way that we kind of self mediate our images online. It was kind of ahead of the curve in that way. It still feels very state of the art — even though it's not really a Twitter, Instagram movie, and some of the actual social media features on it date it to 2014 — it just feels really post-millennial and contemporary,” Nayman told me. (Devoted Hung Up readers will recall that Nayman and I previously talked about Phantom Thread and his Paul Thomas Anderson book, Masterworks.)
There’s a line from your Gone Girl chapter that I love: “Instead of trash gussied up as social commentary, Gone Girl is social satire slumming as trash.” It really gets at what’s so great about the humor, the slickness, the gender politics, and the consumerism that Gone Girl really plays with.
Fincher is one of those filmmakers, I think, who locates clarity and speed. That’s hard. When you you're moving really fast, when the editing is fast, when the cutting is fast, you miss details. But he manages to cut in a way that the speed is how you catch things. I remember the first time I saw Gone Girl, she's on the website faking the credit card charges, and there's about a half-second shot that just says “Lifestyle Robots,” right? She's buying the fake dog that gets to go with the real cat, which is funny. They have these sort of his and hers pets, and he's sort of a dog and she's a cat, behaviorally.
But also “lifestyle robots” is kind of what the film is about. That idea of becoming so disconnected, alienated in consumer culture, within a commodified culture. This is when you remember that this is a guy who made his bones making commercials and who completely understands the language of advertising, the nearest subliminal language of advertising.
The label- and status-obsession of these characters make for great details, and Fincher plays with it visually. When Nick opens the woodshed and there’s the big Sony logo, I chuckle every time.
He's been trying his whole career to use a commercial filmmaker skillset to ask questions about commercialism and commodification. He doesn't always ask those questions or answer them coherently. You can have a whole talk about whether fight club is a brilliant movie on that exact topic or a complete mess. But I think Gone Girl gets at it exceptionally well: people are defined by their products, defined by these signifiers of life, also how you can use those things to fool people.
In your book you present Fincher as a director obsessed with codes, serial killers, manipulators. Gone Girl presents marriage as full of codes, known and unknown. Is this how it fits into his broader curiosities as a director?
I don't know how you feel about this — it varies depending on who you’re talking to — but I think Nick and Amy are kind of perfect for each other. She thinks, at first, that he can't keep up with her but he can. There just has to be something at stake, which in this case is his reputation, and he becomes the kind of game player-code breaker, and the kind of code maker, that she in a way has to respect. That’s why, when she comes back home, you have that wonderful ‘after the happy ending’ passage.
I wanted to talk about this movie because I think he uses Ben Affleck so skillfully. There’s the meta-casting about the cacophony of his personal life, but he does have this uniquely pitiful neediness or desire to please and be liked that I think is very true of the character. And how him expressing that is always sort of misinterpreted or misread as like manipulation. This is a movie about presenting yourself, and he’s cast someone who has never quite figured out how to do it.
The classic Affleck roles are either romantic leads, which this obviously perverts from the start, or there's lots of hanging out with the boys. There's no ‘hanging out with the boys’ in Gone Girl. There are no boys. He has a line, “I’m sick of being picked apart by women,” and you realize that in almost all significant parts, except for Tyler Perry, he is kind of bouncing entirely off female characters. I love the Kim Dickens character as a kind of audience surrogate who is simultaneously charmed and repelled by the ways that he tries to be charming.
You talk a lot in this book about Fincher being controlling and exacting and didactic, all things that were sort of true of PTA early in his career. But with Phantom Thread into Licorice Pizza, we see PTA loosening his grip. It’s so interesting to me that you went from PTA to Fincher. It’s like going from an open hand to a closed fist.
People mythologized in the year 1999 but they do so rightly. I was 18 that year and it felt like there was this big reckoning with American film culture: The Matrix was like ‘What if blockbusters looked like this and they could show you anything?’ And Blair Witch was like ‘What if blockbusters looked like this and they showed you nothing?’ And then Kubrick died, and it's like, well now who do we have to copy? Fincher and Anderson both break through with these millennial apocalyptic movies that use movie stars as like incel-guru types [in Fight Club and Magnolia].
Anderson was so volatile and mercurial and seemed out of control; Fincher seemed completely in control. He was gonna be the new Kubrick because Fight Club is definitely the millennial Clockwork Orange. Now, much later, Anderson is the one who really seems to represent the peak of American directing. He has an affection and critical respect that Fincher's still kind of fighting for. In the end, Fincher is seen as a very commercial filmmaker. When he opens up to make a movie as personal as Anderson’s movies are, it’s Mank. When he makes a movie about nostalgia, and the past, about trying to get something back — the movie kind of falls on its face. Whereas Anderson makes Licorice Pizza, a movie that is literally about almost nothing, and it’s beautiful. And assured. And, in its quiet way, kind of spectacular.
You can purchase David Fincher: Mindgames via Bookshop here and via Camila Cabello Presents: Amazon here. Adam Nayman’s previous book, Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, can be purchased here and here.
Sooooo much good stuff couldn’t make it into tonight’s letter, so paying subscribers can read more on Tuesday.
What Paying Subscribers Got This Week
Many people are asking “Who should host the Oscars?” I have an answer to that question, and a shortlist that includes: Maya Rudolph, Bowen Yang, Benedetta, and Bronco Henry.
If you want in but can’t afford it right now, please email me. We can work it out.
Did Jake Gyllenhaal Write This?
On the subject of “blah blah blah Hollywood is too woke blah blah blah stupid baby gurgle sounds,” it would appear that White Lotus creator Mike White is on the side of the Sydney Sweeney character, and not the Brittany O'Grady character. In an interview with whatever Bari Weiss’s substack is called, White said:
In the comments, predictably, was the Oscar blogger Sasha Stone who said “The Golden Globes being canceled was one of the most chilling things I have ever lived through.”
Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly drank each other’s blood and got engaged or whatever. Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet are divorcing, which is a loss we should all be mourning. Julia Fox and Kanye are still going on dates.
In a new interview about her book, Jamie Lynn “Lies, lies, and more lies, and lies on top of lies” Spears says she took “The Steps” to help free Britney, but that it was up to her older sister to “walk through the door.” (Knowing the Spears family that door was to another door, to another door, to another door …)
Jamie Lynn also alleged Britney locked her in a room at knifepoint. Britney denied the allegation: “Jamie Lynn … congrats babe. You’ve stooped to a whole new level of LOW.”
The Bless His Heart Beat
The hottest thing about Leonardo DiCaprio, according to his Great Gatsby co-star Isla Fisher, is that he remembered her children’s names on the press tour, a year after they’d finished shooting the movie.
(Those names are Olive, Elula, and Montgomery.)
That’s all tonight! Thank you for reading. This weekend I’m watching … idk … Cheer?