sonetka (sonetka) wrote,

Gone Girl

Before starting, let it be known that today is the ninety-second anniversary of W.W. Sterrett's unsolved murder by arsenical wedding cake, which I wrote a post about here. As I recently edited it to include what happened to his wife, which I didn't know at the time I wrote it last year, I think this justifies linking to it again. Short version of the wife's fate: there's little documentation, but what there is doesn't contain much that's dramatic. After her husband's bizarre poisoning death, she moved in with her mother for a while, but was gone from her mother's house by 1930, going by census reports. At some point before 1935, and probably earlier, she took the in-context dramatic step of actually leaving the state (going by the records I had found earlier, every single family member of both of these people was in Pennsylvania and always had been) and moved to Chautauqua, New York. OK, so Chautauqua is about as close as you can get to Pennsylvania without actually crossing the state line, but it still seems like a symbolic break. Or, more realistically, since Mrs. Sterrett was a nurse and Chautauqua was the sort of place people liked to retire to, she may have gone there for a job. Regardless of her motive, she seems to have stayed there the rest of her life. She died in 1965.

And now from a real mystery to a fictional one. By last weekend, A. and I had heard so much about Gone Girl that it was clear that waiting for the DVD would be impossible if we wanted to avoid knowing the whole story ahead of time. So off we went and settled in for a nice, dramatic rendition of Who's The Real Psychopath Here? Which, for the first three-quarters of the movie, it was. If it had ended about two hours in, it would have been grim but really good. After two and half hours, though ... well, I'll put it this way. I was talking about it with a friend and she said that ultimately, the point of the movie wasn't realism, it was to make us examine our perception of gender roles. I didn't agree: first of all, there's no reason you can't examine gender roles and have a coherent story at the same time, and second, it actually achieved the opposite with me -- the pileon of WTFery at the end drove away all other thoughts except "How did that happen? There's no way that would happen!" and gender roles remained tragically unexamined. Spoilers ahead, of course.

If the story had ended with Amy still missing, or even with her going through with her plan of suicide, a grim ending would have been almost inescapable. The main problem for her would be the mountain of evidence she had in her Craigslist beater, and presumably she could take care of that by just rolling it into a nice deep lake and trusting that it wouldn't be found for a long time. But once she returns, the whole thing falls apart for a reason that tends to pop up a lot in recent stories, which is that the people onscreen only have access to modern technology when the story requires it. Desi, Amy's former lover and supposed kidnapper, clearly has more money than the rest of the cast put together and he really likes his security -- he makes a big point of how his lake house has cameras everywhere and nobody could possibly come close to the house without his knowing. Are we supposed to believe that this guy doesn't have security footage being recorded at his full-time home? Even if he doesn't, what about his cellphone? His credit card? My reason for wondering about this is that Amy claims he kidnapped her on the morning she disappeared. North Carthage isn't a real place, but the book author said it was based on Cape Girardeau, which is about two hours from St. Louis. How could Amy know that during that entire period when he was supposedly driving from St. Louis and back to kidnap her, that he hadn't left an electronic imprint anywhere else? Cellphone pings can be traced, credit card transactions also -- all that would have had to happen was for Desi to buy coffee down the street from his house, or even appear on home or store security footage somewhere in St. Louis, at any time that morning and Amy's goose would have been cooked, even if her story weren't already full of holes. (What about the cleanup on the kitchen floor? The weapon in the fireplace, and the NOTE she left with it? The burned diary? etc. None of that made sense in a kidnapping scenario).

Yes, Amy was a beautiful, blonde Harvard graduate, and people wanted to believe her story. But I simply didn't buy that they'd continue doing so in the face of so much evidence indicating otherwise. People certainly love to put pretty white girls on pedestals, but one thing they love almost as much is knocking them off again. The movie tries to paper it over by having the detective tell Nick that the case has been taken away from her and they're closing it, but in the real world, in 2012, that couldn't possibly be the end of it, because Desi the insanely wealthy is dead, and Desi had heirs. Somebody is due to inherit that pile, and that person or persons will have a very strong interest in proving that Desi did not commit a kidnapping for which his estate could be sued. His heirs won't want Amy to file a tort and leave them with nothing except the contents of Desi's change tray. They would hire a lawyer, and they would very likely hire a P.I. as well. All either of these people would have to do was find one piece of evidence that Desi was somewhere else on the morning of the kidnapping, and they wouldn't have any particular interest in keeping silent. Hell, there might even be someone who genuinely cares about clearing Desi's name, you never know.

And here's what I was hoping would happen -- and which would, I think, have a reasonable likelihood of happening in the real world. They could enlist Ellen Abbott. Yes, she's all about vicious frothing at the mouth and minimal analysis, which she prettifies as "advocating for victims" but the thing is, either way there's a victim here. If Amy is lying about the kidnapping, there's a good chance Amy murdered Desi in cold blood, or at least that the case isn't as open and shut as it seemed at first. And the twist of "kidnapping victim turns out to be husband-framing, boyfriend-murdering sociopath" would spike her ratings higher than K2. And once Ellen Abbott was all over the airwaves shrieking about the inconsistencies in Amy's story, the possibility that it was a frame job, and showing video footage of Desi hanging out on his porch in St. Louis at the same time Amy was supposedly being snatched from a house 120 miles away, I think the FBI wouldn't take long to find out that case could stand a little more investigation after all. After that ... Nick isn't going to have to worry about custody issues surrounding their child very much once Amy is being fitted for a jumpsuit.

If the story had been framed a little differently -- if Desi hadn't been so carefully portrayed as a paranoid security-camera fiend, if the staged blood cleanup on the floor hadn't been part of the story in the first place, if the treasure hunt hadn't been so elaborate -- I'd be inclined to believe Amy could get away with it, especially if her eventual victim weren't worth much financially. As it was, it was surprising how forced the ending felt. This was one case where the story had to earn its unhappy ending, and it didn't do so.
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