What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
The primal questions of any marriage — says, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl begins. Wrestling with the unravelling of own marriage, watching the scene in a lonely hotel room after a long day of work, the questions came as a jolt.
A decade of marriage, and you realise you don’t know who your partner is. Worse. You don’t know who you are anymore.
What have we done to each other? Indeed!
On the face of it, Gone Girl is a murder mystery, with twists-a-plenty! Who killed Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike)? Her husband Nick is the prime suspect, for plenty of good reasons. But did he do it? Wait, is Amy even dead? Is anything in the movie as it appears initially?
To say more is to give away the ending. And I guess in the course of this post, the twists would become apparent. So, dear reader, be warned.
Both the book and novel caused a bit of stir few years back. Some argued that the movie had a ‘woman problem’ insofaras it can be stripped to a story about a man whose crazy wife ruined his life, in the process fuelling misogynist stereotypes and seemingly harkening for ‘traditional marriages’. Not so fast, according to others, who argued that beneath the surface, it’s ‘the most feminist mainstream movie’ of our time, depicting in brutal detail the travails of modern marriage.
Whether in Desh or in the west, when you see couples of a certain age and socioeconomic background, regardless of ethnicity or culture, in stale, unexciting marriages where no one is really at fault, where the fire of passion is buried in repressed memories and forced indifference brought on by the vicissitudes of life — when you are in such a marriage yourself, you can’t but be jolted by those primal questions.
Gone Girl is far from a Deshi tale — it’s set in the post-recession America, with white Anglo-Saxon protagonists. And yet, it may well have been a brilliant and subversive take on the monstrosity that is a typical Deshi marriage. Everything that happens in the movie or the novel happens in these marriages, except that it’s usually not the crazy wife who ruins the simple guy’s life. Of course, far too often, that may well be the story our patriarchic society tries to tell itself.
Okay, we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
It’s important to realise at the outset what we aren’t talking about. This isn’t about economics. This is not the tale of Bruce Springsteen’s The River, where the Boss channels The Communist Manifesto: …. lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy / Now all them things that seemed so important, well mister they vanished right into the air / Now I just act like I don’t remember, Mary acts like she don’t care
While Nick and Amy are affected by the global financial crisis, that’s not the reason why these words still hold true for them: Now those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse
These words ring true for the marriages that we discuss here, and if you think just a bit more money would solve the issues, only if you took an extra job, or cut down on your whims, well, dear reader, I am afraid you are in one such marriage yourself.
No, it’s not the economy, stupid. It’s us. It’s what we do, and don’t, in our marriage.
Think about the question — what have we done to each other?
Marriage changes us. From simple things like sleeping habits —which side of the bed you might prefer — to suppressing your dreams and fantasies.
And it’s not hard to imagine who changes most in Deshi marriages. Do you change your hobbies, for books or gadgets, evenings with bros and mates? Or do you stop being the girl who would hop on a public bus for a carefree day trip with random friends or a boat ride even though you have no idea how to paddle — but soon, you do not even go for a drive on a lazy Sunday afternoon because it might involve a difficult conversation!
It’s the so-called ‘good wife’ who changes herself to fit the social expectations, of the husband, in-laws, own family, friends — who, I might add, are typically his, not hers.
Marriages change us. Gone Girl forces us to see ourselves in the mirror. And if you don’t recognise yourself, chances are you are drinking your own kool aid — the kool aid of happy marriage, and the stories you tell yourselves.
We tell ourselves that we are the ideal couple, the one that never fights, the one that wear matching panjabi and sari in dawats. We congratulate ourselves for the cocktail parties and movie marathons we host in our designer house.
Not only does marriage change us, all too often, marriage is a mirage, a show that we put on. Of course, Gone Girl takes it to the extreme, where not only life isn’t what it seems, but death too.
Then again, how often does she die a slow death every night? You wonder what happened to the fun girl you married? Well, you killed her!
In the west, women would rather be single than dying a slow death for rest of their lives. We are not quite there yet in Desh, perhaps because we are still all-so-concerned about the so-called society.
Of course, the demand to fit to the social mores almost always falls on the girl — you have to be the ‘good wife’, or even more importantly, the ‘good mother’. He might have shortcomings, but think of the child, and put up with whatever life throws at you. Making your family happy, that’s your task. Why would you be so selfish to put your life ahead?
The emotional blackmail involving the children is so pervasive that we wilfully and ignorantly conflate a ‘broken home’ with single parents, when arguably being raised in a dysfunctional, loveless environment with two embittered parents might cause more lasting damage!
Of course, and huge spoiler alert, Gone Girl ends in exactly that way — except it’s the crazy wife who forces the hapless man into submission. And the submission is brutal. Nick is subjected to a perfect set up, criminal investigation, and a very public media trial. Talk about subversion!
Gone Girl is about who gets to control the narrative of Amy and Nick’s marriage. Your marriage breakdown is not likely to be as glamorous, but in a similar attempt, don’t you do the same when you gather around your entire social circle — friends and family, hers and yours — and show how unreasonable who was, or not!
Wouldn’t it be better if you simply acknowledged the truth, that love that was once there is no more, and it’s not death that do us part. We move on.
Few movies or novels can make one confront one’s reality as Gone Girl did for me. When I think about the question — what have we done to each other — I know the answer.
We are both better off moving on.
Who needs marriage anyway if it’s only to change our true self?
(For the amazing women who have the courage to walk out).