Gone Girl is the best mystery film I've seen since…
Without looking at my IMDb lists, I'll take a stab and say David Fincher's Zodiac.
If Gillian Flynn's screenplay is as fine an example of the film-mystery-writing craft at least since Zodiac, there are very good reasons for this.
Movie executives can't be blamed for believing that with its endless variations on police procedurals, both American and British, TV has the mystery genre covered. I actually watch one of these shows, and it's quite good. I love the way Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have updated Sherlock.
Movie executives are right in thinking that mysteries are difficult to market. There's so little you can give away, unlike all the good jokes in a comedy or all the best CGI in a comic-book movie.
Gillian Flynn's mystery is timely: the recent economic downturn plays a role. So does the voracious feeding frenzy of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. But these aren't particularly sexy selling points for an international teenage male audience.
Of course, to get my mystery fix, I can always read. But with so many mystery books out there, it's hard to know which ones will feed my addiction. What is the fix I'm looking for?
What makes the mystery genre, and Gone Girl, special to me is the aha moment.
In mystery terms, it's not the same one that Joseph Campbell writes about: "In one of the Upanishads it says, when the glow of a sunset holds you and you say 'Aha,' that is the recognition of the divinity. And when you say 'Aha' to an art object, that is a recognition of divinity. And what divinity is it? It is your divinity, which is the only divinity there is. We are all phenomenal manifestations of a divine will to live, and that will and the consciousness of life is one in all of us, and that is what artwork expresses." "Creativity," The Mythic Dimension, p.154
Example: I was in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, and the CSO, under Sir Georg Solti's baton, introduced the Ode to Joy theme in the Fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I'd heard recordings of the piece many times before. We all have. I probably hummed it to myself on the way to the concert. But to sit in the midst of a sold-out house gazing down at the stage filled to the risers with instrumentalists and vocalists, all amassed to create and partake of this sound of unsurpassable genius and simplicity…I suddenly began to sob like a little baby: the beauty was just too intense. Aha!
That's a high bar to set for a mystery novel! But there is a kind of aha moment that good mysteries can and sometimes do achieve. Just as the composer of a symphony can, in the final movement, transfigure our experience of the entire piece, a skillful mystery writer can carefully construct a narrative in such a way that we don't recognize its underlying truth until she chooses to reveal it.
It's not the real deal, but it's fun. I love these moments when they occur: always have. They tickle my brain. I got one of those tickles from Gone Girl. Thank you, Gillian Flynn. But, I don't expect them from TV series or book series. They may occur. I don't know. But, it seems a lot to ask. Quality aha moments, the ones that stay with you, grow rarer. I can think of a couple in Sherlock Holmes. I can think of one in Hercule Poirot: I'll never forget Sidney Lumet's 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express. The Shaffer brothers, Anthony and Peter were quite good at them. Anthony wrote Sleuth, The Wicker Man, and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy. Peter wrote Equus and Amadeus. These works hit me hard during my formative years.
I'm not certain where Gone Girl ranks in the overall hierarchy of mystery aha moments. So much depends on the viewer's experience with aha moments and the world itself.
What are some mysteries you've read or watched that contained favorite aha moments for you? I'd love to know. Please Tweet to @BruceCantwell and I'll include them in my next blog post.
@mysteries wrote: Lots of favorites for me, but probably Chinatown tops the list.
@polowhite wrote: read gone girl & saw movie. Nah. Reading The Middle Aged Man and the Sea. Watching #SharkTank
Shark Tank rules.
@ABookSommelier wrote: #TenLittleIndians or otherwise known as #AndThenThereWereNone by #AgathaChristie-read in Jr High & was hooked.What was yours?
Can't say for sure, but I was pretty young when I read Sleuth.
On Facebook, Rohith Sood wrote: So is the follow up viewing important in your mind? Should a film hold up even once the aha moment isn't new again?
Good point. Ideally, the shift in perspective should make you want to watch the film again as soon as possible.
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