Archive for October, 2014

Gone Girl

October 29, 2014


Gone Girl is a film directed by David Fincher, with a screenplay by Gillian Flynn, based upon her own novel. The film is a thriller with elements of social criticism in it.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home one day to find that his house has apparently been broken into and that his wife, Amy (Amanda Pike) is missing. During the subsequent police investigation, Nick makes conflicting statements, and it is gradually revealed that he was emotionally estranged form Amy. Because Amy is the daughter of a writer of a popular series of children’s books, the case draws national attention. Suspicion begins to grow among both the police and the public that Nick murdered Amy. Nick’s sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), is suspected of being his accomplice.

What I found most interesting about this film is its devastating portrayal of the news media. Many of the events in this film are driven by a cable news reporter named Ellen Abbot (Missi Pyle), a character who is clearly modeled after Nancy Grace. Her sensationalist and biased reporting on the case help to create a lynch mob atmosphere in the small town in which Nick and Margo live. Gone Girl depicts the destructive effects of news reporters who try to identify “good guys” and “bad guys” in every situation, even though reality is rarely ever that simple. (I would argue that a similar criticism could be made of the Left, but I won’t go into that here.)


The early scenes create a strong feeling of suspense, as well as of foreboding. However, when, about halfway through the film, we learn what actually happened to Amy, it becomes basically a melodrama, and a somewhat cynical one at that. The film implies that the reason for Amy’s destructive behavior is that she is an emotionally needy sociopath. There is, however, a vague class consciousness here as well. Amy has a trust fund from her parents, and it appears that a sense of entitlement is part of her emotional make-up.

There is some psychological nuance, however. When Amy sees Nick apologize to her on TV for his behavior towards her, she decides to go back to him. Later, Nick tells Amy that he didn’t really mean it when he made that apology. She tells him she doesn’t care, that she would be happy to have him pretend to be the person he was at that moment. It’s clear at this point that Amy sees little distinction between fiction and reality. This may have something to do with the fact that Amy’s mother used her as the fictionalized subject of her children’s books.

And there is a deeper social criticism here as well. This film implies that many of us are like Amy: we are attracted to fake sentiment. After Amy returns, the media accept her implausible story of being kidnapped. People want to believe her story is true. Someone suggests that Nick and Amy should be in a “reality” TV show. Later, when Nick threatens to leave their loveless marriage, Amy tells him that the public will hate him for it. At this point, the public has become an almost tangible presence in their household. They are aware that they are constantly being watched by the media. Their fake marriage appeals to a society that watches obviously staged “reality” TV shows. At one point, Margo suggests to Nick that he too has come to like the spectacle of their fake marriage.

This movie goes on a bit long. Some things could have been cut out of it. Still, for all its flaws, Gone Girl is the most interesting and thought-provoking American film that I have seen in a long time.

Objectively Worse?

October 26, 2014


There is an argument that I have seen some of my Facebook friends make recently. The argument is that Islam is “objectively worse” than other religions. (A claim popularized by Richard Dawkins.) When one looks at the behavior of ISIL, or the Saudi government for that matter, this can seem to make sense. However, this argument is a slippery slope in a couple of ways. First, it can be viewed as a backhanded endorsement of other religions. Second, it can be used as an excuse to justify attacking Muslims. This is an important point. There are ongoing persecutions of Muslim minorities in countries such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Whatever one may think of Islam, there should be no excuse for punishing people for their religious beliefs.

Moreover, this argument is not constructive. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Does anyone really believe that these people are going to change their religious affiliation just because some of us think their religion is crappier than others? I don’t think so. We need to find ways to unite people, rather than emphasize artificial distinctions.

What is the US Doing in Syria?

October 10, 2014


There has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories since ISIS captured Mosul last June. This should not be surprising, considering the way that ISIS just seemed to appear out of nowhere, though what actually happened is that the Western media simply didn’t pay any attention to them up until that point.

One of the most popular conspiracy theories holds that the US deliberately created ISIS to give itself an excuse to send troops back into Iraq. CJ Werleman has put forward a somewhat more plausible theory, which holds that the US and Saudi Arabia have conspired to create a sectarian army that would attack Iran’s allies in Iraq and Syria, and perhaps eventually Iran itself. But if this is the US’s plan, wouldn’t the US now be attacking Assad, who is Iran’s ally?

I’ve have grown wary of conspiracy theories as I’ve gotten older, but I still have to wonder if we’re being told the truth about what is going on. A recent article in The Guardian reports that:

    No coalition strikes have been made to help or relieve rebel forces where they were facing either Isis or government troops. Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies said Assad has been able “to give his troops a break while surveying the landscape and looking for opportunities.”

We also learn that:

    Coalition hits on grain silos and a gas plant in Manbij and Deir al-Zor drew warnings of a humanitarian disaster – and the risk of playing into Isis’s hands, as shortages during the winter will be blamed on the international community. The Hazm movement – backed by the US and supplied with advanced anti-tank weapons – publicly denounced the intervention but was quickly silenced by Washington, rebel sources say. Attacks on Jabhat al Nusra (another al-Qaida-linked jihadi group and a rival to Isis) have backfired, and are said to have brought it new recruits.

    Civilian deaths caused by coalition attacks clearly risk a backlash. “We had 10 martyrs when they targeted Al-Riqa,” said Zeid Al-Jabli, a student from Zawiya in the Idlib area. “There had been a base for Jabhat al-Nusra but they pulled out a long time ago and the civilians were killed instead. Shelling by the regime has intensified because of the coalition. We have martyrs and wounded every day.”

The Guardian also reports that Kurdish fighters are saying the air strikes are doing no good:

    He [a Kurdish spokesman] said Isis had adapted its tactics to military strikes from the air. “Each time a jet approaches, they leave their open positions, they scatter and hide. What we really need is ground support. We need heavy weapons and ammunition in order to fend them off and defeat them.”

The US is following a strategy that is not only not working, but which is actually counterproductive. One can spin all sorts of conspiracy theories about this, but I suspect the problem is really just that our policymakers have no idea what they are doing.