Because they do extraordinarily strange things, the characters in this thriller, I can’t help but assume, must have very complex psychologies. But the movie remains focused on the strange things they do, rather than the complex reasons they do them. So instead of coming away with a sense of having plumbed the depths of an interesting psyche, I come away thinking something along the lines of, well, that was weird. I can’t really even get too heated up about the movie’s misogyny, since its objects seem more cartoons than actual women, its perpetrators more cardboard than actual men.
In fairness, the idea that extreme behavior and situations—rough sex, murder, obsession, Missouri—are regularly figured in our culture as sensations to be rubbernecked at while we flick through the channels (the movie’s absolute best moment is a winking tracking shot near the very end which focuses briefly on the satellite dish atop the antagonists’ soulless suburban home), rather than human phenomena worthy of thoughtful analysis, is part of the movie’s raison d’être. Or at least I’m guessing that’s what David Fincher is telling himself.
But while the critique of Nancy Grace’s style of serial sensationalist indignation is present, it’s not the main event here. The main event is the psychotic, beautiful, brilliant bitch everyone still loves to hate, these thirty-odd years since Glenn Close killed and boiled that rabbit, these three-thousand-odd since Helen launched those ships.
Movies to watch instead of this one:
Fury, Fritz Lang (1936). Spencer Tracy > Ben Affleck.
To Die For, Gus Van Sant (1995). Still my favorite movie about TV, I think.
Caché, Michael Haneke (2005). About the same amount of blood, but a good deal more significance.