There’s a politics to relationships. Politics is the give and take that operates in every sphere of life, the deals you have to do, the things you have to trade to get what you want, the process of you deciding what is really important and what you can let go. Life is politics if you think there are overarching end goals, whether you think they are given out by God, the state, your family or you get to set them yourself. You have to let some things go to try and get what you really want. As everyone is doing that it’s all just one big horse trade.
Gone Girl is all about the politics of a marriage. Let me be honest, it’s absolutely gripping. Last week I didn’t have lunch with the people in my office for two days because I sat at my desk reading Gone Girl. I could not put it down. ,
In saying that I came away feeling..well..soiled. Not because I was so engrossed I didn’t make it to the loo, but because Gillian Flynn takes the politics of marriage; how we trade and deal and manipulate to get the things that we want to absolute extremes. Amy is tired of being “cool girl” as a way of getting what she wants from her husband and finds a different way. Nick is tired of being “trapped” with someone he doesn’t love and looks elsewhere. And in an attempt to get himself out of a difficult situation, starts to play a different role, the role of doting husband in which he becomes trapped forever. It’s dark. It’s, in the end, pretty hopeless. Someone “wins”, but it’s a pretty empty victory, and there is huge collateral damage along the way. Someone gets what they want, but what have they become along the way? A monster.
You know there is a whole movement today to redefine marriage. It’s not the gay marriage issue really, that just a symptom of a bigger shift, that even most Christians I know have bought into: marriage is about making you happy. At its best it is about making the other person happy, but nevertheless, it’s an institution best used to express and increase the happiness of the participants. It should be available to anyone who feels that it will be useful for them in that quest.
And that’s the impossible dynamic that Gone Girl explores. Because to really get what you want, you will have to seriously limit and even hurt the other person. Both people aiming to get what makes them happy ends in destruction. Amy tries two tacks: pretending to be someone that Nick will love, and forcing him into expressing a love he does not feel. She gets what she wants, he is crushed and defeated. At the heart of a secular view of marriage that says you both aim for happiness is, I am afraid, someone doing a deal, settling for less than happiness in order to assuage the needs of other.
Of course, in certain view of the world, that is an intensely beautiful thing. There is something amazing, isn’t there where one person voluntarily gives up their happiness for the sake of love and service and care for the other. Despite all the talk about marriage being for happiness we know that the real marriages, the true lovers, chuck in their preferences in order to do what is really best for the other person. It’s those relationships that have real and lasting value. Like those photos everyone’s posting on Facebook at the moment of the guy documenting his wife’s battle with cancer, his willingness to feel the pain for her is what marriage is really all about.
And that’s because it’s not given to us as a route to personal happiness. It’s there, like so many things in creation as a faint but amazing echo of the most amazing union there is, where one partner loves the other unto pain and separation and death. No trades, just giving. And true human love is found as two are united in their love for a third, the one who loves them stronger than death. Without that, you risk ending up with just politics.