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How Neil Patrick Harris Shed His ‘America’s Gay Sweetheart’ Sash For Eerie, Bloody Turn In ‘Gone Girl’

How Neil Patrick Harris Shed His 'America's Gay Sweetheart' Sash For Eerie, Bloody Turn In 'Gone Girl'

Nick and Amy Dunne’s
shifting celebrity statuses are captured through the lens of reporters and news
cameras eager for the tiniest morsel of information. Two very different talk
show hosts–a man-hating pseudo feminist and an Oprah-esque, human interest
do-gooder–dig into the story with the vigor of food-poor dogs, and Nick’s
attorney guides the audience through the pre-trial process with good humor and
a laissez-faire attitude.
And though the film is at its best when skewering the amusingly horrific news
cycle we all love, Fincher (perhaps unintentionally) takes the poking and
prodding of American pop cultural expectations even further through a rather
unexpected casting decision.

Neil Patrick Harris,
the wholesome, sexy, and uber-talented television, Broadway, and movie star,
takes on his meatiest cinematic role yet in Gone Girl. In a certain sense, though, the
surprise of his short supporting role as Desi Collings is a matter of image,
not acting prowess. 

N.P.H. is convincing
as the heterosexual former-boyfriend of Amy (Rosamund Pike) who gets called up
to “save” her from Nick’s fictionalized “abuse.” All this after Amy has faked
her own kidnapping/murder in order to get back at her cheating slouch of a
husband. Still, Desi is over-the-moon to have Amy back in his life and away from
any masculine competitor; so overjoyed, in fact, that he begins to take on a
creepy sheen, essentially locking Amy away at his chic lake house. In a press
conference following the film’s world premiere at the New York Film Festival,
Harris referred to the pathos of his character, calling Desi “sweetly creepy.”
His intentions? Noble. His execution? Less-than-desirable.

Fincher does not
develop Desi’s character in the meaningful way that Harris suggests. In fact,
it is a soft spot in the film’s rather perfectly adapted armor that we do not
understand the full depth of his desire and care for Amy. One could argue,
however, that through Desi’s unknowable quality, and his ultimate fate, Fincher
is daring audiences to take a hard look at the flat, two-dimensional pictures
media outlets paint of celebrities, notorious and otherwise. What he, and
Flynn, and Harris may be suggesting is that stories, characters, and people
take unexpected twists, and
that those you come to love may be or become entirely different entities. In
keeping with that theme, let’s discuss one of Gone Girl’s most jarring and image-altering
twists. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen the film you have already read too far.
Turn back now!) 

It is hard to know
precisely when Amy decides to kill Desi. It may come as a result of his
obsessive personality–or more likely through Amy’s obsessive need to exert
control in all aspects of her life–but he regrettably receives the death
sentence several weeks into her captivity. Although we’ve seen Harris gamely
play lothario on TV’s How I Met Your Mother, this film’s hard-R rating allows for
more skin, more O-faces, and more blood. So, after falsifying physical evidence
of rape on her own body, Amy seduces the more-than-willing Desi into finally
having sex with her. She quickly has him in bed, pants around his ankles, and
in ecstasy. Waiting for just the right moment–she needs Desi’s semen in order
to complete the fake-rape scenario and yes, it’s that fucked up–Amy snatches a
box cutter from under the pillow and slashes Desi’s throat. She quickly
clammers on top of him and chokes him as blood spurts and covers both of their
writhing bodies. He stills and, in a shot from above, she dismounts him,
leaving the former “America’s Gay Sweetheart” behind, full-frontal naked and
soaked in his own blood. 

Much to-do has been
made about Ben Affleck’s brief flash of penis in the film. While tantalizing
and kind of amazing, Harris’s naked corpse really takes the cake in an
absolutely delicious moment of defied expectation and meta-mind-fucking.
Because Amy is such a complex, strange, and horrifying character, the audience
does not really care that Desi is dead; he has served mainly as a narrative
device in her thickening plot. The audience most definitely cares about Neil
Patrick Harris, however, (or at least his talent, his marriage, and his truly
beautiful babies) and the fact that he is lying naked and blood-drained before
them (albeit in fictional form) is akin to the tabloid fodder we devour on a
regular basis.

Though Gone
Girl is about as fictional
and unrealistic as dramas set in the real world come, the actors, like the
characters they play, are people we think we can pin down. Ask me before I saw
the film and I’d tell you that Neil Patrick Harris made an amazing Hedwig on
Broadway and that he is about as warm, charismatic, and domestic a voice as we
have in the fight for gay rights in America. Ask me now, and the first thing
I’d ask you in
return is, “Have you seen Gone Girl?” Sure, Fincher could have simply known Harris was right
for the role. If that’s the case, though, he got more than he bargained for. 

In playing Desi
Collings, N.P.H. has not necessarily become a more respectable actor than he
already was (and I think highly of him). He has eschewed our expectations,
though, and made us rethink and diversify the mostly cuddly collective image
we’ve had of him. Soon enough the bloody, naked Harris may become an easily
accessed piece of our two-dimensional cultural lexicon, and more likely than
not he will retain his sheen as a cute, married father of two who delights
audiences around the nation. For now, though, I’d like to bask in the glory of Gone
Girl’s ingenious casting,
and have a good, long laugh at the reductive media enterprise it so lovingly
attacks.

 

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