Whether or not one ultimately finds David Fincher’s recent film Gone Girl feminist, misogynist, or somewhere in between, it is thrilling to see a narrative so wickedly and deliciously crafted by the mysteriously vanished Amy, the words of her diary giving presence to her absence. The veracity of the flashbacks set off by the diary becomes irrelevant: It is the controlling power of the writer’s voice that matters as it positions Amy as the master storyteller. Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard similarly revolves around the disappearance of a woman, Eve (Eva Green), an American housewife inhabiting a glossy and over-lit image of suburbia. Unlike Fincher’s film, however, Araki’s is about muted, or displaced, feminine agency. Eve is given life and form not through her own agency but through the memories of her teenage daughter, Kat (Shailene Woodley). It is Kat who, through voiceover narration, shapes the narrative, which gravitates around the question of her mother’s vanishing. Kat returns home from school one day to see Brock, her anxious father (Christopher Meloni), sitting in the living room, ruing his wife’s sudden and inexplicable disappearance. Kat claims that her mother’s days were taken up by cooking and cleaning the house; outside of that, she didn’t seem to have much of an existence. As the story weaves in and out of tenses, we see flashbacks of Eve and Brock’s early days of matrimonial happiness, followed by Eve’s later angry outbursts at her doting husband, spurred on by some dissatisfaction…but at what? The limitations of an 1980s suburban American household? Her husband’s failure to live up to some set of expectations? Or is it just the inevitable malaise of not having your life measure up to what you had dreamed it would be?
White Bird sort of fizzles away into the static white emptiness of its own blizzard.
Eve exists not only in memories and flashbacks, but also as a specter in Kat’s dreams. One recurring dream involves a blizzard, during which Kat walks down a snowy road and sees her mother being buried under the falling flurries of snow. This burial is another instance of sublimation of presence. Eve is hardly corporeal: Her body, her material presence, is almost entirely forged by the memory and dreams of another. Whereas in Gone Girl, Amy is present even in her absence via the diary, Eve is absent even in her presence as she is hardly more than a poorly characterized wisp of vague motivations and turmoil. There are a few scenes in which she appears that cannot possibly be derived from Kat’s memory as they take place before her birth. It is never made clear whether these are “objective” — in that we see Eve as she actually was — or Kat’s own imaginings of her mother. If Eve does not exist at all outside of her daughter’s mind, then perhaps this is one way of excusing Araki of having made Eve into an emotionally incoherent and not terribly compelling cipher (for all the robust fury Green brings to the part). In that frame of mind, one could see White Bird as a low-level discourse on the fundamental inscrutability of another being: Kat is equally blind to and unaware of the psychological interiority and goings-on of both her father and neighbor boyfriend, the latter functioning as a destabilizing agent similar to Terence Stamp’s character in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema. In one scene with her friends, Kat claims that the reason she likes dating her neighbor (Shiloh Fernandez) is because what’s beneath the surface is just more surface — an unfortunately perspicacious remark aboutWhite Bird itself. Once the mystery of the missing Eve is resolved, whatever nibbling subterranean anxiety Araki had stewed is quickly and disappointingly dissipated. White Bird in a Blizzard shares the 1980s setting and music of Araki’s great 2005 film Mysterious Skin, as well as its viewpoint of suburbia as a ragged landscape of mislaid trust and loneliness. But whereas the latter crescendos to a conclusion that could hardly be more gut-wrenching and cathartic, White Bird sort of fizzles away into the static white emptiness of its own blizzard.