Recent university research in the United States has studied the use of Hollywood movies in marriage counselling.

Ben Affleck stars in a scene from the movie Gone Girl.
The University of Rochester study found that couples who watched and talked about issues raised in movies like Steel Magnolias (1989) and Love Story (1970) were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group.
Surprisingly, the Love Story intervention was as effective at keeping couples together as two intensive therapist-led methods.
The findings, while preliminary, suggest a self-help option for couples who are reluctant to join formal therapy sessions, or could be used by couples who live in areas with less access to therapists.
“A movie is a non-threatening way to get the conversation started,” said associate professor of psychology Donald D. Rogge. “It’s really exciting because it makes it so much easier to reach out to couples and help them strengthen their relationships on a wide scale.”
In determining the list of relationship movies that might be useful to couples, the researchers eliminated popular romantic comedies or “falling in love” movies like Sleepless in Seattle (1993) or When Harry Met Sally (1989).
Instead, they put together a list of movies that show couples at various highs and lows in their relationships.
“Hollywood can place very unrealistic expectations on romantic relationships,” Dr Rogge says. “The idea that you are supposed to fall in love instantly and effortlessly is not reality and not relevant to most couples who are two, three or four years into a relationship.”
As the examples cited so far suggest, the list of recommended movies offers little to the modern cinemagoer, so I checked more recent examples on Dr Rogge’s website, www.couples-research. com
They included some of my recent favourites: Before Midnight (2013), The Five-Year Engagement (2012), Her (2013), Hope Springs (2012), It’s Complicated (2009) and This is 40 (2012).
These are mostly comedies, so it’s not clear whether Gone Girl (20th Century Fox) will fit Dr Rogge’s paradigm. This is based on Gillian Flynn’s novel that has been widely read (8.5 million copies sold) by those seeking more of thriller than counselling advice.
No wonder. It opens with the disappearance on the fifth wedding anniversary of former children’s book sweetheart Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and husband Nick (Ben Affleck), whose has given up his career as a writer in New York for a bar-owning business in Missouri. He soon becomes the prime suspect.
The media have a big role in subsequent events as the search for the missing minor celebrity fills the 24-hour news channels and the public takes sides on what has taken place in what appears to be the perfect marriage.
The novel is structured around a separate his and hers narrative, which in the film (adapted by Flynn) has been honed into a series of flashbacks within the main plot of Nick’s guilt.
The twists and turns cannot be revealed here, as this is a suspense film of the highest calibre.
Director David Fincher (The Social Network, the US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is well able to handle a complex story on several levels, leaving plenty for couples to talk about afterwards.
Rating: Restricted to audiences over 16; 149 minutes.