‘The primal question of any marriage, what are you thinking? /How are we feeling?/What have we done to each other?”
The movie Gone Girl directed by David Fincher is an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel (2012) Gone Girl. The central characters of the movie Amy Elliot Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (played by Ben Affleck) once seemingly in love are now stuck in an unhappy marriage. The question which dangled throughout Gone Girl is if they were necessarily in love with real versions of each other or just the idea which suited themselves. The film narrates a thrilling story of a complex, shifting power dynamic in an unbalanced marriage where neither party is really innocent.
The initial impression Gone Girl presents is somewhat a story of a girl gone missing. Nick and Amy knew each other for seven long years and were about to celebrate their fifth marriage anniversary. Nick returning home after his usual morning routine finds Amy missing. The possible crime scene has everything that makes it look straight out of a crime fiction.
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Every man wants a cool girl
Amy in Gone Girl does not fit how one imagines a ‘wife’ to be. Amy is more complex than our usual understanding of female characters portrayed on screen. The idea of ‘cool girl’ portrayed by mainstream media presents us certain ideal characteristics which would make one desirable in a heterosexual relationship. It clearly denounces young girls from expressing their own minds and rather, to strive towards an identity which would please their partner. The voiceover in the movie where Amy touches upon the pretense and facade young girls are taught to hold on to, is only a societal attempt to make women docile and uncomplaining. The pressure of failing to be ‘the one’ gives rise to a crisis of identity. In Gone Girl, Amy sees how there is pretense on both the sides.
The men, in an attempt to emerge as ‘charming’, hold up an image of themselves which is just the best version of an idea. The latent misogyny behind the facade of wokeness comes down once the expectation of eternal gratefulness from the women backfires. The dichotomy between the ‘cool girl’ and the ‘charming guy’ only suits the societal expectation of their roles in a heterosexual courtship instead of striving to find who they really are. What is therefore the reality in this story? Amy’s depiction of their marriage in the diary or Nick’s denial of the same?
Marriage is hard work
The primary plot in Gone Girl which drives the story is a ‘bad’ marriage where both Amy and Nick have been feeling trapped. The larger narrative which Gylian Flynn has tried to reflect upon is the mandated do’s and don’ts of a heterosexual courtship. While Amy has been portrayed as an obsessive and controlling character, Nick is no saint. Nick was caught cheating on Amy with a college student. They both are lying and manipulative and trying to control the steering of their ‘marriage story’ in Gone Girl. Amy felt betrayed and Nick felt suffocated. Their destabilised marriage which once had the potential to be the ideal instead got transformed into nothing less than their worst nightmare. Amy writes in her ‘diary’: ‘Everyone said marriage is hard work’ clearly trying to address the essential virtues of compromise, sacrifice and extreme co-dependency which are expected in a ‘good’ upper/middle-class marriage. But there is no one measuring which party is doing it better.
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Is it a Feminist movie?
Ever since the release of the novel as well as the movie, the highly contested question has been the story representing ‘women’ in a corrupt light and fitting all the malicious gendered stereotypes that we are accustomed to hearing. Gone Girl’s narrative revolves around the ‘woman’ who is a cold sociopath where she proudly claims to Nick, “I have killed for you. Who else can say that?” is definitely not the perfect feminist imagination. The style adopted in the movie by Fincher successfully blurs the line between protagonist and antagonist. It is both to the credit of Flynn and Fincher to keep the consciousness of the viewers on a thin line till the end.
Despite promising each other to never become ‘that couple’, they eventually turns alien to their own desire and expectations in Gone Girl. But is every woman in a marriage like ‘Amazing Amy’, dangling their sense of control, insecurity over the head of the husband who feels threatened and scared? We all know how much truth is there in this stereotype.
Amy was also never respectful towards other consequential female characters in the narrative. She considered her neighbour, Noelle, mother of triplets whom she befriended, an ‘idiot’. There is also a sense of distinction established between the two characters as to how they are performing in their marriage in terms of procreation. Amy refuses to be that woman one expects her to be. But in the end, was Amy mocking this essential aspect of marriage, procreation when she uses the same trope against Nick to take control of the marriage? She also angrily addresses Andie (Nick’s young girlfriend) as ‘little slut/the girl with the giant cum-on-me tits’ as if she felt Andie deserved the humiliation for being with her husband. The vengeance Amy sought to take on Nick by going to the worst extent should not become a standing argument and example for Men’s Rights Activists. Though both the book and movie Gone Girl strongly tries to not villainise Amy, it still fails to humanise her, which the story does to a little extent for Nick. How can we even begin the conversation of this movie being a feminist where the story denies to explore any form of relations between the women in the movie other than that of hate?
The central question that stays for a reviewer would be: What is the ‘right’ way of portraying female villains without falling into the loop of stereotyping? Instead, the complex twists in Gone Girl make it a perfect psychological thriller if not a perfect feminist story.
No way as I write this, am I trying to justify Amy’s murderous intent and actions. But does that mean whatever Amy said is to be completely dismissed as untrue because she is nothing less than a sociopath? Her rationale for framing her husband for her own murder in order to punish him for how he has metaphorically murdered her ‘identity’ is absolutely unacceptable. But are her words just some rantings of a vengeful ‘bitch’? It is important to remember Nick Dunne’s victimhood is just an exception for Gone Girl‘s well-written thriller narrative but not an example.
Docterman Eliana (2014), ‘Is Gone Girl feminist or misogynist’
Review published by The Feminist Spectator
Featured image source: Looper