Gone Girl is emphatically not a feminist film
Disclaimer 1: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, oh and spoilers.
Disclaimer 2: I’m writing here about the film rather than the book – which I have not read – and fully accept the issues around them may be different.
David Fincher’s new film Gone Girl has been hailed by some a feminist film. I find that first label very surprising indeed because its female lead, Amy Dunne played by Rosamund Pike, is a woman who was described by someone interviewing Flynn as “in some ways a men’s rights activist’s perfect affirmation — she fakes victimization, she fakes rape.”
Now it is often suggested – including by the women who made the statement above – that to focus on this misses the point of Gone Girl. There are two arguments as to why this and I don’t think either of them is convincing.
Flynn has argued that Amy is “not a particularly flattering portrait of women, [but that’s] fine by me. Isn’t it time to acknowledge the ugly side? I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains.”
Which is fine and I agree as far as it goes. Our culture could do with more Cersei Lannisters or Talia Al Ghuls. However, there are plenty of ways to be villainous. Therefore, it really should be quite possible to create a female villain without relying on tropes that reinforce the suspicion of victims of violence.
The second argument is that Amy is a feminist character because her actions are explicable because of the patriarchal world she inhabits. Flynn has argued that: “I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy – she has no motive, and so she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho-bitchiness.” That people seem to agree with her appears to be down to a single passage of the book which is recreated in the films. In it Amy lashes out about Cool Girls:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men — friends, coworkers, strangers — giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much — no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version — maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.
It’s an impressively punchy piece of writing. But nothing in it nor in the rest of the film makes Amy explicable. Yes, her husband cheats on her with one of his students and is generally a bit of an arse. However, framing him for murder rather than divorcing him seems such an extreme overreaction that – derogatory language aside – “psycho bitch” still seems a pretty apt term.
The impression of her as an inexplicable sadist is added to by how she treats the other men she’s been in a relationship with. We only get the perspective of the man she accused of raping her: that she did it because he resisted being controlled by her. As for the man she kills and blames for her abduction, on paper he’s a stalker who’s using Amy’s need to be ‘dead’ to lever her back into a relationship. However, Neil Patrick Harris’ puppy like performance makes him seem pathetic and that makes Amy’s behaviour hard to empathise with. She ultimately winds up seeming no more relatable than someone like Hannibal Lector. I found it impossible at either a logical or emotional level to connect the ordinary slights, setbacks and humiliations Amy suffers with her extraordinary cruelty.
In fact, I found very little in Gone Girl which could be described as feminist. Sure you can construct a feminist reading if you want to. But doing so requires looking beyond the broad thrust of the movie. It only works if you home in on the static and not the transmission.