Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gone Girl Gender Issues - GGG in the worst way

So the voting’s done, and the Academy Awards were handed out with great ceremony and very little decent humor (I couldn’t believe NPH was unfunny so often). No laurels were laid at the feet of Gillian Flynn, who was robbed of a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for some exceptional self-editing, much less given to David Fincher, who’s quickly become one of the best American directors of the last 40 years or so. My race to cover the big 2014 films before the Oscar winners were announced is over, and I’m happy to have had a little break – or, at least, as much break as I’m going to get, given present circumstances. It’s nice to know that I (and DJ) took great pains to talk about the year in film, and that I don’t have to push myself to do more when I have only so many hours in the day.

But the awards scarcely matter when it comes to Gone Girl. It made a big splash in the box office, received great critical acclaim, and it fostered many metric tons of conversation. Just look at my dear friend Sati, who wrote seven posts which were dedicated to GG (as well as other posts, some of which were or weren’t focused on it exclusively). Although I like the review I wrote for Fincher’s movie, there are still some other issues I wish to address regarding that picture, and the time to discuss the roles played by its leads is now.

Hang the f—k on, please. I’m about to get all word-y.

The only thing I won't argue is that their one problem is Amy's insanity.

Amy Dunne (played by Rosemund “Hot Yoga” Pike) is a fantastic fictional character. She’s a very damaged and untrustworthy human being, but she’s also far more complex, intelligent, and fascinating than many filmic women of late, and certainly more so than Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne. As an easy “great film” reference, let’s just say: she plays a woman with a Salieri-type personality, but with the gifts that Mozart has, whereas Ben plays a guy with a Mozart-style personality, but with Salieri’s level of talent.

My attitude does not depend on the quality of the actors, mind you – it’s in the writing and the specific roles assigned to each person in this twisty story. Amy is active, gifted, and f’ed up, while Nick is reactive, embarrassingly unskilled, and an objectively terrible person in the absence of lifelong trauma. For me, then, one of the big issues is when I read other people describing Amy as “fierce” (one of the lousiest and lamest popular words since “epic”) and “unbelievable” (as in “strong”).

I have to concede the point that both of those words do apply to Amazing Amy, literally. As a cold-blooded murderer, she is “fierce”, and I cannot believe her personality or behavior, so the actual meanings of those words hold up. The problem is when folks make this sound like Amy is a strong and empowered woman – that’s when it all falls apart.

The story of Gone Girl creates a lot of doubts about its leading figures – that’s perhaps the truest strength of the tale itself – and yet Amy Dunne is genuinely smart, proactive, and goal-oriented. But the problem with praise for her part is that Amy’s plan is to get revenge on her cheating scumbag husband by committing suicide after she frames him for her murder (which would kill him, too, in essence). So anyone who wants to nominate Amy for a “great female character” award forgot to keep those basic facts in mind.

To paraphrase Buffy the Vampire Slayer: murder is one of the stupidest things that a person can possibly do – and suicide is side-by-side with it on that list. People in all sorts of bad situations might consider, or even do, both, and those people do not always deserve our contempt or hatred. But one thing that you can never call someone who engages in a murder/suicide is “empowered” or “strong.” Killing people is what psychotic or terribly weak people do, and suicide – especially on account of being emotionally-wounded– is not what a person who is “empowered” does.

Throughout Gone Girl, I was struck over and over again by a deep pity for Amy Dunne. Sure, she’s a lying piece of narcissistic garbage for doing what she does, yet I couldn’t show disrespect for her manipulation of specific people, as well as society in general. In fact, it’s that same manipulation that helped me view her story as a tragedy: she’s got smarts in spades, but she’s so damaged by the people closest to her that the best plan she can come up with is for both her and her wayward husband to die early, undeserved deaths.

I mean, if Albert Einstein predicted the likelihood of the nuclear bomb in his lifetime – and then that knowledge made him run his car while shutting the garage door with himself, his wife, and his child inside… As much as Einstein’s genius would be undeniable, his response would qualify him as a grade-A screwed-up fool at best, and a total idiot-savant f-up at worst. And none of that would help him qualify as an empowered, strong figure.

Amazing Amy is, to my mind, a person who’s operating far below her potential; she’s been dragged down by mistreatment and neglect. The very worst thing that abuse can do is to make abused people behave like those who abused them. Amy not only does this, she takes the whole game to the next level – where life pulled a gun out and shot her for no reason, she created an attack helicopter from thin air and then leveled a village to the ground. As much I love complicated or difficult characters, I just can’t celebrate that...

That general feeling is what struck me most deeply – that this intelligent woman is a victim. Gone Girl is really firing on all cylinders when it uses Mrs. Dunne’s journal, and the subsequent revelations about its contents, to create so much uncertainty about the two people at the story’s core. But the parts that we know to be true are what make Amy’s life pitiable.

Oh, lordy, that poor cat.

Amy’s parents monetized their daughter, plain and simple. They used her as the inspiration for a series of stories in which a character with her name receives more generosity from her fictitious parents than the actual living offspring did. Right there we have a situation which could severely damage a child – your literary namesake gets a dog, but you can’t have one – and we see that Mom and Dad also use their grown-up kid as a tool for public relations, further forcing her to live a lie.

Oh, and when they needed more money for their business needs, these “parents” asked their daughter to give them most of the cash from the monetary trust funded by their highly-successful book series. It’s a situation where her blood relations took everything they could from her, and gave back little – or nothing, or less than nothing – in return... By any definition, that’s a victim.

Amy, in turn, meets a “good guy” and marries him. Yet he has no problem living off of her when the economic downturn destroys his career – at the same time that it ruins hers. Nor does he mind using what’s left of her trust fund to buy a bar that he operates... And then he steps out on her with a much younger woman.

In the world of this movie, the facts make me fine with almost any cruelty Amy can visit upon him. I just can’t call Mrs. Dunne’s plan “strong” or “empowered.” After all, she’s going to end two lives because she’s hurt and angry.

And that all gets even more sad when you consider the state that Rosemund Pike’s role is in – she has no friends, outside those she’s made as part of her deception. Nor do we ever hear of her having any career plans or aspirations in the wake of being downsized. In fact, she seems to have nothing, and so the nihilist drive towards murder/suicide isn’t some “fierce,” active choice – it’s the desperate decision of someone who doesn’t seem to have anything else going on for her. The difference between her and the kind of awful loser who might shoot up a school is rather slim; the nuance comes down to the ingenuity in her planning, and the fact that she restricted the damage to herself and her philandering mate.

Meanwhile, Nick Dunne comes across almost as badly as Amy does – spared from being counted among the dregs of humanity only by the fact that he does not condone murder. Amy’s lies are awful, but she’s dealing with people who don’t care about her or have screwed her over; she’s giving and taken advantage of, and she lashes out with pure insanity. Nick, meanwhile, lies to his own twin sister when she asks if he’s getting some action on the side.

Lying to people who will be on your side no matter what – a familial obligation which is only broken by foul stuff like rape, murder, terrorism, slave trade or child abuse – is bad enough. Fibbing for the purpose of getting out of trouble is a mark of low character, integrity, and decency. But the most unhealthy liars are, often enough, those who tell lies they don’t need to tell. And Nick “the dick” Dunne is one such man, spinning flimsy bullshit to people that he neither needs to lie to nor has the ability to maintain his lies in front of. Jesus f--king Christ, I’m almost not sure whether Nick’s “I’m a self-serving liar” bullshit is better or worse than his wife’s “I’ll kill people without cause, but I’ll mostly be honest” bullshit.

And yet I still have to take issue with Amy’s “cool girl” speech. Bluntly put, characters in movies do not always spout universal truths. Amy's rant is not some insightful cutting commentary on the expectations or thoughts of modern men - it is a person expressing their opinions. And, no matter what one thinks of either spouse here, Amy is a severely messed-up person; she's hurting, she’s a danger to herself and others, and her diatribe on male-female relations loses a lot of validity given her mental problems.

To someone like Amy, who has always been forced to adopt roles all her life, it makes sense that she sees human interaction as a series of inconsiderate demands and degrading acquiescence. It is quite likely that Amy’s perspective is skewed by her tendency to do whatever it takes to get whatever she wants. And keep in mind that her diatribe could still just be another false diary entry, another attempt to elicit sympathy which she doesn’t truly deserve.

Moreover, "cool" is a notoriously tough-to-define adjective. Quentin Tarantino has spent a significant amount of his directing career commenting on and describing the word. And, seriously, any old assh--le guy might think that a woman is "cool" for giving him sex all the time, do whatever he wants,and being undemanding - just like some truly sh--ty females think that men are less people than they are accessories, sugar-daddies, or servants. Doing what others want isn't "cool," and that's another reason why Mrs. Dunne's opinion on it is specious; it's like Stalin talking about humanitarian efforts.

By the end of Gone Girl, Amy has exacted a revenge. To my cinematic mind, it’s a lot like (spoiler alert for 25 year-old film) the plot of the 1990 film, Presumed Innocent. Nick has to live with consequences of what he’s done, while she gets the attention and validation that she’s always needed. They deserve each other, in a way, and I totally understand why some friends advised me to view this movie as a comedy.

Amy Dunne is a fine role for an actress, and she’s a welcome literary figure because she’s complex and clever and has a tragic life. As a female character in a mystery/noir story, she’s a welcome and rather rich presence. But I can't ignore that Amy’s a failure as a human being, and that her story is more one of desperate lashing out rather than an empowering narrative about an admirable, maligned figure.


  1. I read GG before seeing the movie(which didn't ruin it for me at all) and the book does go a little bit more into detail just how screwed Amy's parents are and how the "Amazing Amy" label affected their daughter.

    In a way, Amy is a true product of her environment as her sociopathic nature was amped up by both her parents, who strike me as having a bit of that in their DNA as well. Also, she is very much the literary version of a child star and we all know the sad behind-the-scenes story about many of those kids during their adult years.

    I haven't heard the "Amy=empowerment" theory but I'm sure it's out there. Villains do have their admirers and as much as I enjoy an entertaining evil doer in pop culture, I in no way would want to emulate them in real life.

    Actually from I've seen, many of the readers were sympathetic towards Nick and upset about Amy not getting punished at the end there. To me, that ending is very poignantly dark and kudos to the film makers for not making up a lame "happy" ending there in order to please people.

    To sum up, here's a Batman quote that I think fits this movie perfectly-"Man or woman, a sick mind is capable of anything."

    1. Ha, nice quote - it's very true that neither gender has a lock on madness or ill intent. But for my part, I'm amazed that readers were sympathetic towards Nick. He's a slimy s--t, although no one deserves to be framed for a crime, but it's hard to believe that he could get that response from people. Wanting to see Amy punished makes more sense, however.

      I don't know that the empowerment thing is a theory so much as people being kind of pumped up by how devious and proactive she is. While I can respect that, it's always clear to me that her actions are those of an unwell, unhealthy person - and the vengeance she could've gained from a divorce would have been glorious and also would've lacked a body count...

      I'm glad that you liked both book and film so well. Fincher really is a wonder, and I like that Flynn was willing to alter her work for cinematic purposes.

      God, those parents! They are shameful in so many ways, and the movie does a nice job of conveying it. I didn't like them even before I realized that the dad was Christian Shepherd on Lost. Ugh

  2. I don't agree with you on two pints, as amazingly fine as this article is - the person's choice to take a life is not pathetic or sad, it is primal. Amy's decision to take hers to screw up a person whop betrayed her is, to me, admirable. If she carried it out, she would get the satisfaction of having an ultimate revenge.

    The other point I disagree with is that Amy's problems somehow take away from her speech which is so true. As a woman I nodded and clapped at Amy's rant.

    I find her to be a very empowering figure. Refusing to be her parent's perfect girl and an obedient wife to her asshole the world where all the women are bitches...this is inspiring stuff

    1. I agree that it is primal - but he didn't like enslave, torture, or molest her, nor did he e.g., slaughter her whole family. I definitely can't *admire* someone whose form of revenge is so out of proportion to the harm that they've suffered. If a bully gives you a black eye and steals your lunch, you don't bring a weapon to school the next day or otherwise maim that bully. That's insane, among other un-positive adjectives.

      I'm sorry if you've met guys like Amy describes, but I disagree strongly. Assuming that Amy didn't just make up that entry for her plan (and I believe she didn't), *she's a freaking sociopath*. Of necessity, her words on human nature only apply insofar as they refer to her own feelings and perspectives, not those of others.

      Please recall, Amy didn't meet Nick at the end and say "I've got you trapped, you cheating scum, and now you're stuck with me *and our child* forever. Bwahaha." She wanted to proceed as if nothing had happened! She seems confused by him being scared to sleep near her! People who handle feelings like this do not have incredible insights into "how the world works," emotionally.

      And the content of that speech... There are plenty of men who don't want to live a life of sexual and emotional selfishness, nor that consider women who condone and enable that behavior to be the bestest. Some of us even lean to the exact opposite of both those things!

      Or if you replace males in her speech with an ethnicity, nationality, or race, maybe you'll start to see part of why her rant is so full of it. Or, just imagine a guy making the opposite speech. The immediate assessment of him, in my and many others' minds, would likely be, "thanks for wearing your insecurities on your sleeve and then blaming others for it. No wonder you can't find anyone decent - you stereotype women and expect relationships to exist on terrible terms."

      And Amy *did* play the part of the perfect little daughter. Her desperate suicide/murder plot was the only thing we saw her do that they'd disapprove of, and she bent over backwards for her folks throughout the rest of the movie. She gave and gave, and they took and took, like a bunch of slimy leeches.

      I can't see how killing yourself because your spouse is cheating scum is an empowered type of plan; it's insane and/or dumb. Leaving Nick with no bar, no money, no home, fired by the university for banging a student and probably dumped by his girlfriend... That sounds like an admirable revenge to me, and it's not even horribly disproportionate...

      Please for the love of god, *do not* be inspired by this movie, unless you mean "inspired to become a novelist."


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