A few months ago, I watched a preview screening of the David Fincher film Gone Girl. I had not read the book by Gillian Flynn before I saw the film. Therefore, I had little notion of what to expect, beyond a dark thriller about a missing wife. I left the theatre feeling curiously exhilarated – curiously because this is an intensely dark and unsettling movie, exhilarated because it is also a deeply entertaining one.
I did recently get around to reading Gone Girl the novel, and I loved it even more than the movie. Its titular character, the eponymous gone girl, is so much more rounded, fleshed out, and intricately alive than she is in the film – which just goes to show how transcendent literature can be. In the wake of the release of the movie, however, there was quite the backlash directed at both Flynn and Fincher.
A lot of critics roundly criticised the character of Amy Elliott Dunne, a woman who begins the tale as the perfect wife, and ends it as the most calculating female villain since Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammel in Basic Instinct. In a bid to punish her husband for an affair with a much younger woman, Amy fakes her own death and coolly pins the blame on him.
She is cold, cruel and without remorse – a perfect psychopath. She will do anything to get her way, even resorting to ‘self-abuse’ to fake a rape, and escape the clutches of a man who believes that he can control her. She is pure evil, but what she is not is boring, or one dimensional. She is a bad woman, but also a fiercely clever one – a brilliant woman, in her own special way.
So, for critics to attack the character for being misogynistic is a fairly strange reaction. They seemed to latch on to the issue of rape within the film, and it is an issue, but it does not have to be an anti-feminist one. A great many critics decried the film (and the novel) for having its female protagonist repeatedly lie about sexual assaults, as if this is an act that a woman is somehow incapable of.
It trivialises genuine rape victims, they cried. To suggest that a woman could so easily lie about something so serious mocks those who have really been through it. I say that this is nonsense, that Amy Elliott Dunne is a fine female villain – one of the best, a feminist villain fit for the dot.com generation. When did the word ‘feminism’ become synonymous with the words ‘perfect,’ ‘respectable’ or even ‘good?’
The character of Amy Elliott Dunne, in Gone Girl, is superb. She proves herself to be the better of not just every male suitor that comes her way, but a police force and an entire town too. Her actions may be utterly unforgivable, but she simply refuses to let her gender be anything but a boon to her plans. The subject of rape was always going to be a sensitive one, but I can’t help but feel like the critics have missed the point – Amy uses wider stereotypes about female sexuality to her own advantage.
She knows full well that the media, the general public, and even the police, are blinded by issues like rape. They fear them, because they fear female sexuality, and this leads to an all-out refusal to fully engage with them. She is confident that she will get away with faking a rape, because the general perception is that women are just too virtuous to ever lie about such a thing.
And this is precisely what happens, she returns from the ‘dead,’ with stories of imprisonment and sexual assault, and the media hides the embarrassment that it feels for her in an all embracing adoration. She is a hero – the battered wife who lost her baby, the raped woman who fought tooth and nail for her own survival.
As we see at the end of the story, it is impossible for her wronged husband and sister in law to publically doubt her tale of woe, because what sort of monster would question a rape claim? In Amy Elliott Dunne, Gillian Flynn has created the ultimate feminist, a woman who is unrestricted by the presumed bonds of her gender, because she refuses to recognise them as a part of her own psyche. She instead uses typically ‘feminine’ aspirations – marriage, domestication, pregnancy – as nothing but tools with which to control those around her.
It is wrong to call Amy a misogynistic character, because she is anything but inferior. She is also not a stereotype of womanhood, no matter how hard the critics try to convince themselves of it. The reason that this character is as fascinating and as utterly electrifying as she turns out to be is because she is so far removed from reality – that is what makes Gone Girl brilliant fiction. She is just real enough to be frightening, but just over the top enough to be entertaining too.
She is bad, but brilliant. A wildly creative, extremely intelligent woman who frees herself from every single bond of assumed femininity, but only by systematically destroying their significance to her own life and future. I love Amy Elliot Dunne. I love to hate her, but I also cannot help but admire her – and that is why Gone Girl is my new favourite book.