Gone Girl: dishonesty, devious media, failing economy, the perfect marriage and the ‘Cool Girl’
Recently I saw David Fincher’s highly anticipated film adaption of ‘Gone Girl’. The majority of the articles I have recently read are constantly questioning whether the author of the best selling 2012 novel, Gillian Flynn is a misogynist or a strong believer in feminism and female empowerment through her portrayal of the psychopathic character Amy Dunne. But what about all the other themes that help create this twisted mystery film adaptation.
Dishonesty, the devious media, the unhappiness resulted from a troubled economy and the perfect marriage
Throughout the whole film Nick and Amy are constantly lying to each other and the viewer about their marriage, affairs and disappearances. Amy even fakes her own murder, creates a fake diary and plans her own suicide to implicate her own cheating husband for her murder. Flynn stated in writing her book she wanted to examine how people within a marriage lie to each other “marriage is a sort of a long con, because you put on a display of your very best self during courtship, yet at the same time the person you marry is supposed to love you warts and all. But your spouse never sees those warts really until you get deeper into the marriage and let yourself unwind a bit”.
Gone Girl shows the precarious nature of media representation. The film has great fun skewering the Ellen Abbott model of cable news and the media world in general, which can zero in on a suspect without any hard proof. It’s clear that Ellen Abbott is a raving tabloid TV fury who is out to avenge all wronged woman and obviously tessellated on Nancy Grace. The film also plays on the viewers expectations that by default the husband will be the murderer which is shaped by the media (‘Nick Dunne: Wife Killer?’ reads constantly on the Ellen Show). With constant news, paparazzi and general public outside Nick and Amy’s house, it shows how quick we are to believe what is spoon fed to us from the news. Ellen Abbott brands Nick Dunne the murderer and everyone believes her. Gone Girl is a nimble, caustic riff on our Nancy Grace culture and Flynn smartly pokes fun at cable news, our obsession with social media and reality TV.
One theme that hasn’t been greatly explored is the unhappiness that comes with a troubled economy. When Nick and Amy first meet they are in the bright lights on New York, with the chances of the American Dream and where ‘anything is possible’. Their relationship and love for each other seems genuine, real and could conquer all. When Nick’s mother becomes terminally ill and they both lose their jobs they leave the big city behind. The town they move to is blighted by unsold houses and failed businesses. Flynn states “I wanted the whole thing to feel bankrupt, I wanted it to really feel like a marriage that had been hollowed out in a city that had been hollowed out and a country that was increasingly hollowed out”
There was one tiny thing I noticed in the film that got me ferociously thinking about what makes the perfect marriage. When Nick Dunne appears in a television interview with Sharon Schieber and (cleverly named as Nick is warned ‘she will eat you alive’ and displays dangerous feline qualities) as gets up to leave you can see the back of her dress is covered in clips. The reason this is done is because her dress doesn’t fit and rather than tailor it the clips are used to make it hang perfectly off her body. There is a reason why ‘it looks better on the model’ because the clips create a level of perfection that doesn’t exist.
This tiny subtle details is one of the driving themes in the film. We create a world that is entirely fictional and then spend all our lives trying to live up to an ideal that cannot be reached; the perfect marriage. We all have an image that has been projected onto us from a young age of what a happy marriage (or our ideal marriage) looks like and consists of. This is apparent in the film, Amy and Nick make themselves so miserable trying to twist their marriage into the perfect happy marriage they envisioned. The idea of having the perfect job, perfect partner, perfect marriage, perfect house and perfect kids which is something Amy Dunne so desperately wants that when Nick is caught cheating she fakes her own kidnapping, plans her own murder-suicide and attempts to implicate him for it. When she is hiding out at her ex boyfriends lake house, she watches Nick on TV claiming how much he “loves and wants Amy back” (touching his chin with two fingers which was their own inside joke to when he was being truthful) she sees an opportunity to get back her perfect marriage and grabs it so quickly that she then implicates her ex boyfriend for her kidnapping and slices his throat with a box cutter (which to me is the most repulsive yet stylish and slick scene in the whole film). Amy is so determined to attain her idea of a perfect marriage that when Nick threatens to leave her after they are reunited she blackmails him with her pregnancy.
I couldn’t finish this analysis without my view of whether Gone Girl is feminist or misogynist, this question has been bouncing around the internet since the film was released. What makes the film so interesting is that it’s both. Most would agree after watching the film that Amy is the worse player in their marriage game; she’s smarter, stronger and willing to commit murder. Yet others argue that a character like Amy only give women a bad name. Ultimately a female role has been created that is far more complex than the usual woman we see in a blockbuster. At the heart of this debate lies the ‘cool girl’ speech. For those who have seen the film without reading the book may have been left confused about why Amy during her getaway is ranting about women who try to play the ‘cool girl’ in order to please men whilst she is making her getaway. However the cool girl speech struck a cord and has become a major topic of discussion, here is a passage;
That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. 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…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 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. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”
When I first read the Cool Girl speech I found myself nodding my head. Out of context the speech contains a lot of truth and it identifies with pressure to pretend to be someone else at the beginning of a relationship which leads back to running theme of dishonesty. And no, you’re not a psychopath or deranged if you agree with Amy, psychopaths are smart and her conclusions are valid. It’s her hell bent revenge on not wanting to be the cool girl that is problematic. I just wouldn’t use it as a justification for murder.
I highly recommended reading the novel as it explores more in depth the ‘Cool Girl’ ideal which is truly thought provoking.