Gone girl (David Fincher, 2014)

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Gone girl, directed by David Fincher (2014).

Score: David Fincher is back.

I really like David Fincher but he’s had a decade of quite boring movies (or movies I should rewatch? I don’t know anymore). Gone girl brings us back to the time of Se7en and Fight Club, with a dark and edgy thriller.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes back home one morning after some errands to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared. Their marriage was not at its best moment, but does that mean he made her disappear? Soon a police investigation starts, led by Det. Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and the media can’t wait to run their hands all over the tragedy.

I believe this movie’s biggest strength is pacing. For a movie 149 minutes long, it doesn’t stop, stall or become uninteresting. Its three acts are well-balanced and scenes are well-chosen and edited. The story is everything you expect from classic Fincher: mystery, twisted personalities, unreliable characters and human misery. I don’t know why you guys hate Ben Affleck so much, but anyway he plays the doofus and the loser very convincingly. And Rosamund Pike is just fantastic. Technical aspects are great but they don’t distract you from the good story you’re being told.

Definitely recommended if you like the kind of movie, avoid spoilers like the plague. There’s so much to discuss about themes and plot, but I’ll do so under the cut.

***SO MANY SPOILERS***

I read a while ago this article by Tumblr user thespectacularspider-girl and her argument about the lack of female villains really struck me: since then, I’ve been looking at female villains much closer. So, in a way, I was happy to see a movie where a woman gets to be such a female Magnificent Bastard (what should we call that? Magnificent Bitch? Magnificent Cunt? None of those mean the same as Magnificent Bastard…)

Something I really liked about Gone girl is that it presents a truly evil female protagonist while avoiding so many traps. Black-and-white, heavy handed narrative is largely avoided, while also ridiculing media portrayal of such tragedies.

The first hour of footage is designed to instill doubt: is Nick guilty or innocent? Nothing wrong with that: we know some guys kill their wives, but not all of them do. Nick is given a flaw, we could call it a fatal flaw: he cheated on Amy with one of his students. At the same time, the diary is introduced as an artifact to make Amy an unreliable narrator. If you’re paying attention, the fact that it’s an actual, written diary and not just a voice-over or a flashback can tip you off: what she wrote in the diary, for posterity, might not be the truth. As a side note, it drew my attention how the police was too distracted with having found the diary to make sure it was actually five years old, and not just a few months or weeks. Maybe it was because it was half-burned that they got nothing, or maybe there are no reliable tests for that, I don’t know.

With Amy’s reveal we get the infamous Cool girl speech. We already know Amy is fucked up because framing someone for murder is disproportionate retribution for getting cheated on, we just don’t know to what degree she’s fucked up yet. The problem with the Cool girl speech is that it comes from the mouth of a sociopath. I know Wikipedia is not the best source for advanced knowledge but let’s have a look at its definition of psychopathy: “Psychopathy (/saɪˈkɒpəθi/), also known as sociopathy (/soʊsiˈɒpəθi/), is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits. Different conceptions of psychopathy have been used throughout history that are only partly overlapping and sometimes appear contradictory. “Impaired empathy and remorse and bold, disinhibited egotistical traits” fits Amy like a glove. It’s not new that trying to conform to social norms and gender roles that are expected from us and differ from what we’d rather do sucks. Though it also happens to men, it is especially bad for women due to the patriarchal nature of our society. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I hate pretending to be someone else in order to feel accepted and loved”. There’s everything wrong with framing your husband for murder.

This speech has both rallied and infuriated people, but why? Because it is justification for a sociopath’s behaviour. I very much doubt that speech would have been so incendiary in a movie about a girl who marries a guy and it doesn’t work out and they divorce and she’s sad and reflects on things she could have done better. If you substract Amy’s contempt for other women from the equation (I’m also not forgetting how a lot of people pointed out how one of the Cool girls Amy scorns is in a car with another woman), it’s a perfectly sane feeling to have. As I said, the issue here is that Amy is using that as justification to retaliate against her husband. But at the same time, it’s a very good writing choice to have included it: sociopaths are real people who have real thoughts and sometimes are right about some things, even if it is for the wrong reasons. The substraction of this speech, along with other lines where Amy justifies her behaviour and give us a glimpse of her inner world, would have made her a poorer character.

But let’s get back to Spidergirl’s article. It took me a while to find it again this morning, but when I did I found this sentence: “Women are usually portrayed as manipulative, liars or succubi, relatively non-violent, more passive failings.  Men often get portrayed as violent, abusive, alcoholic, murders, etc.  But in the real world, women can be these as well.  Society just doesn’t like to talk about that though.” So I asked myself: is Amy a stereotypical villain? She’s definitely manipulative and a liar. Probably not a succubus but the words “black widow” came to me a lot while watching the movie. I remembered Spidergirl’s article because Amy Dunne is the evilest woman I have seen on film that I can recall right now. You could argue that she is feminine in her way of being evil. That might be a problem in representation terms, but not in the more general that this story is being told.

This story is about a woman who throws false accusations of rape at men in order to ruin their lives. She tries to frame her husband and murders another man while having sex. All this could be problematic if it wasn’t made clear that this is the way Amy is, not every woman. There are different ways this is done.

One of them is other female characters occupy key places in the cast. Margo Dunne, Det. Rhonda Boney and, to a lesser extent, Andie Fitzgerald are sympathetic characters. On the other hand, Marybeth, Amy’s mother, is uptight and unpleasant and Ellen Abbott doesn’t let the truth get in the middle of a good story. This gives a sense of balance where we are presented with both sympathetic and reproachable women.

Another is making Amy a sociopath. Despite some people being unable to separate both things, I believe it is quite clear that the reason Amy chooses to harm the men in her life the way she does is lack of empathy, lack of remorse and an inflated sense of self. The tools are those she feels most comfortable with.

The last important factor is the portrayal of media. Gone girl is relentless with criticizing the way media gloats over personal tragedy. Nick is given the benefit of the doubt by Det. Boney, but not by the media and public opinion. His every action is watched and made suspicious, and his personal image is manipulated in order to make him look like a wife killer. At the same time, we know the truth and follow him on his quest not only to prove he’s innocent, but also look innocent. Men who kill their wives make good stories. Assuming all men kill their wives is just as harmful as assuming all women accuse falsely of rape. This criticism of media, which pretty much dictates public opinion, bears this message: sexism is a thing, but assuming the worst every single time is detrimental to everybody.

In conclusion, Gone girl uses several tropes to effectively show a female villain while avoiding misogyny and reflects on gender roles and their relation with marriage and the media.

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