There seems to be little doubt that Gone Girl will be one of the most talked about films of the year. Even as February of next year rolls around, audiences will still be talking about whether the film deserves the Academy Award for Best Picture or whether David Fincher got overlooked again. And it’s easy to see why people are talking about the film. Gone Girl is one of the best thrillers in years; the kind of dark, morbid mystery that Fincher excels at and that we’ve seen him do before with the movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Nowadays though, being good is rarely enough to inspire conversation. Films also have to be controversial, and, boy, is Gone Girl controversial. It’s controversial for the normal reasons such as gore and sex, some of which I really can’t talk about without spoiling the third act of the film, but it’s also drawn a lot of attention due to it’s depiction of women. I know what you’re thinking. Here’s an intelligent thriller written by a woman (Gillian Flynn) and featuring a woman as it’s main character, how can it be anti-feminist? But that hasn’t stopped a lot of readers from suggesting that Mrs. Flynn is misogynistic in the writing of her characters.
Firstly, as almost any writer will tell you, just because a novel is written by a woman doesn’t mean that their female characters are going to be stronger any more that you could expect a man to write great male characters. If that were true there would be no great depictions of robots or aliens because no robots or aliens have written books and I think Philip K. Dick proved he could write a compelling android despite having no mechanical parts himself. In the same vein, people often congratulate George R. R. Martin for his strong, female characters. And if a man can write strong women in his books, it’s feasible that a woman could write weak female characters because the ability to write well or not has no relation to gender or sex.
However, I don’t think that Amy Elliot Dunne, played wonderfully by Rosamund Pike, is a weak female character. She is a well written, complex character who does some bad things but it made sympathetic by the actions of her husband. The first half of the film is borderline cliché. Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne comes home after meeting his sister one morning to find his wife missing and an overturned table. Further investigation by the police uncovers blood on the kitchen floor and a half burnt journal written by Amy detailing her husband’s detachment and anger issues. And…that’s maybe as far as I can go without ruining the rest of the film.
I will say this, neither Amy nor Nick are reliable. That seems to be the main reason why some viewers and readers accuse Flynn of misogyny. Not all of her claims about Nick in the journal are true which paints her as a bit of a nag who tries to gain favour by being sympathetic. It is very manipulative and deceiving and confirm all the bad attitudes that men have towards women. But that’s unfair to the writer because not all women are good. Gillian Flynn herself addressed the issue in an interview:
“Is it really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be? For me, it’s also the ability to have women who are bad characters … the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big push back against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish”
One villainous woman does not a make her a misogynist. It is unfortunate that the other female characters in the movie all tend to be gullible and underhanded as well with the only exception really being Nick’s sister. Even that doesn’t bother me because I don’t think the writer was trying to say ‘look how stupid and evil all women are’ but maybe because I’m a writer myself I’m giving her more benefit of the doubt. That said, while she’s not a weak woman for possibly all of the wrong reasons, I don’t think that she’s a strong female character either.
Amy Dunne’s methods utilise sex and sympathy to paint a picture of herself that makes her husband appear a lot more despicable than he really is. Getting Affleck to play the part probably helped viewers find the character unlikable but it bothers me that Amy’s method are basically using men’s perception of women against them. Men perceive Amy to be weak so she pretends to be weak to get her way but to me that’s just being strong within the confines that a male dominated world allow. The type of woman that men think uses rape as a weapon and babies as a bargaining tool. It’s the reason that I prefer Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth as strong women over Cersei Lannister, because they’re strong in a way that makes them equal to men and makes men feel uncomfortable. Amy’s strength won’t make men uncomfortable, it’ll just make them point and say ‘look, I was right.’ But it’s not misogyny; the character is just complex.
Besides, the film has problems other than its depiction of women. Marriage is said to be hard work but no couple in the film works at it. It’s just a power play. On a very basic storytelling level, there are problems too such as how the police never analyse the blood splatters and no mention is made of how the wounds on Amy’s body are inconsistent with the crime scene. That disappointed me because I expected more from Flynn due to her police reporter background. Furthermore, without going into detail, the plot falls apart right around the climax, where it just sort of pitters to its end.
It is unfortunate that this movie and the book are so wrapped up in whether it is feminist or not because it takes away from just how good a thriller this film is. David Fincher is the perfect director for this type of film and Flynn’s story is a great modern mystery, even if it falls short of brilliant. It gets a little risqué at times but if you can hold your nerve it’s a highly entertaining thriller that keeps the audience guessing right until the absolute last moment.