[Film Review] Gone Girl – A Conversation About Representation, Abuse, and Filmmakers

Written by Brandon Sodhi, in conversation with…himself.

This seems silly. Why couldn’t you write a normal review?

Because I am very torn over my feelings towards Gone Girl, and because I’ve had a bad case of writer’s block and this felt like the only way I could get anything out.

Maybe you’re just not that great a writer.

Probably. Anyway: Gone Girl. You loved it, I did not. And a big part of why we either love or do not love the film hinges on how we interpret the character of Amy Dunne and what she represents. So you go first: Why is Amy Dunne great?

Amy Dunne is a great character because she represents something unique. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Gone Girl takes the usual film noir mystery thriller and turns it on its head. Normally, the “murdered wife” in a story like this is nothing but an object. An object that first belongs to the male character, and is then taken away from the male character. The male then spends the rest of the movie looking for the other male character who took what belonged to them. The female characters have absolutely no agency, no personality, no anything. They are only plot devices to push the gritty male characters to do gritty male things. Gone Girl is the complete opposite. Amy has all of the power. This serves as a plot twist, genre subversion, and a type of female character we rarely see: a true female psychopath. Representation is important in all forms, which includes women who are antiheroes or villains.

And what’s even better about Amy is that she is a feminine monster. We’ve seen lots of women in movies who can be violent, that’s easy. But those women are usually super masculine, often telling weaker characters to stop being such “girls” or “pussies,” because apparently being a strong woman means you also have to hate women. Having masculine female characters is fine; as we said, representation is important in “all forms.” But too often this is the only female strength we see. Amy, on the other hand, is essentially the female Id. Where Tyler Durden, the male Id, loved running amok like some base boyish hunter gatherer in a giant playground, Amy wants marriage. She wants admirers, she wants the clever meet-cute, she wants the spectacular proposal, she wants domestic bliss. She wants these things so bad that she will literally murder to attain it, and ruin the life of the man she believed would give her these things, only to “get lazy” and drop the facade. She’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker crossed with Mindy Kaling.

So you agree: a female Id like Amy is “amazing” and executed to perfection in Gone Girl.

Sort of. I agree with everything you said about genre subversion. As a movie, Gone Girl is great. But like Chris Rock says in Top Five, “a movie is never just a movie.” Movies are created by people, for people. And the way audiences react to Gone Girl worries me. Amy Dunne represents a lot of widely held negative stereotypes about women. Amy is vain. Amy just wants a man. Amy loves attention. Amy wants to be a celebrity bigger than “Amazing Amy.” Amy is scornful. Amy will get revenge against any men who “wrong” her, even if that “wrong” is simply getting lazy in a relationship and wanting to do guy stuff like play video games and go out with friends. Amy hates a man who just wants to do guy stuff. In fact, most worryingly, Amy will lie about being abused and even fake her own rape to get back at a man whose only crime was wanting to do guy stuff.There are a lot of people who think this brand of female scorn towards men is somehow common. My girlfriend told me she heard someone come out of a showing of Gone Girl saying, “I can’t believe someone would do that,” as if Gone Girl was a fucking documentary. Popular YouTube film critic Chris Stuckmann pronounced in his review that he would be more careful about how he views people accused of crimes in the news after seeing Gone Girl. This is a dangerous reaction, and it seems to be what people are getting from the film. The world is already incredibly skeptical of rape victims as it is. Were they drinking? Why were they there? She could have left. Etc. People are pretty eager to find a reason not to sympathize with rape victims, and here is a movie reaffirming that attitude. There is no way to know for sure how many rape accusations are made up. Yes, it can happen. But many rapes go unreported due to the victim blaming and personal shame people can feel. Some rape cases are also dropped by victims after being pressured to stop by any number of outside forces. Furthermore, RAINN estimates that 98% of rapists do not get any real jail time. We can’t know how many rape accusations are false, but given these fair assumptions, it wouldn’t be wise to think the percentage is very high. To take a colder, more mechanical perspective: If a woman wanted to get revenge on someone, accusing them of rape is, statistically and anecdotally, not an efficient way to do it.

True. I have two issues though. Issue #1: Chris Stuckmann. You are essentially saying that the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is “dangerous.” You can’t really believe that, can you?

Well…it’s complicated. I should clarify: I do not want people to break out the pitchforks every time someone in the public arena is accused of a crime. I agree with Gone Girl’s take on the 24 hour news cycle in that sense. But my focus is on the victims. Responding to victims with cold skepticism just makes it more difficult on them. The last thing a victim needs is to have a whole legion of people acting as one giant interrogator. That just increases the intimidation and makes our society one where it’s easier for people to not speak out at all, lest they be forced to repeatedly relive their trauma just to satisfy the hivemind. And if they give one conflicting piece of evidence, despite many rapes involving alcohol or other drugs making it difficult to remember precise details? They are branded as liars and accused of making things up for attention. They are treated like they are Amy Dunne. So, no, you don’t need to convict the accused in your own mind. But please please please take the word of the victim seriously. Do not be hostile. Do not be skeptical. I know it isn’t a scientific approach, but so what? We’re dealing with humans. Be humane.

Be humane. Issue #2: The relationship between filmmakers and the audience. So, because I’m…you, I know that one of your biggest pet peeves about movies is when movies treat audiences like they are dumb. A lot of movies do this in a lot of different ways. For example, you hate when a movie like Tracks insists on showing flashbacks to a scene that just happened 30 minutes ago, because apparently that movie didn’t have the confidence in a moviegoer to do something ridiculous like actually listen to pieces of dialogue the first time around.

That is a big pet peeve of mine, yes.

So why are you punishing David Fincher and Gillian Flynn for not spelling things out for the audience? Isn’t that the opposite of what you want out of art? Did someone in the movie need to look right into the camera and say “Amy Dunne is not representative of the vast majority of women in her sociopathy”? There is a reason Amy Dunne is a caricature of negative female stereotypes. This film is a satire. This film assumes that you know women don’t generally make up abuse (or concoct elaborate fake disappearances). This film uses Amy Dunne to make an over-the-top gesture about marriage and relationships and how we only project our best selves to the person we’re with, and how that deteriorates with time until you’re stuck with someone you don’t know or even want to be with anymore. Why should the filmmakers have to pander to the unfortunate stigmas that cause people to think Amy Dunne’s sociopathy is somehow reflective of something real and prevalent?

…You’ve got me there. It is hypocritical in a lot of ways. I don’t have a good answer. I guess it goes back to the Chris Rock quote: A movie is never just a movie, and sometimes art can have social consequences such as unintentionally reaffirming dangerous stereotypes. No, the filmmakers should not have to directly speak out against them in their film, but we don’t live in a perfect world. To say filmmakers don’t have any responsibility for how films like Gone Girl are received just seems…foolish. Fincher in particular has encountered this problem before with Fight Club, a film that was intended to (at least partially) satirize nihilism and male angst but was widely interpreted as a Bro Bible for how to fight ~the system~. 

So is that Fincher’s fault, or the audience’s fault? How do we reconcile the idea that audiences “just didn’t get it” with the idea of the Death Of The Author, which states that Authorial Intent isn’t the last word on a piece of art. Art exists outside of the artist and has its own place in society. Film Crit Hulk argues that Fincher has a problem with overindulging in his satire*. I assume you’d agree.

I’ve found myself agreeing with that more and more, yes. Fincher is one of my favorite directors, but his films seem to have issues with “misinterpretation.” The relationship between films and their audiences is a tricky one, and it’s probably unfair to place all the blame on either end. Although, luckily, one of the biggest reasons I believe his film The Social Network does not have the misinterpretation issue is the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This is another example of “why filmmaking matters,” as I talked about in my Foxcatcher review. Take the “Do I have your full attention?” scene for example**. Aaron Sorkin’s script screams “beta male badass is super clever and this is an oh shit comeback moment,” and with different or no music it may have been interpreted that way. But thanks to Reznor and Ross’s dark, insidious drone sounds, not to mention Jesse Eisenberg’s rapid-fire delivery, the end result is much closer to the truth: Zuckerberg is, as the classic opening scene beautifully illustrates, an asshole. The scene is dark, cold, bitter, and keeps you at a distance so you don’t over-identify with Zuckerberg’s lashing out.

…Was that a parable?

I really love The Social Network is what I’m saying.

Me too. Also, I just realized you did a review of a film by the director of Fight Club by having a conversation with yourself. You’re just full of references.

And overindulgence. Would anyone even want to read this? I tried to write a normal review, but then I just spent hours typing out a conversation with myself to sort out my own feelings about a movie in an attempt to reach some arbitrary “final answer” to pigeonhole the movie into, which is contrary to what art is supposed to be about in the first place.

That’s film review.

* http://badassdigest.com/2012/01/22/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs-fight-club-and-the-work-of-david-fincher/

** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6f-6l0W-0o

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