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Gone Girl promotes conversations about misogyny


Gone Girl (MA). Director: David Fincher. Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike. 149 minutes

[Review contains spoilers.]

'If we strapped a bunch of Men's Rights Advocates to beds and downloaded their nightmares, I don't think we'd come up with stuff half as ridiculous as this plot.' So claimed media and pop culture blogger interrogatingmedia back in 2012, in a compelling and persuasive critique of American author Gillian Flynn's (for the most part) highly acclaimed marriage-and-murder thriller Gone Girl.

The novel, now adapted for the big screen by Flynn and director David Fincher, documents the extreme, even violent, outcomes of a marriage that has decayed in the clammy clutches of a mutual narcissism that borders on psychopathy. It has decayed to the extent that smug, philandering out-of-work writer Nick (Affleck) finds himself suspected of murdering his self-centred yet enigmatic wife, Amy (Pike), after she mysteriously disappears.

His life quickly turns into a media circus. There are several references in the film to reality television, including the throwaway suggestion by one character that Nick and Amy's story would make for great TV. This is a satirical dig by Flynn and Fincher because, of course, the sordid details of Amy's possible murder by the flawed but basically likeable Nick have by that stage already become fodder of the most sensational kind for a ravenous news media.

But did Nick actually do it? The answer to that question is only a small part of the mystery. Flynn's narrative (which, in the novel, unfolds via alternating chapters written from the perspectives of her unreliable narrators, Nick and Amy) is captivating and full of twists. It has been given a fine and stylish cinematic treatment by Fincher, who utilises both humour and suspense en route to unpacking Gone Girl's many secrets.

But enjoyable as it may be, Gone Girl has its problems. Among its revelations is the fact that Amy is far from the innocent victim she appears to be. Dogged by charges of misogyny since the novel's release, Flynn maintains her right to create interesting, complicated female villains. Yet there is something uncomfortable in the way Gone Girl chooses to characterise Amy's 'villainy'. It's at this point that some critics, including interrogatingmedia, baulked. 

'The specific ways in which Amy is evil (lying about rape, using pregnancy as a manipulative device) feel so entangled with misogynist caricatures created by anti-women and antifeminists that it really sinks the entire novel,' wrote interrogatingmedia. In the reams of commentary on the subject, this resonates most closely with my gut responses to an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film.

In fact these perceived problems of the novel are arguably exacerbated by Fincher's cinematic treatment. Amy's legendary monologue about 'cool girls' — the keystone to any claim the novel might make to a feminist agenda, in which Amy elucidates a relationship dynamic that sees a woman play 'the cool girl' in order to attract and keep a man — gets a bit buried as the film charges through the first of its major plot twists.

In fact, Slate's David Haglund has argued that Fincher's treatment of this definitive monologue skews it away from its intended target of the men whose social power and expectations have forged the 'cool girl' myth, to the women who choose to propagate the myth by the way they behave. Haglund found this suspicion vindicated when a colleague inferred that Amy seemed to have 'contempt for the women in passing cars'.

Furthermore, the (perhaps necessary) decision to tell the story mostly from Nick's perspective has the dual effect of increasing sympathy for him despite his numerous faults, and distancing the audience from Amy. This serves to obfuscate Amy's motives (though it is possible that she is simply a sociopath), and to amplify her personification of those anti-women myths that are rightly derided by interrogatingmedia and others.

But unlike interrogatingmedia, I don't think any of this 'sinks' Gone Girl. It remains a stellar piece of filmmaking, and an entertaining thriller. It is a compelling rumination on the impossibility of knowing the mind of another, even within that ostensibly most intimate of relationships, marriage. And, at the very least, it is a conversation starter about the various shapes and implications of domestic violence and misogyny. It's a conversation worth having.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Gone Girl, David Fincher, Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Gillian Flynn, misogyny



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Existing comments

Welcome back Tim. Marriage should be the most intimate, important, human relationship in the lives of the two people involved. When a marriage fails, sadly, there are always questions. Sometimes one partner has more questions. And dissection is always a messy business. Always, I think 'outsiders' don't have as much insight as they think. Having said that, exploration via film of power dynamics within relationships can shed a little light.

Pam | 09 October 2014  

Is there a need here for caution about just how far we push 'male power & control' thesis - now elevated to the level of doctrine, even dogma - even at this time when dogma of the right and left are up for challenge? What would you have said, Tim, if Fincher had told the story more from Amy's point of view? Would that have returned Nick to his 'rightful' status as 'male bastard', and earned Fincher the approval of those powerful dogmatists of the media? Where did Haglund get his evidence that the so-called 'Cool Girl Myth' is a product of men's power and expectations (read 'control'), and not of assertive women who's behaviour challenges that dogma? Still, he does acknowledge that 'Cool Girl' is just a myth. Fincher and the rest of us can be grateful for that at least.

Dr Frank Donovan | 10 October 2014  

hey mangina, do you even know what misogyny means anymore. What about articles on misandry ?

wendy | 13 October 2014  

While false rape accusations are indeed very rare, using pregnancy as a manipulative device is indeed not as uncommon as interrogatingmedia might argue. Here in the UK, 20% of children have fathers other than the one the woman is with, and in many of the cases the pregnant mother is aware of paternity of the child. Yet, time and time again, there are numerous, although anecdotal, accounts of men being manipulated out of having paternity tests done, by the mother.

The very act of concealing the biological father, especially in a matter as serious has having a child, _is_ an act of manipulation, let alone preventing a man from quelling his suspicions.

In either case, there are false rape cases (8% of cases that go to court) and pregnancy manipulation, and it's perfectly fine in exploring these issues.

If society is happy exploring the idea of man-jumps-out-of-bush-and-rapes-you, why not false rape accusations as well

I am willing to concede that the methods that she employs are far from a reflection of reality, but that only attempts to derail the issue; that being, for male victims of domestic abuse, the feeling of being trapped by someone so manipulative is resoundingly similar.

Jonathan | 30 December 2014  

Nick is 'flawed but basically likeable'? I don't think so. It's a long time since I watched a film that made me think so far outside the box. I'm still thinking about it months later and what I think about most is the final scenes where Nick lies to his sister - the one person to whom he's never lied - about the putative baby. Why? Can't wait to read the book...

Joan Seymour | 15 January 2015  

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