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This article was published 31/10/2014 (2521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Gone Girl is a rare thing, a Hollywood movie that manages to be both popular and polarizing.
Is it a misogynistic movie or a movie about misogyny? Is it a cautionary tale for men? A revenge fantasy for women? Does Gone Girl have a "woman problem," as several cultural commentators believe, or is it "the most feminist mainstream movie in years," as another critic declares? Does it topple gender stereotypes or just tart them up?
After finally watching this ruthlessly constructed, exquisitely vicious depiction of all-out gender warfare, I would say that, yes, Gone Girl is anti-female. It's also anti-male. Hell, it's anti-human. That's where the fun comes in.
That's also where the serious stuff comes in. The film's equal-opportunity hatefulness circles round a he-said-she-said showdown between Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). Gone Girl novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn and director David Fincher are trading on stereotypes, sinuously caressing the sleek surfaces of the nastiest gender clichés. But with typical cinematic sneakiness, that's exactly what the film is about. "Very meta," as Det. Boney would say.
(Having written on spoiler etiquette only a few weeks ago, I now have to declare an all-caps SPOILER ALERT! If you want to be knocked over by the novel or film's twisty turnabouts -- and, really, they are a kick -- you should stop reading right now. But please come back later.)
Letting its dark film-noir roots show, Gone Girl creates a corrupt world populated by mostly horrible people, where every relationship is reduced to an inescapable power struggle. Marriage, in particular, is a racket, doomed to end in a last-spouse-standing takedown or a sour stalemate of mutually assured destruction.
The film's big twist comes when perfect Amy -- whom Pike plays with the opaque allure of a Hitchcock blond -- is suddenly revealed as a Bad Girl: A very bad girl, a manipulative, murderous monster who fakes a pregnancy, trumps up rape charges and frames her husband for homicide.
Even when covered in someone else's arterial blood, bad Amy gives the impression of barely turning a hair. It's this ice-cold, calculating version of Amy -- the "psycho-bitch," as Nick calls her -- who is stirring up most of the arguments about Gone Girl.
This is unfortunate, since psycho-bitch Amy is probably the least interesting of her many personas. Far scarier are all those fake Good Girls who precede the Bad Girl, starting with her creepy childhood doppelganger, Amazing Amy. The star of a children's book series written by actual Amy's atrocious parents, Amazing Amy is a peppy, positive, girl-powered super-achiever whose accomplishments keep trumping those of her inspiration. This is the first time -- but not the last -- that Amy will run into impossible expectations disguised as love.
Amazing Amy is a fictional character. Amy's subsequent personalities are also fictional, in some sense, as she twists herself into shapes that conform to our culture's punishing female ideals.
Twenty-something Amy becomes the Cool Girl. You know, the one guys love. The hot, brilliant girl who just wants to watch football and have hook-up sex and who gorges on cheeseburgers while remaining a size 2. The one who never makes demands. (The novel's much-quoted Cool Girl monologue is a current cultural touchstone, so it's disappointing that the film fumbles it.)
Then she transitions into the Good Wife, a sexy -- yet domestic! -- woman whose house has the sterile tastefulness of a Restoration Hardware catalogue. Is it just me, or is one of the film's most chilling scenes the one where Amy offers to cook crepes, her smile suggesting the eerie, impersonal efficiency of a Stepford wife?
Finally, Amy becomes the Virtuous Victim. The film's most perverse notion is that even when pretending to be violently kidnapped, Amy knows she has to be the right kind of female victim. Gone Girl savagely satirizes the way the media jumps on the Amy Dunne story simply because Amy has the ideal image for a Missing poster -- white, middle-class, pretty, passive and pregnant.
All those Amys are impossibly beautiful, impossibly accomplished, impossibly good -- impossible being a key idea here. The deliciously cynical heart of Flynn's novel is the idea that being a woman involves taking on a series of preconceived roles, that being a woman requires a lot of dressing up, shutting up and performing. Pike's best moments come when you see, just for a second, how much Amy loathes her performances and how much she despises her dupes -- and herself. The flaw in Gone Girl is that most of these cracks come only after the big sensationalist plot twist. We linger on Amy's seductive surfaces -- and Pike's image of the knockout, stone-cold female sociopath is undeniably compelling -- but we never quite get inside her head.
The big, obvious, flashy revelation in Gone Girl -- and the one that is generating all the controversy -- is that Amy is a pyscho-bitch who fakes her own violent disappearance. The deeper and even darker revelation, which doesn't always come through in the film, is that she's been faking all along.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.