October 16, 2014 by NowhereButPop
Spoiler: This article spoils the ending of Gone Girl. If you haven’t seen or read it, but plan to, then look away. If not, please by all means continue…And tell your friends about us.
“I met a devil woman, she took my heart away, she said I’ve had it coming to me, but I wanted it that way”
-“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” (Bachman Turner Overture)
There’s a clear cut difference between a villain and a bad guy. A bad guy is an objective term, they are morally bankrupt and actively pursue evil endeavors. Bad guys include Hitler, Sauron, Mr. Hyde, Bill Laimbeer, Bruce Bowen and Pol Pot. Villains, by contrast, are more nuanced; they tend to be led down the path of damnation by their own convictions and ego rather than by malicious design. Whatever it is they believe in, they are willing to sacrifice anything to achieve its fruition. Examples of villains include Richard Nixon, Axl Rose, Magneto, Barry Bonds and Mr. Kurtz. Not all bad guys are villains, and not all villains are bad guys, the terms are not mutually exclusive, kind of like squares and rectangles. Villains are people who do bad things almost as a by-product for some other goal, it is a means to a further goal; bad guys do evil with no other purpose in mind, their evil deeds are the end goal in and of itself.
Now, I’ve known for quite some time that I’m very attracted to the idea of villainy, I have been ever since I was a kid. I think the gray area between maverick and villain is the finest and thinnest of lines, especially in regards to people who have noble ends, but pursue those ends with ignoble means. But this isn’t an article on those who pave the road to Hell; this is an article about David Fincher’s new movie Gone Girl, based upon the novel of the same name. What Gone Girl does incredibly well is challenge the pre-determined sexualized notions of villain.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who I would classify as evil. There are plenty of mean girls out there, but none that I’ve known to be downright evil. I have however, met more than a few guys who I’m pretty sure were forged from the fires of Hell itself. I am curious though to see what it would be like to be in love with an objectively bad person. This too has been a notion I’ve had since I was a kid. As embarrassing as it is, we all have our cartoon crushes, most of mine just happen to be evil characters. One of the reasons why I hated Captain Planet was because I had a minor crush on Dr. Blight, even though she had like leprosy or something. Even though she was a metaphor for the Devil, I kind of had a thing for the White Witch (the not Tilda Swinton one) in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The list goes on, Talia Al Ghul from Batman, Hexadecimal from ReBoot, and in live action, Divatox from Power Rangers Zeo and Xenia Onatopp, all of whom besides being emotionally deranged, are all bad guys. There’s just something about a bad bitch that gets shit done.
Maybe growing up in a house with five women has something to do with this childish, and most likely Freudian attraction to strong and independent women. But, to be a villain requires a strength of convictions that most people don’t have and it’s that confidence and self-assurance that proves to be one of the most interesting facets when assessing villains; that and confidence is a very attractive thing. Running the risk of damning the rest of the world for the sake of your own personal morals is either the most confident or the most arrogant thing anyone can ever do, and that’s something that all of these villainesses have in common.
All of the aforementioned female villains are all generic bad guys, they just want power or the assurance of some malevolent agenda like eternal winter or the prohibition of recycling. Traditionally, when women are portrayed as villains, it’s within the realm of two archetypes-That of the scorned wife/jilted lover or as the violent matriarch/wicked stepmother paradigm. They are either jealous nutjobs or have a case of Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy. Both of these models are based on the sexualizing of gender roles whose rigidity offers no other motives. It’s either full on histrionics or a complete lack of emotion, again playing up the idea that women are overly emotion people. On the one hand you have an overload of such, with jealousy, rage, and vitriol, and on the other you have a complete lack of a presumed and sustained stereotype, a perversion of the “norm”. One plays up the notion of female hysterics, while the other equates evil with a lack of maternity and female emotions.
Amy Dunne, the proverbial “Gone Girl” originally starts out as the jaded lover, as she sees her husband cheat on her with the “newer model”. This is the inciting action which sets off the chain of events of the novel and the movie. But, it’s Amy’s reaction to this stress that completely breaks the mold and puts her in a category all her own.
Without question, Amy Dunne is the antagonist of Gone Girl, and it becomes apparent as the movie goes on that she is also the unquestionable bad guy of the movie as well. She fakes her kidnapping and apparent murder to frame her husband in the hopes that he will get the death penalty for his only actual crime of adultery. She immediately goes to absurd lengths to make her plan foolproof, including bleeding herself, stealing a pregnant woman’s piss, and driving herself further into debt. But she has her plan calculated to a tee, almost to a sociopathic degree in fact. As the movie progress, we learn that Amy isn’t this amicable and easy going victim of circumstances. Her actions prove that she’s arguably a sociopath who is lashing out for one of two reasons: she is either 1) distraught over her husband’s affair or 2) it’s merely the pinnacle of problems that represent a loss of control for someone with a type A+ personality. Along with the affair, they were struggling with finances, family planning, translocation, and a general malaise on top of the usual lack of love.
Whenever Amy was confronted with a loss of control, she became more and more unemotional and diabolical, which leads her to becoming a much more devious and indefensible villain. She decides to fool everyone into thinking her husband is a murderer, in the hopes that he will get the death penalty. Once he counters that by gaining public sympathy and mounting a credible defense, Amy further losses it and alters her plans to take a far more devious approach. Her husband, Nick, has become aware that Amy staged her own kidnapping in order to implicate him, and counters that by giving a sincere, (but phony) apology and pleas for her to come home. Smitten by this act of contrition, Amy then stages the next, and most evil part of her plan. She stages a rape scene framing the man, who she initially called for help. This man, Desi, was an ex-boyfriend who still had feelings for her and wanted to help her in what he was lead to believe was an abusive situation.
Manipulating his feelings for her, she has sex with him and then slits his throat right as he is coming…at least let him finish. Before that however, she molests herself with a wine bottle to simulate forced vaginal entry, and then lacerates her wrists and ankles to make it look like she was forcefully bound. When she returns home, Amy then declares that Desi kidnapped and raped her every night for a month straight, and that killing him was in self-defense. The most telling scene that conveys the audience’s incredulous sentiment is when Nick is in the shower with Amy as she is washing an innocent man’s blood off her entire body and he says to her in disbelief “You just killed a man!”. He knows that that is the truth, that she manipulated Desi to suit her machinations, and then killed him when he outgrew his usefulness, but because of the meticulous and inhuman degree of preparation Amy undertook, Nick can’t prove a thing.
As we learn throughout the movie, Amy has a history of lying and manipulating circumstances once she lost control. When an old boyfriend wanted to break up with her, she framed him for rape, effectively ruining his life. By the time the movie starts, Amy already knows that she has this power and is clearly willing to exercise it when things don’t go her way. She is the man-eater who wants her boyfriends and husbands to be who she wants them to be, and once they stop she turns on them. Once her old ex wanted distance she framed him for rape, once she didn’t need Desi anymore, she killed him, and once Nick stopped trying to be who she wanted him to be, symbolized by his affair, she framed him for murder.
What makes Amy Dunne one of the most intriguing villains in film is that not only is she clearly emotionally imbalanced, she is able to compartmentalize those feelings and turn into a sociopath. Her sociopathy isn’t ever-present, or something that needs to be repressed, it’s something that she can turn on and off, and that is what makes her so unsettling; there’s no telling what will set her off. She’s not just the crazy girlfriend, but instead the calculating mastermind who sees these criminal setups as a kind of game to be won. Her villainy goes beyond typified gendered roles of morality and thrusts her in a sinister league all her own.
It is her actions themselves that make her a villain-the framing of an innocent man just to spite him, the deception of an entire nation, and eventually the murder of an innocent man in cold blood. What ultimately makes Amy Dunne evil is her general lack regard for anyone else, her lack of remorse for her actions (specifically the murder of Desi), and the glee she finds in the ruination of her husband Nick. It’s only once he subtly challenges her and ups the ante that she decides to return and clear his name; once he grovels for forgiveness on live TV where he acknowledges that she is the one with the power in this scenario.
What separates most acts of villainy from acts of evil is the motivation for the act itself. Amy Dunne’s reason for trying to indirectly murder her husband isn’t because she found out about his affair, it’s that his affair exposed a flaw in their relationship. That flaw is that Nick was no longer trying to be who she wanted him to be; it represented his general apathy towards giving her control and making himself up to be who he needed to be in order to impress her. Granted Amy was doing the same for Nick, but Nick’s affair exposed the truth that by that point in their marriage they were merely faking it and going through the motions. Throughout the film Amy states that Nick drove her to do this, and during one flashback scene she even says to him “Don’t turn me into someone I’m not trying to be”, a portent of things to come. By shattering that illusion of effort, and dismantling her control, Nick motivated Amy to go off the deep end. But, because of the extreme and escalatory nature of how she responds to this, no motivation can justify her actions. Nick cheating on Amy doesn’t give Amy any justification to 1) Frame Nick for her own kidnapping, and 2) Kill Desi in cold blood. It’s an extreme act of retribution with implications that aren’t warranted by the initial slight. Maybe a pot of hot grits to the crotch Al Green style would have been more sufficient.
Nick stopped trying to impress Amy, which is what Amy wanted all along, someone who would conform to her, someone she could teach new tricks too. But, Amy was like that as well, doing anything she could to be the kind of girl Nick would want. Keeping in shape, showering him with money, moving out to Missouri, and the occasional blowjob were all efforts on her part to be who she thought he wanted her to be. His affair is a breaking of that silent vow, not their vow of matrimony, but a revealing act of how phony and superficial their relationship had become. In the face of all this, Amy tried to reaffirm herself at the expense of countless others. She fully knew what ramifications her actions would yield and was actively pursuing the most sinister outcome which would culminate with Nick’s execution.
One of Gillian Flynn’s (author of Gone Girl) biggest accusations is that she is misogynistic and writes women as being bitchy, angry, and spiteful. Based on the film adaptation of Gone Girl, I’d say these claims are a little undeserved. I think the truth is that we’ve never seen a villain quite like Amy Dunne, a psychopath with sociopathic cunning who is able to literally live in a black and white world. So when people see a character like this they automatically assume it to be a representation of all women, when the truth is that Flynn is doing something that hasn’t been done often, which is to portray a woman as being cold, calculating, and indescribably evil. To really sell Amy Dunne as a compelling and terrifying villain, Flynn had to make her as evil as possible, by operating outside of the stereotypical archetypes of female villainy. It’s really a stroke of genius on Flynn’s part to be able to successfully break this mold and create a deceptively normal, devilishly calculating, but impervious villain with zero empathy who warrants zero sympathy.
Flynn crafted, but Fincher brought to life someone so evil and terrifying, that the next “Greatest Villains in Cinema” list would be a joke without Amy Dunne on it. The point of Amy Dunne isn’t that she’s a woman, but to show the deplorable and sinister depths to which a normal person can descend, a person who just so happens to be a woman playing by her own rules and not conforming to the traditional norms of female villainy. And that is what makes Amy Dunne such a shocking and controversial villain. When people criticize Gone Girl as being misogynistic in tone, it’s because we aren’t used to seeing a female villain as heinous and unforgivable as Amy Dunne. Obviously Amy Dunne is not representative of women, nor is she meant to be a negative portrayal, but, after seeing Gone Girl I might have to reassess my choice in women; at the very least, no more blondes.