The Women of Gone Girl

I was generally quite happy with the movie Gone Girl when we went to see it in theatre, which is now quite a while ago and I just haven’t gotten around to the final edits on this post. It’s that dark grittiness characteristic of David Fincher, very well acted and cut together, which is always interesting to me. You don’t really know where the story is going, unlike most movies when you know the ending 10 minutes into the movie.

Some have critiqued its portrayal of women, however, and that is probably worth discussing a little bit more.

(spoilers will follow)

Amy Elliot Dunne

The movie of course revolves the “girl” (woman) who is gone: Amy. She’s the typical cultural definition of “pretty”: white, always well-dressed, perfect amount of make-up, skinny but not unnaturally so, etc. She’s also rich and moderately famous because her parents created a series of children’s books named after her. Amy comments, though, on how Amazing Amy is always a step ahead of real Amy: having a pet, playing sports, even getting married.

Amy Elliot Dunne

I could have picked a less creepy picture, but it was in shots like these where the acting really stood out.

We find out partway through the movie that Amy has faked her own murder, framing her husband Nick in order to get back at him for cheating on her, making her leave New York to go to the middle of nowhere, and generally not being a particularly good husband. She’s brilliant in how she pulls it off. She’s also very twisted, possibly sociopathic.

The main problem with her portrayal is that many will watch this and decide that it is always better to trust a man in accusations of abuse/rape/murder. It won’t matter to many that making up these accusations is an extreme minority of reported cases or that a lot of other cases don’t go reported out of fear they won’t be believed. I don’t think that makes it a fault of the movie so much as the fault of the way we interpret anecdotal evidence to support misogynistic ways of thinking, but it is definitely worth noting and at the heart of the criticisms I’ve seen.

Detective Rhonda Bhoney

Rhonda is the lead detective on the case. Her male counterpart constantly pushes her to arrest Nick, but she seems to be a lot smarter and always sees details that just don’t quite line up. Eventually she does arrest Nick as the evidence becomes overwhelming, but she remains much more sympathetic and genuinely trying to find justice.

At the very end when Amy returns and tells her lies about what happened to her, it was obvious to see that there were about 10 male cops who quickly accepted what she said without thinking. Rhonda, on the other hand, kept pushing because of all the loose ends she was seeing.

She was really the only character – male or female – who didn’t have any glaring flaws, although you could make a case for Margo. Any discussion of the film’s alleged misogyny has to also include her.

Margo Dunne

Margo is the least interesting character to me. For the most part, she was extremely loyal to her brother Nick. It isn’t like she doesn’t have opinions of her own. She justifiably gets very angry at him when she catches him with his student lover Andie in her house while his wife is missing. Regardless, she ultimately forgives him and never really seems to believe that he is the murderer no matter how damning the evidence. When he goes back to Amy at the end instead of revealing all she has done, Margo is seen sitting on her floor crying and begging him not to, but she also knows him so well that she identifies right away that he actually loves Amy in a twisted way. Overall, she was important, but I felt like she was generally a pretty morally-neutral character.

Andie Hardy

Andie is Nick’s student lover, together for a year and a half. It is made clear, however, that Nick’s decision for a divorce had much more to do with leaving Amy than running to Andie. I would have been inclined to say that she was probably more infatuated with him than the reverse, but that opinion changed with her biggest contribution to the story: she came to press to tell them about Nick’s affair. Nick didn’t think she would do it because she cared about him too much, but she did. Nick had already taken to completely ignoring her except for when she showed up at Margo’s house for a night. This shift made me actually like her character a lot more.

Ellen Abbott

The last one I’ll touch on is Ellen Abbott. She was the host of one of those specialist news shows that bring in all kinds of experts and often make exaggerated opinions when they don’t know that much about the case. Her character, then, obviously was one of the first to jump all over Nick and start assuming he was a murderer. Ellen never apologized for how she rallied people against him, even calling for the death penalty before he was ever even arrested.

I thought of this character less as a commentary of women than of the media. That attitude is common in media because it brings good ratings. We could ask some really interesting questions about how similar it would have been if Amy hadn’t been moderately famous, or relatively rich, or white, or pretty? Without at least some of those characteristics, would the news be covering it at all? Probably not: woman killed by husband is unfortunately pretty common.

Overall

I wouldn’t go as far as many saying this movie was misogynistic. Amy’s character is simultaneously strong and independent while furthering a plot that men could use to trust women less, particularly in domestic violence scenarios. Although I did not find Nick or even Desi nearly as disturbing as I did Amy (Rosamund Pike’s great acting helped, too), it’s not like the men were angel victims. There were a lot of messed up things happening in the movie. So I want to caution against using this to assume men accused of domestic violence are probably innocent (statistically, they probably aren’t) while still being ok with recommending the movie.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.