Film Reviews

Film Review: Gender roles in Gone Girl (2014)

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Logline: “With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.” From IMDB

Genre: Thriller

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens

Directed: David Fincher

(Contains Spoilers)

I was sick as a dog on Friday and looking for something to watch, and since I’ve been meaning to watch this one for ages, I thought I’d curl up with it and a cup of tea. There was a lot of talk around this film, and one of the things that came up was that Reese Witherspoon got involved, and produced it, because she wanted to see more complex female characters presented in films.

I thought I’d focus on that aspect more, because Amy (Rosamund Pike), the central female character, is kind of interesting. The film itself is ok. It’s shot with a green tone, so that it feels kind of sickly, cold and crime/thriller-y. People say fuck a lot, as though it’s very clever. The plot revolves around the games people play with each other, so there are board games featured quite a bit. It’s not a terrible film, but it feels a little obvious and derivative. You guess quite early on what’s going on, but Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike give ok performances.

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So I thought I’d focus more in this review on what struck me as interesting. The gender roles of the characters are not exactly typical, though they do, in the end, succumb to a stereotype in an interesting way.

Like a film noir femme, when it comes out that the girl is intelligent and not so helpless as she seems, she must therefore be a bad person. This woman thinks for herself, she has her own motives, and therefore cannot be trusted to be manipulated and must be stopped. In Gone Girl, Amy takes this a step further, she wants revenge for her husband Nicks’ (Ben Affleck) neglect, infidelity and lack of care for her, so she plots to take him down, and in the process commits some heinous crimes. Because we are given Nick as the protagonist, we are on his side, unravelling the truth til the end, where Amy, unlike a femme fatale, cannot be stopped. Amy is essentially successful, because she gets away with her crimes, and in fact seems to “own” her husband in the end. But perhaps she would also have been a better protagonist? Nick goes through a lot in this film, but essentially he does not change. Amy unleashes her full potential for plotting, and goes from pretending to be someone she’s not in order to maintain a relationship, to getting revenge on the man that cheated on her and having the most power in the relationship. Does this film then send the subtle message that to have power in a relationship as a woman, you have to be willing to become a sociopath, to commit murder, frame people? Just a thought.

The film revolves around the central relationship, as it is slowly elucidated for us. At certain points, you are meant to feel sorry for one or the other, depending on where you are in the narrative, but neither member of the couple are that nice, really. Ben Affleck relies on Amy’s trust fund, and is essentially funded by her, before moving her away from New York when they both lose their jobs and taking her back to his old home town, where she knows no one. He then cheats on her with one of his students, and complains about the marriage to his twin sister. He also isn’t particularly sad or frantic that she’s gone. She, on the other hand, becomes someone she’s not in order to have a relationship, and maintains that personality for five years, until she finds out that he is cheating on her and plans to destroy him, with a detailed plot that goes awry. When things to go awry, rather than undoing her, she draws in another man, but he too wants her to be someone for him, giving her hair dye, make up and telling her to use his gym so that she can be the old version of her that he knows. She ends up framing him for kidnapping and rape, to get her old life back, using the press and a pregnancy to manipulate Nick into staying with her. So, yes, she is the bad guy, manipulating everyone, but she has also been manipulated and forced to be someone she isn’t her whole life, and is starting to wonder where her reward is, where the gratitude is. Murdering people and framing them is a little extreme, of course, but actually, if this film wasn’t from her husbands perspective, as he slowly figures out what she’s doing, if we weren’t meant to feel sorry for him… Could we be more sympathetic to Amy? Is her understanding of her role as a woman not kind of tragic? Her cold calculation and her violence display characteristics that would be valued in Jason Bourne or James Bond, and ultimately in this film, get her what she wants. I’d more than agree that her behaviour is morally reprehensible and quite terrifying, don’t get me wrong. I’m just also aware that this film is saying some interesting things about women, relationships, about how we view gender roles.

It also reminded me of other male centred narratives, particularly where the male is represented as a childish idiot who ultimately gets all the prizes, and the female is a responsible adult who keeps everything together. This is seen in domestic sit com/dramas, like Everybody Loves Raymond, in action movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, but is especially prevalent in crime shows with a female partner, like Life, Psyche or Brooklyn Nine Nine. Gone Girl is a crime movie based on a domestic situation. I often wondered why anyone would believe that the immature and unattractive behaviour of the male protagonist would ever attract such a beautiful, intelligent and responsible female partner. Perhaps Gone Girl can be viewed as an explanation or a warning against such relationships?

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The secondary characters in Gone Girl I actually rather liked and felt like they were better played than the slightly bland performance of the lead roles. The main police officer investigating the case is calm, collected, asks intelligent questions, and is not swayed by the trial-by-media. She is also the one who is not taken in by Amy when she returns, but starts to question what’s going on. Her male partner is fooled, and her male superior shuts her down over her pointed questions to Amy after she returns. Margot, or Go as she’s referred to, Nick’s twin, is also a great character. She’s savvy, loyal and she saw through Amy from the start, which is good to see in a film, because aren’t women often able to see through each other when the other half of the population are fooled? In fact, when Amy is robbed, it turns out that it was suggested and plotted by a woman she had made friends with who also saw through her disguise.

Women are not often cast as the scary, or the sociopathic, and Amy is an interesting character, especially as she is ultimately successful. She is not cute and cuddly like the little girl in the books that her parents wrote about her, but it is nice to see a more interesting, dynamic female lead. Next time it would be great if the female lead’s life wasn’t totally revolving around a relationship, but in a way, this film says a lot about how women are socialised to be in relationships, how that is ultimately crushing, and if you want to take that too the extreme, makes them into sociopaths who kill people who try to make them into something they’re not. But that’s just one way of reading the film.

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