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‘Gone Girl’ invites criticism, raises questions concerning feminist artists’ responsibilities

Veronika Kiss

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Illustration by Tyle Schuh.

As awards season approaches, “Gone Girl,” a film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel of the same name, looks to be a favorite for Oscar nominations. Despite the buzz surrounding “Gone Girl,” however, some critics have expressed concerns that its female lead, Amy Dunne, perpetuates harmful stereotypes about women. (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen or read “Gone Girl” yet, stop reading.)

See, Amy is the stuff of every misogynist’s worst nightmare. Over the course of the film, she orchestrates an elaborate plot to fake her own kidnapping and murder and then frame her feckless husband Nick. She composes a fictitious account of Nick’s abuse of her. She falsely accuses men of raping her. She impregnates herself using frozen samples of her husband’s sperm. Furthermore, she commits these reprehensible actions under the guise of being a feminist liberator, lending credence to misguided fears that all feminists are out to get men.

Critics of “Gone Girl”have focused largely on Amy’s accusations of two of her former lovers, who she claims raped her. Joan Smith of The Guardian says that “one of [the film’s] key themes is the notion that it’s childishly easy to get away with making false allegations of rape and domestic violence.” Nikki Gloudeman of The Huffington Post also singles out Amy’s finger-pointing as reinforcing “a commonly depicted –– and damaging –– archetype: the manipulative, seductive, clingy, vindictive, controlling, life-destroying, crazy bitch who makes up rapes and destroys men’s lives because, eh, why not?” In real life, however, as Smith and Gloudeman point out, false rape accusations are rare, while genuine rape victims are often met with skepticism and blame.

While I agree with Smith’s and Gloudeman’s assertions that myths about the prevalence of false rape accusations harm actual rape survivors, I disagree that “Gone Girl” perpetuates these myths. To begin with, the media and police accept Amy’s story without question because she is a conventionally beautiful white trust-fund baby. Had Amy been a poor woman of color, her rape accusations would not have been so readily believed, nor would her supposed kidnapping have become such a media sensation. The ease with which Amy makes her false rape accusations is a commentary on the privilege and media credibility that class, race and physical attractiveness afford, not an observation of the way the justice system typically handles rape cases.

Additionally, the hypocrisy of Amy’s pseudo-feminism is easy to expose. Amy is fed up with being a “Cool Girl” who “likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain,” and she wants other women to remove their man-pleasing “Cool Girl” masks as well. However, her outright disdain for the Cool Girls as “even more pathetic” than the men they seek to please suggests that she actually has extremely rigid ideas about gender roles. Amy insists that all women who claim to like “male” activities (which, according to her, include dirty jokes, video games and anal sex) must be pretending to do so in order to impress a man, and disregards women who enjoy stereotypically masculine activities on their own merits.

Amy’s lack of female friends highlights the irony that she speaks for all women –– because, in the end, Flynn does not intend for her to represent all women. As Time’s Eliana Dockterman notes, because strong female characters are so scarce, “The burden falls on the writers who do write about women to make them represent all of womanhood. And that’s simply not fair.” Flynn makes it perfectly clear that Amy is the exception to womanhood rather than the rule by contrasting her with more sympathetic female characters. In particular, Nick’s sister, Margo (nicknamed “Go”), and lead detective Rhonda Boney stand out as women who are compassionate, fair-minded and horrified by Amy’s manipulations. The prominence of Go and Boney further underlines that Amy is, first and foremost, a psychopath and, second, a woman.

The debate surrounding “Gone Girl” raises provocative questions about the relationship between art and social justice. As a writer, does Flynn have a duty to avoid negative depictions of female characters if they can be used to justify misogynist attitudes? While artists should strive to be conscious of the social implications of what they write, I don’t think Flynn is at fault here. In my opinion, any interpretation of Gone Girl which ignores Amy’s privilege, pseudo-feminism and psychopathy and uses her to justify misogynistic fear-mongering is a willful misreading of the source material. Flynn should not be held accountable for people’s unwillingness or inability to properly understand the complexity of her story. Instead, she should be commended for creating a strong female character who provokes such a meaningful debate.

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‘Gone Girl’ invites criticism, raises questions concerning feminist artists’ responsibilities