Dir: David Fincher
Gen: Looking at Women
David Fincher’s suburban horror Gone Girl (2014) recounts the story of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a journalist turned housewife, who transforms into a(n eventually blood drenched) psychopath when she and her husband Nick are forced to leave their lives in New York to care for Nick’s dying mother. Due to the ambiguous reliability of Amy as narrator, the viewer questions whether, as Nick states, she is indeed “delusional” and “insane”, or whether she was led to hysteria by domestic violence (if we trust her account) and the emptiness of suburban marital life. As is explored in the TV show Mad Men (think Betty Draper’s violent outburst at a chair whilst her children are watching television) or in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, the more generous viewer posits that one possibility is that Gone Girl is a study of the hysteria induced by a woman’s entrapment in her own home as a housewife (Walters 2011, p.60). Yes she’s a psychopath, but maybe she has a point?
While most women weren’t led to Amy Dunne’s murderous extremes, the 1950s did engender a particularly pernicious creation of the housewife. Having been afforded the liberty of her own job, education and personal income before the war, many women purposelessly returned to the kitchen sink, jobless but for their domestic and familial duties, when the troops returned. But why does the cliche still exist today? In The Feminine Mystique (1963) Betty Friedan outlines one explanation for this anachronism:
“the “happy housewife heroine” is the fictional embodiment of the post-war “feminine mystique”, which “makes certain concrete, finite, domestic aspects of feminine existence – as it was lived by women whose lives were confined, by necessity, to cooking, cleaning, washing, bearing children – into a religion, a pattern by which all women must now live or deny their femininity”.
(Walters, The Horrors of Home, 62)
If one is to follow Amy’s narrative, to perform her proper feminine identity she must adopt the roles of mother and wife to fulfil her female potential. By denying Amy the chance to have a “purpose”, that is to have children, it appears that Nick simultaneously promotes and restricts Amy’s fulfilment of her feminine identity. When they first meet, Nick ironically states that he will “save” Amy, the blonde size two with “delicate” hands, as if she is the princess and he is the knight in shining armour, but by the time that Amy is gone it appears that all Nick wanted was to put his princess back into her ivory tower. She moves from the walls of her parents ‘prison’, in which she was never as good as their fictional alter-ego Amazing Amy, to the walls of the Dunne’s suburban home. The premise of their relationship changed: following his redundancy, Nick no longer could or wanted to be the fairytale prince who saved his princess, and Amy was left with a beige life in a beige suburban home. As Friedan’s writing confirms, the domestic life is the new ivory tower.
Furthermore, the pallid beige colour scheme of the Dunne’s house, which is enhanced by Fincher’s choice of yellow lighting when the couple are together on screen, infers that their marriage has gone stale. It associates their home with mundanity, giving the viewer an insight into the films overarching prognosis that, once married, a couple lose the initial spark of attraction that brought them together. Despite going to greater extremes than the average couple with marital issues, Nick and Amy’s relationship does outline that marriage can be a trap for both women (Amy) and men (Nick).
However, this doesn’t brush away the misogynistic overtones of Fincher’s film. It is worth comparing the extreme lengths to which Nick and Amy go when their relationship begins to fall apart. Nick has an affair, whilst Amy devises a convoluted plot to kill Nick, only to return covered in the blood of another victim once Nick has passed her traumatising test to see if he really ‘gets’ her. Evidently, Gone Girl reinforces rather than challenges misogynistic gender roles that, on the surface, it appears to confront. Yes, Nick’s life sucks, but from the looks of things, Amy’s life sucks more.
Therefore, despite blatantly under-lining contradictions inherent to contemporary notions of masculinity and femininity, such as Amy’s infamous ‘cool girl’ speech, or Nick’s deconstruction of his own performed masculinity at the party, Gone Girl still follows a heroic man/monstrous woman narrative. The only two women saved from this are Nick’s sister Go, who runs The Bar, and Detective Bony, both of whom have opted out of romantic relationships and have notably masculine jobs; they are only exempt from cliched gender roles because they have renounced their femininity.
The destructive femininity seen in Gone Girl comes from a decidedly patriarchal point of view. Amy has soft and angelic features, is frequently dressed in white, bleaches her hair and has a “delicate” frame that she maintains by starving herself of chocolate, burgers and soda. On the surface, Amy is the ‘ideal’ woman. She is the personification of Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth (1990) and embodies all of Freidan’s criteria for the “problem that has no name”, despite experiencing it over fifty years after The Feminine Mystique was written (Friedan 1963, p.15).
Evidently, the social pressures placed upon women to fulfil a capitalist patriarchal idea of femininity, represented by Amy in Gone Girl, haven’t disappeared:
“If I only have one life, let me live it as a blonde,” a larger-than-life-sized picture of a pretty, vacuous woman proclaimed from newspaper, magazine and drugstore ads. And across America, three out of every ten women dyed their hair blonde. They ate chalk…instead of food, to shrink to the size of the thin young models.”
(Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 17)
Woman have shaped themselves to an image of femininity constructed by ad men. And perhaps the image of the liberated woman, represented by the cool girl sequence in which Amy gains weight, dies her hair brown and wears comfy mismatched clothes, is also a capitalist image constructed by others to allow herself the pleasure of feeling ‘free’. Who knew freedom looked like a KitKat and a baggy shirt?
Consequently, despite boasting a few knowing scenes and a seemingly liberatory sequence, Gone Girl misses the political potential of the feminine. It depicts the feminine as a facade that woman adopts to maintain a mysterious interior, but in doing so complies to its patriarchal definition; woman can be different to man so long as her difference is controlled, surveyed and managed. The surveillance society depicted in Gone Girl extends beyond the exterior community, it exists within the head of every woman who, in keeping with feminist theorists such as Naomi Wolf, equates femininity with beauty, to the extent that she does not challenge the hierarchical and normative concept of beauty in the first place. Beautiful isn’t an adjective, it’s a value judgement.
Featuring series curator, Kathryn Cutler-MacKenzie and Neon Eye's Calum Mowatt and Caitlin Deery.
Where to watch
The full version of Gone Girl is available online or in stores across the UK.
Friedan, B. (1963) The Feminine Mystique. Toronto, George J McLeod Limited.
Walters, M. (2011) “The Horrors of Home: Feminism and Femininity in the Suburban Gothic.” In Women on Screen, 58-73. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan
Mill, J.S. (1982) On Liberty. London, Penguin Books.
Weiner, M. MadMen, 2007-2015.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathryn is a fourth year student of a joint degree in History of Art and Art Practice at The University of Edinburgh. Her interest in feminist cinema comes from her belief in political, cultural and social equity, a set of values that she says have often felt uncomfortable alongside popular feminist movements such as "fourth wave" or Taylor Swift "girl gang" feminisms. Kathryn has found that by understanding the roots of female "types", consolidated through literature, cinema and art, she has been able to understand how they are constructed and how her own sense of femininity and womanhood differ.
ABOUT NEON EYE
Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.