Gone girl… a problem.

Here in the UK I must have read 15 different reviews of this tawdry US movie — this one sounds about right…

From The Guardian. David Cox.  6 Oct. 2014
Gone Girl revamps gender stereotypes – for the worse
Gillian Flynn feels both book and film advance the female cause. Yet Rosamund Pike’s Amy may harm perceptions of women, although not for the reasons you might expect

Hollywood has done much to atone for the days when its women were romcom airheads and its men were doughty heroes. Today’s Disney princesses take charge of their kingdoms, as in Frozen, or take to the battlefield, as in Brave. The likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent have made derring-do a female prerogative. Meanwhile, men have turned into the infantilised slobs of The Hangover or Cyrus. Yet revolutions prompt counter-revolution. Perhaps Gone Girl portends such a change of tack.

More emphatically than the bestseller on which it’s based, David Fincher’s film re-engineers approved gender stereotypes. The virtuous wife wronged by a brutish husband is meticulously depicted, but in a diary faked to capitalise on the presumption of female victimhood. Its author, Rosamund Pike’s Amy, is actually a female psychopath allotted the amorality and obsessiveness that, on screen, have traditionally been the province of the male.

Any idea that Amy’s character has nothing to do with her gender can be set aside. Pike has told us: “The thing about Amy is that she could never have been a man. She’s purely female. People don’t like me saying that, but it’s true.” Ben Affleck, who plays Amy’s husband Nick, seems to agree: “It’s a film that strips back and reveals the differences between men and women,” he has said.

The most obvious such difference proves to be the female’s greater deadliness. Previous screen ogresses, such as those of Fatal Attraction, Misery or Play Misty for Me, have often been infatuated with men. Amy is beyond such frailties, absorbed by a kind of totalitarian narcissism that’s beyond male understanding.

It’s certainly hard for Nick to grasp. He’s accorded the shambling ineptitude and misdirected lust we expect from a modern man, but at heart he’s a good guy. His inability to express feeling doesn’t make him sub-human; it’s a weakness seized upon by the world to condemn him unfairly. “The hallmark of a sociopath is a lack of empathy,” decrees a (female) TV pundit, finding his masculine reticence to be proof of guilt.
Some people like to believe that generalisations about the male or female character are all bogus: whatever Pike may think, people are just people. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Even when it’s monkeys who’re given the choice, females apparently prefer playing with dolls while males prefer toy cars. Apparently, differing neural networks in male and female brains really do encourage the former to systematise and the latter to empathise. The superiority of female emotional intelligence may therefore be no myth.

If this is the case, the grasp of the human heart that enables Amy to manipulate others does indeed reflect her gender. Nick’s deficiencies on this front are equally well-founded. On the other hand, in the real world, the intricate calculation on which Amy’s schemes depend is probably more of a boy thing. As for her all‑encompassing selfishness, well, both sexes seem able to manage that.

Accurate or not, Gone Girl’s revised stereotypes, like their much-decried predecessors, will doubtless leave their mark, since the film looks like being even more successful than the book. Gillian Flynn, who wrote both, seems to think her rendering of Amy will advance the female cause. According to her, “women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves – to the point of almost parodic encouragement – we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.”

Nick and Amy’s mother lead the search
It’s the argument, familiar from other debates, that you’ve really arrived only when you no longer need to be handled with kid gloves. Yet if Amy’s penchant for murder may be harmless, her lesser sins raise more awkward issues.

Amy doesn’t just kill. She makes false allegations of rape. She’s believed, because these days officialdom assumes such accusations are well-founded. Rightly so, but Gone Girl offers filmgoers a vivid counter-image. Amy also traps a man by stealing his sperm to make herself pregnant. She doesn’t merely “forget” to take her pill. She plans with much malice aforethought to treat her husband and her own child as mere instruments of her will. It’s these actions, not her real and attempted homicides, that may well resonate.

Shadowy motives … Pike as Amy in Gone Girl
Today, in polite society, you won’t hear a word against women. Yet attitudes elsewhere remain less comforting, as is evident in everything from the web-trolling of celebrities to the reluctance of rape case juries to convict. In some quarters, the endless promotion of the female cause seems to be creating its own backlash. Women, some seem to believe, are self-serving, venomous and deceitful but can get away with whatever they want. It’s this outlook that Amy’s adventures could foster.

For good measure, the film throws in a battered woman who takes to robbery, a mistress who betrays her lover as well as his wife, a controlling mother, a poisonous TV hostess and a vengeful, spurned crime groupie. Even Nick’s loyal sister gets accused of “twincest” for her pains. He, meanwhile, assumes the formerly female mantle of victimhood.

If big-screen gender tropes are indeed due for a makeover, Gone Girl is doing its bit. Still, let’s hope its successors may take a less disconcerting path.

• Discuss Gone Girl’s ending – with spoilers

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