This is based on my previous review of the movie Gone Girl in Chinese. Spoiler alert is in order.
In the movie Gone Girl, the male protagonist Nick comes home on a silent and depressing wedding’s anniversary at noon, only to find that his wife, Amy, who he used to love, is gone.
The glass coffee table is smashed on the floor of the living room, with a dash of blood on the kitchen floor.
Nick calls the police, who finds something in the closet: a clue left by Amy, the first clue to the couple’s traditional anniversary treasure hunt.
Amy is somewhat famous, for being the protagonist of the once popular comics book Amazing Amy, written by her child psychologist parents. Hence the case attracts a lot of media attention real fast. Nick’s catastrophic performance before the media makes him the biggest suspect in the eyes of the public. A woman who Nick claims having never heard of says she is Amy’s best friend, and says with extreme sincerity that Nick used to hit Amy regularly, and that the gone Amy is pregnant. In the meantime, Nick follows the treasure hunt behind the police’s back and discovers that Amy planned all of this to happen. It is her intention to make everyone believe that Nick is a violent misogynist who killed his pregnant wife, so that he gets a death penalty……
Amy might just be the most successful female antagonist in recent blockbuster movies.
As someone who very unwisely watched the movie with my then boyfriend now husband, I admit looking awkwardly at him (who looked awkwardly at me too) when coming out of the movie theater, and just almost blurted out the words: I swear to God, I am not a psychopath like Amy.
Amy follows the pattern of a “Crazy ex-girlfriend” (which is also the title of an incredible feminist TV series), a woman who tries to hurt her male spouse or companion in a particularly disturbing way. This phenomenon is so common, that there is also an episode in How I met your mother which treats this subject (S02E07). The story involves a woman who behaves in an abnormal way after breaking up with a man. Sometimes she tries to save the relationship by any means. Sometimes she deliberately tries to hurt the man in the story in order to get a self-righteous revenge. This stereotype of bad women is connected to a number of female folklore or legend characters throughout human history, such as Sirens in Greek mythology, who lure sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
I could see why it is easy to interpret this movie as tarnishing the good names of women.
Despite being young and attractive, the portraying of Amy is extremely unflattering.
In order to ruin Nick, she planned her own kidnap, put a huge needle into her arm to draw out blood (so much that she had to drink a juice box while doing so to prevent herself from fainting) to fake the crime scene.
Close to the end, she lured her crazy ex-boyfriend Desi to have sex with her in order to murder him, while framing the whole thing as Desi’s scheme, in order to get her way out.
So what is the difference between this crazy woman and the rest of the crazy women in history? What made Amy relatable?
For me, the answer is: this crazy Amy is a feminist.
I am not saying that feminists are prone to becoming anti-social psychopath murderers.
Amy obviously cares nothing about women gaining more equal social economic rights with their male counterparts.
In fact, in the movie, it is clearly pictured that Amy lied about her boyfriends sexually assaulting her, in order to gain benefit.
She is clearly taking advantage of affirmative actions in a criminal way.
What I mean is, Amy, this woman who’s is extraordinary or abnormal in every way, has the same crystal clear understanding about the position of women in romantic relationships, and the pressure that the society puts on women, as your regular girl next door.
In a rare moment in the movie where Amy was herself, she was driving an opened convertible in the sunshine, throwing out, one by one, the pens that she used for writing her fake diary, in utter mischief, pride, and joy. In voice-off, she said the most unforgettable feminist manifesto in human history, aka, the cool-girl speech:
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding.
And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.
She is right. So right, that I wish she wasn’t an anti-social psychopath.
To understand Gone Girl, to understand Amy, we need to ask ourselves: should one feel empathy towards an antagonist in movies?
This is a very easy question to answer.
I mean, have you seen Joker?
Or Darth Vader?
Or Dr Hannibal Lecter?
Here is a link to « best movie villains » according to a random google search.
Of course people feel empathy towards antagonists in movies. Contemporary movies are engineered to arise such empathy in viewers. Feeling that antagonists are relatable does not make us bad people. Charismatic and problematic antagonists have always been a part of great movies. But what is the similarity between the examples above? They are (mostly) all men. Viewers are not at ease when seeing charismatic and beautiful female antagonists blurring the fine line of villain and protagonist in such a subtle way. The slight uncomfortable feeling that I felt when seeing Gone Girl, is because Amy is an extremely rare portrayal of women in movie history, who looks normal, is powerful, highly functional, and very very bad. She is nothing of a victim, even when she got robbed and is pennyless and had to call Desi for help.
As the American documentary Miss Representation shows, females make up much less than 50% in main stream media images. When they do appear, they appear as the observer of actions, the victim, the person who is being gazed at (for her appearance). Women are overwhelmingly portrayed as the symbol of youth and beauty, as symbol of sexual attraction, and as care-takers.
And why is this? As any social phenomenon, it is the result of a number of factors, and the causes and consequences are not necessarily clear. One fact that I’d like to mention is that « Women hold only 5% of clout positions in mainstream media. » source
An extreme female antagonist like Amy pushes the boundary set on females by social stereotypes. If we do not overcome the discomfort of creating convincingly evil female antagonists, then we’ll never be able to push the boundary of female protagonists either.
This is why I say Gone Girl is a feminist movie.