(SPOILERS are actually required because this is a brand spanking new film that I saw in the cinema but 2 weeks ago, rather than my usual 10 year old DVD in bed set up. also TRIGGER WARNINGS because this is not a happy review, it is an angry review containing rape and domestic abuse and self harm and general unpleasantness. I have had to wait 2 weeks to write this review in order to cool down because having just watched the film I was only capable of muttering to myself and periodically omitting strange barking laughs to emphasise my indignation, that’s how unpleasant it was)
*Insert that quote where Amy says something like ‘let’s not be like those couples where the woman tries to change everything about her boyfriend and the man acts like she’s his prison warden’ – sadly this quotation is both not representative of the message of the film, nor easily available on the internet because of the newness of the film, if only it were 16 years old and about zorro, one might say*
So I hated Gone Girl. I thought it was exciting, and aesthetically pleasing, and interesting. But I still hated it, because it was evil. I nearly walked out of the cinema several times. At one point I gagged. Now don’t think this was because I’m squeamish, I can watch Planet Terror with the best of them. And, as my affection for Grindhouse movies might suggest to the initiated, I also am capable of really enjoying films I essentially think are misogynistic and exploitative of women – an extended and irrelevant scene in a strip club does not automatically me turn me into a screeching femi-harpy. So it wasn’t (just) that Gone Girl is a film where women stage their own rapes and pretend their husband’s are abusing them because that’s what marriage is like baby, open your eyes, women’s personalities are basically non existent, they just mould themselves round men DUH – as Ben Affleck said on reading that famous Cool Girl speech “Wow I didn’t realise you guys were lying about liking this stuff” well congrats Gone Girl you’ve convinced Ben Affleck women don’t really like beer or football they just pretend to, to get boys to like them, points for feminism – No. This was about how Gone Girl tricked me. Because the first half, I loved. I thought, how interesting, a film about a couple who were happy and in love and whose relationship deteriorated until the point that he ends up abusing and then killing her. This is good stuff. This is myth busting stuff. Not all abusive husbands are demon creatures sprung straight from hell, they begin as normal guys whose lives have taken a terrible turn and who react (unforgivably) by lashing out violently at their wives. That is an important thing to consider. And not all women in abusive relationships are simple innocent victims who were stupid and got mixed up with a Bad Guy and are also kind of masochistic. Maybe they are smart. Maybe they are middle class. Maybe they had a serious adult relationship where they were intellectual equals and shared properly in each other’s lives. The idea that domestic violence is an issue for everyone and not just the Bill and Nancy’s of this world seemed important to me.
And then it was all taken away.
Because this was all just an evil female deception. They never had been in love. There is no such thing as a woman who really loves her husband as he is and doesn’t try to change him and make him more ambitious. That woman isn’t real you silly men, that woman would have to view people as interesting individuals and life as more than an attempt to climb the vague Ladder of Success, at the top of which it seems is neither money or fame but just Success, of some abstract variety. Women do not think in such ways dear viewer, they are too busy curbing their husband’s desires and plotting his ultimate demise should he play too much Xbox. This is what Gone Girl said to me. Now, I know what its defenders would say, for I have read their defences. They would say that Gone Girl is about moral ambiguity and that feminist film making is not about female characters who are nice, it is about having space for female characters who are nasty. And you know what that is a good defence. Except Amy is not morally ambiguous. She’s evil. Her and Nick are not on an even footing. He drinks too much beer, forgets what she likes to eat when she’s sick and cheats on her with one of his students. She frames him for murder with the intent he will be executed. These flaws are not comparable. Nick comes off as a reasonable guy who made some mistakes, entirely understandable really when the woman he’s married to is a raging psychopath. She comes of as someone suffering from psychosis. And let us not forget that Amy has done this before. Nick didn’t drive her to this, she has already framed one guy for rape, and she has “led on” her emotionally unstable high school boyfriend for her entire adult life. Because, to use the words of Janice Ian, of Mean Girls fame, “She’s a life ruiner. She ruins peoples lives”. Now Rosamund Pike may think that her character explores some interesting and complicated depths but frankly I think that she’s just playing an Evil Bitch. And when she’s in Neil Patrick Harris’s weird high security chalet, and she can’t leave without him seeing, and he gives her beauty products so she can “Be herself again” and tells her, in the most sinister way possible, “I won’t force myself on you” (with the implied continuation, “But we are having sex, so you better want it”) I thought She Deserves It. And I hate Gone Girl for making me think that. To craft your film so that your audience crows with glee when a woman is beaten up and all her money is stolen. When your heroine is at very serious risk of being raped it is terrible to put your audience in a position where they think “Well to be fair to this potential rapist, he is really owed sex now, I mean what was she expecting, she brought it on herself”. That is irresponsible, and it is evil and it is the reason that I hated Gone Girl.
STAR: The Bechdel Test
– Developed Female Relationships
(Initially I tried to claim to myself that it does not pass the Bechdel Test but Amy does speak to her nicely beaten trailer trash female friend (because women who are actually beaten are of course modern American Nancy’s, with thick accents and criminal boyfriends, that’s how the world works, all our stereotype breaking was a lie remember) However I would not say their relationship was developed. at all. Nick’s cool sister has no female friends for why does she need them when she has Nick, the Cool Girl lives on even as she is torn down, and Amy of course has only a stupid pretend friend, who she despises, because Amy hates everyone. Because she’s evil)
STAR: Non-stereotyped female characters
– STAR: Developed Prominent female characters
(I was pretty reluctant with these ones too because it is my contention that Amy is just an Evil Bitch, Nick’s sister is a Cool Girl as is the policewoman who is worryingly incredulous when she sees a tale of a husband who has obviously killed his wife – although obviously the film backs up her worrying incredulity – Amy’s mum is mental etc etc. But there are too many women in this film not to give out stars. And before the twist, knife in my heart that it was, Amy was a developed character. So grudging, but deserved)
No Excessive Air of Misogyny – No Rigid Adherence to Gender Norms
(Don’t make me laugh. As if it would get this star. There are no more stars for you Gone Girl. When one of the most sympathetic characters is a lawyer who makes millions defending men who’ve killed their wives and one of the least sympathetic (bar of course Amazing Amy) is a woman who presents a news show where she shares women’s stories and supports their right to have a voice, we have a problem)
No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation
– No Objectification of the Female Body
(So much Amy in the bath. So much of Nick’s young girlfriend’s breasts, breasts famous for their appearance in Robin Thicke’s similarly empowering No. 1. Amy mocks that young woman for having ‘ridiculous tits’ (she means large breasts) in yet another example of how Gone Girl wants to have its cake and eat it too, objectify the ladies and then mock them for allowing themselves to be objectified)
No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women
– No Threat of Male Violence Against Women
(That scene. Where Amy kills Neil Patrick Harris. That was the gagging moment for me. Not when she cut his throat, but when the man who was obviously planning to rape her was cast as a victim of her violent seduction. This is a fantasy world where women rape themselves. Where even that horrific act in which a woman explicitly is denied any agency is taken to be her fault, not in a metaphorical but in a literal and provable way. I am also forced to ask, did Nick really push Amy to the floor? Because he says he didn’t. But we saw him do it. And if you’re going to get all Rashomon with me I expect at least a little heads up. Because this could still have been an interesting film if Amy, beaten by her husband, devises a plan to escape and frame him for her murder, because she was desperate, because she had been betrayed, because her life was falling apart, not because she’s a psycho who is entirely in control always and who was angry that everyone wasn’t playing the mad game she had devised for them)
So 3 stars. 4 Bonus points, Female writer (if you can believe it) working class women (beaten/stupid friends) women in traditionally masculine roles (amy is richer than nick, she is also a murdering psychopath, which is one of the key masculine roles women should be trying to get into, really smash that psycho glass ceiling) and explicit discussion of feminist issues. It does. It talks about the pressures on women to be perfect in every way, to make no demands, to have no needs, not just to be constantly available for sex but to constantly want it, to be waxed and preened and interested in what their boyfriend’s are interested in. Always. This picture of Ms Pike from W magazine demonstrates the artificiality of perfection. And that is what Gone Girl tried to do. But it failed spectacularly. Because it put all of these comments on the pressures on women into the mouth of a psychopathic killer who hates women and thus made them seem like the views of a psychopath. That ‘sweet Midwestern girl’ who isn’t as smart or sophisticated as Amy is ridiculed as weak and pathetic, Amy is strong but evil. There is no real woman here, only idiots and bitches, bar a sister and a police officer, neither of whom have any contact with any other women nor whom seem to want it, both of whom act entirely to please Nick, the man in their life. It is not original and interesting to have an evil bitch ruin a simple man’s life. It is old. It is tired. It is dangerous.
*a note on The Pervocracy. I am a big fan of the blog http://pervocracy.blogspot.co.uk/ . Cliff rocks my world. Anyway I would like to direct you to a post on his tumblr from yesterday because I think it says what Gone Girl was trying to say in about 100 words:
The pressure to not be “clingy” can be brutal, and it takes a lot of self-confidence to push back against that and say “actually, I’m not going to be this perfectly chill partner who never makes it weird, I have emotional needs and if you think that’s emasculating or overbearing or unreasonable then we are done here.
Why couldn’t Amy just have said that?*