Amy Dunne, and why Gone Girl (the movie) made me so uncomfortable
More a Reaction than a Review
Warning: If you have not seen the film and read the book by Gillian Flynn you may want to skip reading this post. This will be full of spoilers, lots of spoilers, but I have a lot to say about the movie, the book, and Amy Dunne. This is not as much a review than a reaction. After the picture below the spoilers will start to fly, so you may want to leave now. If not, well, read at your own risk.
I came upon the book, Gone Girl, many, many times before I finally decided to read it. I will admit to thinking it would be a stereotypical, “destined to paperback copies sold at the check-out line at the grocery store” kind of book, and though it’s success has found the book winding up at said counters and nearly everyone’s “I’ve read it” list, the book was never a stereotype to me. Instead, it was a story that started as a he said/she said recollections of a failed marriage and possible murder that led me along one path, a path where I found myself often siding more with Nick rather than Amy. I felt sure of many things, but then that twist came along in the middle of the book and yes, I was surprised (understatement).
It was an Audio Book version I first “read“, and when the twist came I had to pull over and hit rewind to listen again, and breathe through the shock experienced. Though I did suspect that Amy was alive, I did not see the complete, magnificent mind fuck that she was pulling off. From that point on I was even more riveted, and yet even though I knew that Amy was written as the “villain” in the plot, I still went back-and-forth on who I felt the most for. Though admittedly, Nick was usually the one I went back to, excusing my internal pull to root for Amy (especially in terms of surviving Jeff and Shawna, and escaping Desi) as a desire to ultimately see Nick’s name cleared.
If Amy survived and returned, Nick would be exonerated.
But, maybe that wasn’t all of it. No, the way I felt for Amy was far more complicated than that. There were moments in the book when Amy ranted about “the cool girl” myth (reminiscent of the “Mary Jane” or the “Magic Pixie Girl” tropes found in so much fiction) that hit a chord with me, as well as her chameleon like qualities and the way no one seemed to ever really know her, only knowing what she brought to them, and out in them – that hit a little too deep and personal to me. There were moments when Amy’s “evil” behavior went more than a few beats too far, and for that I kept siding with Nick – but then, I recently re-read the book, and the movie happened, and I have to say my loyalties shifted.
It is a disturbing thing to realize you are similar to a mentally unstable, psychotic, villain of a character that everyone deems “Queen Bitch”. How does one come to terms in recognizing unattractive qualities in oneself when reading or watching a character you are supposed to despise? What happens when you start to feel sympathy for said character, and actually start rooting for her? What if it makes you feel really, deeply sad and alone when that all finally hits you?
No, I could not plot my own murder to frame someone for it, knowing they could either spend their life in jail, or be sentenced to lethal injection. No, I could not slash someone’s throat. No, I wouldn’t use a pregnancy to manipulate a life, or person, I wanted to keep. But, I do understand human behavior and people around me enough to probably pull some of that off, more than I care to readily admit.
I grew up never knowing who I was. Some of that had to do with growing up in an abusive home, some of it had to do with having to live in a constant state of duplicity in order to keep said abusive home a secret, some of it had to do with learning to go numb and become a different person in order to survive. And, some of it had to do with being a lonely and shy young girl who never felt comfortable in her skin, or in her own sense of self.
Becoming a chameleon became second nature to me, and when I started to date and enter into relationships I could masterfully become the other person’s “dream girl”. I was that repulsive “cool girl” again and again, living my life to be exactly what the other wanted, often being called a “soul mate” after only one or two dates, getting them in ways that “no one ever did“, and ultimately supporting all of their dreams and desires. I became a fantastic lover (at least to the person on the receiving end, or so I’ve been told) and the coolest girlfriend, and later wife, who never revealed her jealousy or anger or any tangible wants or needs, well, not until it all went to shit.
And it ALWAYS all went to shit.
I invariably felt lonely and not understood. All the efforts I put in to know the other person, to mold myself for that other person, well, that other person never reciprocated, mostly because they never saw that it was work to do so, they just thought I’d bloomed off some fucking tree as the perfect girl for them. But it was a lot of work, a lot of meticulous work, and in the midst of all of the work I’d somehow convince myself that it wasn’t work after all, that maybe I had found “my perfect match”, or at least my perfect self with that match, and then I’d start to relax and let myself open up, actually allow myself to want something back, only to be met by an endless slew of disappointment, and the realization that they did not know me at all. Not that it was any of their faults necessarily, because how could they know me? I didn’t know me. I only knew the “me” at that moment that I perceived they wanted me to be (usually perceiving right, unfortunately).
In the film, when Nick knows so little about Amy, not even enough to know how she spent her days, if she had friends, or even her blood type, it hurt deeply to watch. I felt this sharp pain somewhere deep inside and it made it a little hard for me to breathe. I think it was right then that I started to root for Amy.
But, what exactly was I rooting for?
I think that I wanted her to have one of two “endings” (or futures). I wanted her to either be completely exposed for all that she’d done and have to face it, finally being seen truthfully and having to deal with the consequences, OR, I wanted her to leave her life with Nick. I wanted the rumored “new ending” of the film to be Nick waking up and finding her gone, because honestly I felt like she deserved a different ending. She and Nick were terrible together, they were not soul mates, not even in a “fucked up couple” kind of way, and honestly, raising kids together? Really?
For me personally, age has helped solve some of my “Amy-ness“. I do not turn myself inside out in order to become perfect for people anymore, though I still know others a little too quickly, and well below their surfaces. And, I am still rarely really known.
People will swear they know me so well, and deem themselves my best friend, and not know anything about me. I’m constantly told “I have never told anyone this” before a confession arrives in my lap, or a “we have so much in common” when really it is just one or two things I’ve picked up about a person that I then use to ease my shyness in conversations. Very few people know me well, nor do they try to know me well, and yeah, that feels really fucking lonely a lot of the time. A lot of times, too, it feels like they just don’t want to put the effort in, especially as it seems they are too busy enjoying how perfectly I seem to know, and fit, with them and their needs.
But, I have let some key people in closer than I have ever in my life previously. Just a few though. Trust is hard, and disappointment is usually what I get back in full.
That said, I will be the first to say that I think I’m great at being a Mom, but other relationships I am not good at. Maybe I still haven’t found myself, maybe I still know too well how to be the chameleon, or maybe there is something deeply wrong with me inside. I don’t know. But, I know that for me all of that makes it very hard to watch Amy on-screen and not want her to make it in the end. It is hard not to root for her.
Back to the film though, there were very few people I felt for, or felt engaged with. Amy was definitely one of them. She was vivid and complex, warm one moment, ice-cold the next, and so fucking smart. She was cruel, too, cutting and manipulative. But, she had absolutely no chemistry with Nick, not even in the beginning, and that felt flat to me. In the book you feel the chemistry between them in the beginning, and even in the end in a disturbing way, but on film it was never there.
Also, where were the women in this film? I will say Margo was incredible. Every time she was on-screen she stole the scene, and I felt the most for her relationship with Nick than I did for any of his other relationships. Carrie Coon is quickly becoming a favorite actor of mine, especially after this Summer’s The Leftovers. But, I felt cheated by the blink and you’ll miss her portrayal of Nick and Margo’s Mother. as well as there one-note, barely there scene with their Father. Their parents were pinnacle in shaping who Nick and Margo are, Nick especially in the way he holds all his emotion inside, how he reacts and acts with women, and how insecure he is.
Where was Hilary Handy and her past history with Amy? Complicated friendships needed to be explored in the understanding (or the not understanding) of Amy. It helps to establish her manipulations of all relationships, not just sexual or romantic ones.
Also, where was Jacqueline, Desi’s Mother? Her creepiness and off-kilter relationship with her son Desi is intriguing, as well as disturbing, in the book. Also, her hatred of Amy is a vital detail, especially when she tries to seek justice for her son’s murder, who she rightfully accuses Amy of. Also, the fact that Amy resembles Jacqueline is important to understanding Desi.
Next up is Andie in the film. Where was the tough side of Andie, the side that bit Nick’s face when he broke up with her? Where was her characterization? She was relegated to just one-step up from her role in the Robin Thicke/Pharrell Summer “hit turned disaster” Blurred Lines video. This isn’t even a casting slag off, or commentary on Emily Ratajkowski acting abilities, but more to the writing of her character for the film.
I will say that Kim Dickens’ Rhonda Boney was well-represented, despite her being too “Hollywood” in appearances. I do think the film captured the part of her that doubts Amy and the whole “set-up“, and her persistence in finding the truth. I do think they missed some of the cues of her belief in Nick and the companionship they have throughout. In the book it is that companionship and connection they have that makes the discovery of the diary, and the mallet from the Punch doll, that more heartbreaking to read because you feel Rhonda hurt by it. That was completely absent from the film.
I also missed Tanner’s wife who was so well-written, and the young blogger who gets the unorthodox interview with Nick at the bar that shakes up Amy, and manages to fool her in thinking that Nick is finally seeing her, and which leads to Nick’s daily online messages to Amy. On my second reading, Nick’s deception is painful because you feel how desperately Amy wants to be seen and loved for her, even when her ego and need to be right overshadows that need.
Amy doesn’t want to be mistaken as Amazing Amy, or the “cool girl” anymore. She is so fucking sick of all that she’ll kill to destroy it, and those who keep fabricating her.
Visually the film is on point. Details like the Amazing Amy book covers and posters are painfully accurate, “The Bar” is how I pictured, the abandoned mall is even spookier than I imagined, and the scenes where Nick is alone look and feel desolate and lost, which is perfect. I just did not believe in his scenes with Amy at all.
Now, there is one more character I haven’t mentioned, except in reference to Amy or Jacqueline, and that’s Desi. When I first heard that Neil Patrick Harris was cast I was excited. I love when actors take risks, and I was hopeful that he would do the part justice.
I’m not sure if it was lack of full characterization, or if he was just not right for the part, but he was not Desi to me. This Desi was laughable at times, weak, desperate and not threatening at all. In the book Desi is cold, colder even than Amy, calculating, seemingly sociopathic, beyond creepy, and downright terrifying at times.
His controlling nature is barely touched on in this portrayal, nor is his misfired understanding of Amy. He remembers all the details of an adolescent Amy that is long gone, and tries to smother her in those misrepresented memories, keeping her a prisoner at the lake house, and hiding her away from his Mother’s judgement. In this film version, he is too sympathetic. It makes Amy seem even crueler, which is not necessary (we get that she’s cruel). To me, Desi was supposed to bring sympathy to Amy’s character, make you see her as a wild animal in a trap, to get the reader to start rooting for her.
There are other details that are missing too, some inconsequential, others that I truly missed (where was the “just one olive” inside joke between Nick and Amy?), and the first act felt flat to me, only really coming to life when either a) Margo was on-screen, or b) Amy and the big reveal happened.
Overall, I don’t think that I liked the movie. I do know that it left me feeling uneasy and sad, and that the longer I think about it the more I feel driven to reread the book and possibly write Amy a different ending. Maybe I will do both.