I've been trying to dislike Gone Girl ever since Mary Gaitskill wrote her hatchet job of a review in Bookforum last September. Gaitskill, whose female-focused fiction (of which I am a fan) is often lurid and lightless, called the book "frightening." "I felt I was reading something truly sick and dark—and in case you don't know, I'm supposedly sick and dark," she wrote.
Mutterings among the élite were similar. So I gave away my copy—which I had read and enjoyed—and dismissed it as poorly written, pulpy trash. Clearly I had been wrong to like it. Popularity and quality do not correlate, sure, that's why I still refuse to see Titanic. But then in advance of the film, I was curious. I re-read the book and found myself gripped by it much like the first time I read it, which is a rarity for me. Then I saw the movie, twice. Despite its disloyalties to the book, I enjoyed it immensely, more so than most cinematic experiences I've had this year.
Thus, paltry effort aside, I can't side with the intellectuals on this one (for what it's worth, Gaitskill also hated Bridesmaids). Gone Girl is a masterwork—a truly enjoyable black dramedy about human relationships put on this earth to make people (read: misogynists) uncomfortable. There is simply no better kind of art.
Naturally, the think piece economy is going nuts in response to a film that includes plot points not limited to false rape accusations, adultery with the Blurred Lines Girl, twincest, a fake Nancy Grace, flyover country disdain, and the moral emptiness of America. (To those who are just now seeing the movie without reading the book and then writing a think piece about it, I put on my librarian's glasses and stare you down with shame [Joshua Rothman of newyorker.com, I'm looking at you.])
Why all the fuss? Well, my id would say it has to do with women, and how many people hate them, and how Gone Girl is a very difficult movie to make sense of, because the main character, the vengeful Amy Dunne, is a fully-fleshed out woman with little to no redeeming qualities. She reminds me, at times, of the narrator in Jenny Offill's stunning Dept. of Speculation, whose raw, darkly funny confessions about marriage and motherhood Michiko Kakutani described as such: "Such behavior makes it hard to understand exactly why her nice, earnest husband married her and how he puts up with her willfully self-conscious observations" (The husband basically has no part in the book other than being a lame asshole in the background).
Amy also brings to mind the characters of Elena Ferrante, whose fiery women fall apart and put themselves back together like cubist Picasso portraits. Being a woman is fucked up, and reading about them is way more interesting than any 90-page description of what Karl-Ove Knausgaard had for lunch when he was 12 in My Struggle. You want to know what a struggle is? I'd guess being married to Karl-Ove Knausgaard. I am waiting for that book. That's why I am grateful for novels like Gone Girl, and Dept. of Speculation, and Ferrante's Days of Abandonment. As "real" or not "real" as they may be, they depict a truth about "bad" women and how acting that way—0r being that way—is still oh-so-very frowned upon by society, even when it may just be women being themselves. It's 2014, and yet women must still be lightness, glitter, and the B-plot (unless they're Reese Witherspoon, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or some shit).
"It is Amy's deception that sucks us in, and her angry reveal that turns the story. When everyone talks about the shifting perspectives and slippery personalities of Gone Girl: That's Amy. When everyone quotes the famous Cool Girl speech — a venomous passage about what women will do to please men, and what men expect of women: That's Amy. At least half of the book (and real talk: all the memorable parts) is devoted to her fiery, alarmingly lucid ramblings about men and marriage and disappointment. She is ultimately a sociopathic, morally indefensible character, but she — in her own words — is present to the very last page."
Dobbins also highlights an interview with Gone Girl's author, Gillian Flynn, in the Guardian last year (Flynn also wrote the film's screenplay). "The one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing," Flynn said. "In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there's still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish."
Amy chafes people as a main character because she's a female villain (who, I would argue, can be identified with in many moments) acting with male agency. Even Gaitskill:
When I called the friends who'd recommended Gone Girl to talk about how sick-making I found it, they both listened in baffled silence before replying: "But the character is crazy. She's supposed to make you sick." I guess that by "crazy" what is meant is that Amy lies, manipulates, switches personae, in fact sees herself and everybody else in terms of personae and will do literally anything to get her way down to the last possible detail.
Lean in much, Mary?
Anyway, it's better that the world learns now rather than later from a fake story that all women are not the same, but are actually multifaceted creatures. Gone Girl is not about the economy, Fight Club for women, or our country's media climate. It's about our baseline assumptions about how women should be, and how we feel when those are challenged (or not).
[Image via Getty]