Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne is one of those rare characters who leaves your mouth agape with equal parts disgust and weird admiration. Despite her deep narcissism and psychopathy, you find yourself in awe of her guts and sharp brain. She’s a complicated and more interesting successor to flat female villains, such as the femme fatale, Bond Girl, and Evil Stepmother. Finally, women get a smart, albeit crazy, evil antagonist. But Amy Dunne is no Disney villain and she’s no Madwoman in the Attic, either. She can’t be categorized as the go-to female tropes because she fits another mold: she’s a psychopath, one who uses her gender but is not defined by it.
Many have reacted to the film Gone Girl with angry exclamations that Amy Dunne’s character is an anti-feminist trope of the Bitch Wife. In fact, The Guardian said, “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.” Whoa. Slow down, there. This isn’t the wife in some Judd Apatow movie—this is a disturbed murderer. Personally, I think it’s a bit condescending to the audience—to both men and women—to say that people are going to hold up a clearly broken person as representative of an entire gender.
But wait, there’s more. For those who have both read the book and seen the film, there has been some contention surrounding the infamous “cool girl” speech that Amy gives. Slate argues that the film version de-fanged a valid point that Amy makes in the book about men placing unfair expectations on women. Forgive me for quoting a long passage from Slate: “[T]he Cool Girl on the surface seems modern and maybe even progressive—she doesn’t appear traditionally feminine, she’s into “guy” stuff. Which makes this fantasy woman all the more beguiling for a certain kind of man who doesn’t want to be challenged in any way by his wife or girlfriend.”
There’s a lot of danger in taking Amy’s “cool girl” speech seriously. First of all, it’s limiting and prescriptive to say that “women can’t be X” and Amy’s entire speech (given by a sociopath and unreliable narrator) is one born out of jealousy and hate—she’s angry that she feels she has to pretend that she’s “hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer.” And while it’s problematic to put anyone on a pedestal, it’s equally problematic to say, “If you’re a girl who says she likes these things, then you’re only pandering to men and lying to yourself.” Yikes. Let’s not drink the crazy woman’s Kool-Aid.
Furthermore, we have to remember that Amy hates everyone, and she consistently places herself as victim, blaming others for her own actions: it’s her parents’ fault for putting unfair expectations on her, it’s her husband’s fault for cheating, it’s the town’s fault for being too boring, it’s the world’s fault for inventing “cool girl.” Amy’s problem is not that she’s a man-hater or a woman-hater, it’s that she hates people. She would happily dismiss and belittle anyone who crosses her path because she lacks any kind of empathy for others, and therefore, she is an unrelatable character.
The scariest part of Gone Girl is that Amy Dunne does not have real reasons or logical grounds for doing anything she does, and the hard truth is that people like that actually exist. From the outside, Amy seems sweet, smart, and magnetic, but to those who know her, she’s actually disturbed and actively seeks to bring misery to everyone around her. In other words, Amy Dunne could be your neighbor, and you might never know. If Amy represents anything, it’s a dark side to humanity that we do not enjoy thinking about—male or female— and that most of us (thank goodness) do not understand. Perhaps it’s easier or more comforting to say “she’s just an exaggeration of female empowerment” or “she has some valid reasons for what she’s doing,” but I don’t think that’s the case. The truth is darker, scarier, and unknowable.