I just saw Gone Girl. Took myself on a little date. Indulged in some peanut m&ms and some french fries. What a night.
I was skeptical at best. I read the book. Tore through it the summer it debuted. When was that? I’d talked to people about the film, read countless reviews, read reviews of reviews. People got angry about this movie; people have had real visceral reactions.
But once I decided to see it, I knew I would like it. And I did. Sitting in the theater I had the same rush of emotions I had reading the story. The same thrill, the same tightness in my chest. I was grinding my teeth and slouched down in the same tense posture as when I was reading. Oh, I loved it. Gillian Flynn, girl, you make me feel.
It’s an important story mainly because it’s about this dark wicked woman. The woman that society fears. The woman society is convinced exists– is out there– is inside all of us. We lie. We pretend to be the cool girl when we’re really the crazy bitch. We bait our men. We fake rape, we make up villains, we fake being beautiful with our clothes and our make up and our instagram filters. How much easier life would be for the patriarchy if we weren’t so complex and deceitful?
Society is convinced that the version we present to them isn’t who we really are in our real lives. That is their ultimate fear. That’s why they spend so much time putting us in our place, controlling our reproductive rights, catcalling us on the streets, threatening us on the Internet. You, woman, are a liar. And if we give you full rights and capabilities as a full citizen, you will wreak havoc on the world with all your deceit. (Just go with me as I use “you”, “I”, “us” as I make my case. Don’t get offended.) So, every dude nightmare realized: Cool hot girl he marries turns into psychopathic crazy bitch. Even worse, cool hot girl is laughing at him. The ultimate rejection. The ultimate fear realized.
I liked that Amy is fucked up. Gillian Flynn creates dark, angry, violent female characters. Deeply flawed, scary, imperfect, broken. I like this. I like that we can see women that aren’t perfect or good or effortlessly happy. Ultimately, women that don’t get saved or fixed. You know why? Because of society. Because of gender roles. Because of the social construction of femininity. Because bad things, awful things happen to women on a daily basis. And women are constantly trying to prove that they don’t deserve it. They’re constantly asked to show, to demonstrate for the room, how they don’t deserve the terrible things that happen to them. They weren’t dressed slutty, they didn’t leave their drink unattended, they smiled nicely at their husband when he got home, they had dinner on the table, they took their child to school every day, they quit their job to help with homework, they got the babysitter to go to the distance track meet. I’m not perfect, but look how hard I try. (Also, bear with me as I use cisgendered terms: man, woman, she, he.)
And Gillian Flynn takes that whole convention and turns it on its head. No, here is a woman that won’t ask for your sympathy, that won’t play into your game. Here is a woman that unapologetically presents herself to you in all her imperfect angry glory, and despite yourself, you might like her. She is the recipient of her own violence, she is in control of the violence in her life. She is rarely, briefly, a victim. And that is an uncomfortable vision for many because that is so often how we’re asked to relate to women. Women are victims with a struggle to share, with a story to tell, with grievances to air. Amy uses that against us, and it is incredibly disconcerting. It makes you feel powerless. What can you trust if you can’t trust a broken woman?
I get so tired of being told to be a certain way as a woman. To dress and act and pose and feel this way. Gillian Flynn says, you can be angry and crazy and broken beyond repair, and you can still “win.” You can have the husband and the house and the adoration of strangers.
This film, this story, really is so fucking layered. Because it’s not just about gender roles and feminism. It’s about relationships and perception and identity. The characters we create in the stories we’re trying to live. The story we tell ourselves when we think no one’s watching. The story I tell you about who I am. The way we perceive each other and the way the media, the world, the bullshit creates a story for us, and how we just eat it all up like treats. We are sheep. We are followers. We have information constantly at our fingertips, just flowing into us, and it’s getting to the point where we accept the shape it comes in. We don’t question it, we don’t look for the motive, the narrator, to see who is telling the story, to see what the spin is. We just take it. Face value, hello. And this follows us into our relationships: this is who I’m supposed to be, this is how I’m supposed to act, this is the way I’ve been told friendship and love and marriage and families work. But what is normal? What is healthy? What is conventional? Who wrote this script for you and why are you following it so closely? Doesn’t that scare you a little that you don’t really know why you’re playing this part? It should.
The movie questions love and simultaneously defines it. Love is challenge, love is support, love is trying. We fall in love with the person we want to see, with the person the other is trying to be, and it’s too late by the time we realize that we’ve stopped trying and they’ve stopped trying and fuck it all, now we have to do this for real? And if you can do it for real, you survive. But what is survival? It’s different for everyone. Amy takes her story, her character, and totally restructures the narrative. She completely renovates her plot, and who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t get off on achieving that and knowing you have that power? She gets her revenge, sure, but she also finally gets the life she’s wanted all along.
One of my guy friends couldn’t get over how fucked up Amy is, and how fucked up Nick is for staying with her. And he was so upset, visibly reddened at the thought. And at the time we were discussing it, I didn’t get it. Couldn’t articulate it. But now I do. He’s a purist, as in he wants his love to be pure, and if what they have can survive, can make it, then what is that saying about him? About his relationship? When he’s trying so goddamned hard to be perfect, to be happy, to be pure and loving and golden? It taints it. It makes him look like a fool, it makes him seem shallow, fake, empty, and well, isn’t he? Isn’t he, if what he’s trying to do doesn’t really exist on a basic level? If what he’s working at can only exist with the scaffolding and the plaster and the perfect weather conditions? I think so. Also, I think he was taking the story a bit too literally. It might not be a fairy tale, but it is just a story, after all. My mother in response to a picture I found of her on her first wedding day, “Gee, we were all so beautiful when I believed in fairy tales.” And at first I was reluctant to agree. Me, always always in resistance of my mother’s bitterness, my mother’s anger, when I realized, how right she was. Yes, how right you have always been my mother. Life isn’t a fucking fairy tale. There are extremes and there are dry spells and there are weeks of monotony. There are people with real hardships, who go without water or food or shelter, who live in war zones, who watch children die and sick people starve and the world just carries on without them, worrying about their cell service and the sales at the mall and their test grades. There are people like me, who have to deal with strange coworkers and shitty weather and short weekends. There are people like Amy and Nick, who cause physical and emotional damage to one another with their hands and their words. And we all float around in this space and respect one another’s privacy and don’t do a thing about it.
And for once, I was happy to see a movie that captured the fucked up way we live our lives and try to pretend that we’re all business as usual. That we’re not all broken and flawed in some way. Happy and pristine and normal. I think that’s why people get so angry at the movie, because it doesn’t take them away from themselves or anything that they fucking hate about the world. Instead, it puts them face to face with their worst fear. People at their most primal and honest. How scary. What can you hide behind? How do you fake your way out of this one? It makes us think about the characters we’re all trying to be, and the names of the characters we’ve called others. Gillian Flynn doesn’t make any excuses, she doesn’t provide you with all that much to empathize with, and we, sheep, consumers of all that is farce, need that back story. We need the motivation and the reasoning and the why. We need to know that things are going to work out–that everything happens for a reason–that good things happen to good people. We need something positive to believe in. But that doesn’t exist in our real life. If people would turn off the computer, the cell phone, the TV, then maybe they would realize, how fictional it all is. Shit happens. But man alive that drives people crazy. How dare you go around just letting shit happen without any fucking reason. Cause that’s what we’ve defined as being crazy, right? Motive-less chaos.
So obviously, I had an incredible reaction to this film. This is what art is for. This is why books and movies exist. To make you use that giant brain.
And in the words of Amy Poehler, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”