Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Warning: Spoilers abound ahead, so read on at your own peril.
I read Gone Girl about two years too late. Long after everyone else had marveled at the plot twists, reveled in the relationship roller coasters, and talked it all to death. But, when I finally dove in, I consumed the whole thing in a week (fast, for a slow reader like me). After that, though, I was left to run over it in my mind, nonstop, for about two weeks. All by myself. Because absolutely nobody wants to talk about that bestseller from two years ago that you’re just discovering now.
But, that didn’t stop me from trying. After all, the story of Nick and Amy Dunne left me feeling vaguely terrified and completely unsettled. I couldn’t stop thinking about the tortured couple, and their completely dysfunctional relationship. I especially couldn’t stop fearing Amy, a nuanced, multi-layered, boundary-less psychopath who crosses even the most solid of lines without a hint of compunction.
Fortunately for David Fincher’s film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel, opening in theaters tomorrow, October 3, Rosamund Pike gets that. Best known to American audiences as the saintly Jane Bennet, from the Joe Wright adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Brit actress is more than up to the task of transitioning seamlessly from the relatable and victimized Diary Amy of the first half of the story to the murderous manipulator real-life Amy turns out to be. With her perplexing diction, throaty (albeit unreliable) narration, and openly smug face, Pike challenges the notion that a leading lady needs to be likable or redeemed in order for a fictional work to be successful.
Truly evil, in-control women are rarely seen in film or literature. At best, they present themselves as the mothers of fairy-tale heroines, fading into the background and eventually getting their due. In fact, only seven women show up on this list of literature’s top 50 villains. And, only one woman appears in the top 10 — Cruella de Vil. Whether or not Cruella deserves that honor (personally, I don't think she's nearly as nuanced or interesting as Shakespeare's Iago or Milton's Devil), one thing is clear: Women don't get to play depraved, unapologetically menacing characters. At least not prevalently. Or often. They don't even get to play anti-heroes — or nag at those anti-heroes to stop being murderous assholes, without being called a bitch. And, that's a problem.
In fact, Flynn has received more than her fair share of criticism for writing women in such an unflattering light — and has been accused of being anti-feminist, and even a misogynist, as a result. But, that's the wrong approach. She pushes back on those claims, and on the idea that a woman has to "be a nice girl" above all else. Last year, she told The Guardian, "To me, that puts a very, very small window on what feminism is. Is it really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be? For me, it's also the ability to have women who are bad characters … the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. 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."
[Really big SPOILERS up next!]
And, Fincher seems to understand her point. In this film, Rosamund Pike fully inhabits all of the horrifyingly bad things about Amy. She's self-satisfied and selfish. She fakes a pregnancy, sets her husband up for her own (fake) murder, and takes another man's life in cold blood and shakes it off in an instant, even as her whole body is soaked in his blood. She's manipulative and purely evil...and a sociopath — and, while that implies some kind of psychosis, she's not entirely unhinged. She's not coming apart at the seams. And, even when she starts to lose control, she finds a way ahead without floundering and weeping.
Yes, you can call her a psychopath, but you absolutely should not dismiss her as a "crazy bitch." Because she's so much more calculating and interesting than that.