Rosamund Pike Portrays Psychopaths Like No Other Actor
With Gone Girl and I Care a Lot Pike has solidified herself as a great exemplar of cinematic psychopaths
We have seen countless iterations of psychopaths in film and television over the decades. From Norman Bates in Psycho to Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler, the medium isn’t short of fascinatingly malicious characters. What makes Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy in Gone Girl (and more recently as Marla in I Care a Lot) so interesting is how she portrays psychopaths so clearly and yet so thoughtfully. She somehow gives us a very transparent look at what a true psychopath can look like, while being wholly original and inspired in her take on the character type.
Spoilers below for Gone Girl and I Care a Lot
In Gone Gril, Pike plays a seemingly loving wife named Amy who appears to have a fairly normal (and impressive) life. Through a buildup of betrayals by her husband, Amy decides that a proper revenge is to stage her own pretend abduction/murder and blame it on her husband, leaving him with nothing but a death sentence and a ringing question in his head, “How did this happen?” This level of careful planning, manipulation, and lack of morals clearly establishes Amy as a psychopath. What makes Pike’s performance so reviving really comes alive in the second half of the film. When her husband discovers what Amy has done, he attempts to draw her out with an interview on national TV in the form of an apology (although insincere), in hopes that Amy will see this message and come home to literally save his life. Amy eventually decides to come home, after a casual spur of the moment murder, Amy pins the abduction on some other poor sap. Amy decides to still live with, care for, and love her husband; despite her apparent apathy and disdain for him. Of course a lot of this brilliance is in David Fincher’s direction and Gillian Flynn’s writing, but Pike brings the whole thing together with her ability to show Amy as a complete unethical monster one moment, to a vulnerable and nostalgic lover the next.
In I Care a Lot, Pike pays a con artist named Marla who has cleverly made a living for herself as someone who takes guardianship over elderly people who can no longer function in society on their own. In theory this sounds like a very honorable and good thing to do, but Marla uses this ostensibly altruistic position to prey on vulnerable elders who are perfectly capable of living on their own, for the purpose of liquidating their assets and getting rich off of their savings. Marla is indifferent, calculating, and is willing to screw over anyone who gets in her way in order to get what she wants, all within the confines of the law. While Marla is unquestionably a psychopath, what might surprise audiences is her attachment and love for her girlfriend Fran (played by Eiza Gonzalez). Marla is fearless and reckless with her own life in pursuit of getting what she wants, but when it comes to Fran, Marla is willing to put herself in harms way in order to protect her. Psychopaths are often seen as loveless, completely selfish, immoral individuals, and yet Marla is willing to do anything for this one person. It’s a refreshing take on a character type that is woefully unoriginal in pop culture. The character is of course created by writer/director J Blakeson, but is embodied and brought to life by Pike’s incredible ability to show the true depths of humanity, even if that human happens to be a psychopath.
While the two characters may seem very similar, they are actually quite different. It’s true that they are both psychopaths who use manipulation and unethical behavior to achieve what they want, but the way they go about chasing their desires is entirely different. Amy is willing to use just about anything to get what she wants, including: extreme violence, breaking the law, using her body and gender to influence others around her, and more. While Marla hypothetically wouldn’t be above using these tactics to also get what she wants, she has a clear philosophy on the dos and don’ts of what she is willing to do for her ambitions. Namely Marla seems to be hesitant at badly hurting people, breaking the law, and using her body and feminine influence for her profit. Perhaps this is do to Marla being in a position of power, whereas Amy is in a more desperate and vulnerable state, but nevertheless Marla seems to have a set of rules she follows. These rules seem to be in place to protect herself, but her desire to stick to these guidelines is a trait we don’t see in Amy at all. It’s an invigorating outlook on a character type that is usually boiled down to people murdering and lying until they get what they want.
While Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs) , Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), and Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men) are all fascinating depictions of psychopaths, they are all very similar in their personalities, approach, and behavior. There is something special and relatively new about the way Rosamund Pike plays psychopaths. Of course there is the refreshing fact that she isn’t a man, as cinema is riddled with unethical men doing really messed up stuff on screen for our viewing pleasure. Pike being a woman is a key part in establishing a new era of female psychopaths who are vastly different than their cinematic brothers. While representation of psychopathic women isn’t exactly a high priority in representation, it’s a fascinating and important part of understanding how dark our human minds can really be.
Pike’s ability to show us the depth and range of emotions psychopaths can actually experience is a far cry from what we have become accustomed to as an audience over the last century. What we would ordinarily think of as beings with only logic and murder on their minds, are actually a vast and diverse group of people who can’t be pigeonholed into a specific type of person based solely on their personality disorder. Pike, is ushering in a new kind of cinematic psychopath, one that we as an audience can feel some sympathy for, even if they themselves can’t.