The perfect antagonist.
I recently read the acclaimed novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and, like many critics or bloggers out there, I have to give a kudos to the book’s brilliance. The multi-layered narratives, the evolution of two deeply flawed human characters, and the element of mystery are all bottled beautifully into a seemingly relatable setting: an unhappy marriage in a boring suburban town. Murder ensues. Revenge ensues. Blah blah blah. Granted, this setting isn’t a new one for fiction movies or books. It’s been used once, twice, and infinite times over. But it’s the exploration into an area unknown, into the dark regions that no one can imagine reaching, which is the constructed narratives of Nick and Amy (main characters in the novel) — what they choose to tell the reader, what seems to be the truth, and what seems to be questionable, that sets this novel apart. The themes and implications set out in the book all become a question of possibilities. Lies or truth, we’ll never know. But we’ll keep guessing. The possibility that such a darkness can take over anyone. Amy. Nick. You. Me. It’s there, lurking beneath the surface. And Flynn’s writing makes you understand that. It makes you question. It makes you think.
How cliché. How dark. How perfectly relatable. Possible. The narrative of Gone Girl brings an eerie sense of potential, tugging questions at the reader’s heart. We’re all flawed. We all make choices. Amy made a choice. So Nick made a choice.
It’s a journey to get to a place of darkness like Amy. An accumulation of choices to allow anger to take over. Amy made that choice when she decided to punish a friend of a few months for being more approachable than her. She made that choice again towards her (barely) boyfriend for seeing another girl. Then, she did it to destroy Nick for cheating on her and for not reaching her expectations. She did it yet again when she decided to murder Desi. That’s what makes her character so perfectly reproachable. So enticing, so brilliant, and so evil. The perfect antagonist. But see, while she is meant to embody a psychopath, a vindictive, brilliant, bitch, Nick’s last words in the novel sum up her character perfectly. It’s a simple phrase, a sentence that seems a bit anticlimactic for an ending to such a disturbing novel. Nick chooses to stay with her and support her. He is nice to her despite knowing all that she has done, because he “feels sorry for her”. He feels sorry for her because she has to wake up everyday and be herself. As I deconstruct the sentence a bit further, I realize this:
Amy has to play the antagonist. She is a winner, and she believes that happiness will come when she wins. But winning is relative. For her to win, someone must lose. So she lives by that belief, and makes the choice to win and brings those down who she views as opponents. Someone must play the opponent. Otherwise, her story is meaningless, at least, according to her. Amy writes her narrative in the beginning of the second half of the book, praising the “freedom” she felt to escape life in Missouri, and to escape being Nick’s dumb wife who was cheated on. When she got that freedom, she delivered a narrative of her depicted as a “strong” woman, with her whole “Cool Girl” monologue where she scoffs the expectations that men place on women. And something changes from that moment on. A few weeks into her new life, with a new status as a missing (potentially murdered) housewife, she can’t get past the event, she can’t move on from Nick. She is fascinated by the game she is playing. She is looking to punish. Because her story is useless and her life purposeless, unless she gets recognition for her brilliance and perfection. And to her, Nick is the only one who can understand and appreciate that perfection. So he must praise her for it.
But the thing is, no one is perfect. Cliché again, but true. And Nick knows that. Amy will always fight for that perfection, a perfection that will never exist. Because to her, her perfection and Nick’s recognition of it means happiness. Happiness, as Amy believes it, is what she deserves. But what Amy doesn’t realize, despite her meticulous planning, thinking, and plotting, is that happiness is fleeting. She will punish, and execute a brilliant plan, and get away with it. But she won’t be happy. She’ll never be happy. And her role as an antagonist, as a winner, as a fighter, will never end, because that goal will never be attained. And she will keep fighting, fighting, and fighting. Nick needs to be there to play the protagonist, or the story becomes void for both of them. That’s what makes Amy the perfect antagonist. She made that choice. Nick made that choice. And together, they will live happily ever after.