Unpopular Opinion: Amy Dunne is the real hero of Gone Girl the movie
When Gone Girl came out in cinemas, it gained a lot of publicity because of the title character: Amy ‘Amazing Amy’ Dunne. Everyone said basically the same thing: ‘that chick is batshit fucking crazy’. I profoundly disagree. I think she is the most self-aware, interesting, and if you’re willing to think outside the usual box and be empathetic: inspiring character in the film. She is flawed, as all great characters should be, she is egotistical and looks down on people, but how many of us subconsciously or internally do that?
‘Crazy’ is a misused and often lazy term. It’s used to cover all behavior that people don’t really understand and don’t want to understand, its used by men to absolve themselves of taking responsibility for their parts in provoking female behavior, its used to make people, most often women, afraid to express themselves fully, especially their (usually righteous) anger, irritation or frustration. Crazy is a term used to provoke shame, to cow, to make someone back down. Crazy is how people say they don’t get it.
But let’s start at the beginning and explore this story.
Let’s say you’re a rich, blonde, intelligent, beautiful, young woman living in New York. You grew up WASPy, with money, went to the best schools, and you’re very classed. You love New York and the city, you love urban life, and you think of yourself as a modern woman. Your parents are nice, even though you have a slight chip your shoulder (who doesn’t have one about their parents, really) about how they passive aggressively used all your failures and shortcomings growing up to write a multimillion dollar series of books that gave you your trust fund and the money/life you enjoy. So in a weird way, your parents literally made money off every life event that made you feel sad and disappointed. However you can’t complain because after all it pays for you. So you smile, grin and bear it when strangers compare you to a fictional character and find you lacking ‘You’re Amazing Amy!? She’s wonderful, I loved the books! The last one said you got married, are you married?’ And you always have to reply ‘No’ to every question, because Amazing Amy is always one step ahead of you, and you have to watch people be disappointed that real life you isn’t half as amazing as a fictional character. So to recap, your parents write about their ideal fictional version of you for a living, which you can never live up to (because no one can live up to an ideal), and you end up feeling like a disappointment to both your parents and random journalists/fans/every day people.
Then at some boring party with some boring guy you don’t even really want, you meet this guy. He’s different. He’s smart, witty, funny, charming, and sexy in that boy next door way with the mischievous glint in his eye. Your first conversation feels like it was scripted, it’s that good. You have amazing sex, he’s intelligent enough to match your mind, but fun and easy going enough to tease you, make you feel lighter, less in your head, less serious. And most importantly, he makes you feel seen. For who you are. Not like your parents, not like millions of fans that idealize you and who you always disappoint just by being human, this man makes you feel seen, heard. He makes you feel special, like you matter. You feel connected. You get each other’s jokes, you do all that cutesy movie romance stuff that everyone says they hate until they find someone they actually want to do it with. It’s the real love, the real deal. And on the first night he meets you, he wipes sugar off your lips just before you kiss. The gesture is so simple, so sweet, and so unique to the two of you that its part of your identity as a couple, like a private joke only the 2 of you understand. He asks you to marry him, even better at an event for the Amazing Amy you’ve always despised. It’s like finally being the ideal you, at long last. This is the ‘happily ever after’ part.
Then recession hits, you both lose your jobs. You can’t rely on your trust fund, your parents are hit and need the money too. You’re squabbling, and in typical fashion when you’re frustrated, you’re both lashing out at each other because it’s easy, he’s there, you’re there. Typical couple problems. It frustrates you when he acts out to get a rise out of you so he can take his frustration out on you, it annoys you that he’s placing you in the position to be a nag because he knows how much you hate it, he knows you never want to be one of those women obsessively stalking their man and constantly picking at him. It’s not who you are. But you’re both still in love, so you work it out. Until his mother dies, and you have to change your entire life.
I think this is the part where most people find it difficult to empathize. Amy’s life in the city, her upbringing in New York, is a fundamental part of who she is as a person, it’s a part of her core identity. She loves it, and that was her plan for herself for her life. People assume ‘its all America, it’s all the same’ but she is, in every sense of the word, a city girl. It would be like asking a rich girl born and bred in activity filled Lagos to move to a quiet, largely rural area, like Kebbi or Adamawa. It is a compromise of the highest degree, and it’s the first nail in the coffin of Nick and Amy’s marriage. And of course there is a slight condescension in Amy: it’s in the derisive way she says ‘I’m a Missouran now’, as if she can’t believe her fortunes have reversed this much and she has been brought this low. But feeling above a certain lifestyle or too good to live a certain kind of life is a something we all do, we all judge ourselves as ‘better’ than certain things.
So you move to a town you hate, full of people you’re more intelligent than, and you despise every moment. But you have Nick, and his mother is dead, his father is abusive and senile, and all he has is you and his twin sister. To you, you’re a team, as long as he’s here you’re fine. You use the last of your trust fund money, money that rightfully belongs to you alone, to buy him and his sister a bar, which quickly becomes a place for him to hide while avoiding the slow unraveling of your marriage. And you watch as this man who you loved, and compromised for, and connected with, changes into every other mediocre, boring man. He goes out drinking with his buddies, leaving you alone in a town where you don’t have anyone and don’t know anyone. You both promised you would be there for each other as a team, yet he leaves you when you need him. He settles back into his country boy life, easy routine, with his sister, neighbors and friends, and is so busy being the handsome poster boy that he can’t or more likely won’t see that you need him. The man who made you feel seen now barely recognizes when you feel like you’re withering away. It’s a life that disappoints you. A lot of people dismiss this, but waking up every morning to a life that you not only hate, but truly consider yourself better than and that constantly disappoints you is a powerful thing.
But you love him, and you want to work at it. You remember how it used to be. So one night you decide to surprise him at the bar where he works, the bar you used the last of your inherited money to buy for him and his sister who coincidentally, hates you. It’s cold, snowing, you’re walking up, and then you see him come out of the bar. From a distance he’s still so handsome, you smile. He’s, in that moment, the guy from the first night at that party.
Then out steps this girl, who looks too young to be in a bar. Tall where you’re short, with full breasts where you don’t have them, beautiful, exotic, so much younger. Everything you’re not. And he’s looking at her the way he first looked at you, the way he hasn’t looked at you in a while now.
And then he reaches over, and wipes the snow gently off her lip before kissing her.
This final betrayal completely breaks your heart.
This is where the usual reaction ‘well if you’re so heartbroken why not just a get a divorce?’ It’s always amusing to hear, especially because it comes from men whose first girlfriend broke their heart at age 15 and from then on viewed all women as ‘females’ ‘gold diggers’, etc. They literally cannot see how ironic it is that someone who cannot get past a silly high school ‘relationship’ expects another person to just ‘get over’ the pain of a broken marriage.
But back to our story.
So imagine this man you loved, you gave your heart to, you gave your money to, this man you sacrificed and compromised so much of yourself for because you truly thought he was different, this man who you thought was on the same team with you, imagine realizing that not only is he painfully the same as other men, he actually had the guts to bring this girl into the bar YOU PAID FOR, and recreate something so sacred, the beginning of your love story, the moment you truly fell for him, as a cheap gimmick to make some 21 year old like him.
It’s so pathetic. And insulting and utterly disappointing. That this man who you thought was different, who you gave up so much of yourself for because of that turns out to be just like every other cliché, mediocre, boring, lazy man. He took your money, your pride, your dignity, all while you were working to keep him happy, all while you were trying and he was making you feel like you were the problem. And now you’re left with nothing in a place where you have no one, wondering what happened. I would be pretty pissed off too.
And then the parts we all know, Amy schemes and fakes her murder to ensure her husband gets the death penalty. Personally the dedication and intelligence it would take to pull something like that off is admirable. To bleed yourself, form a relationship with a woman you find idiotic, write a 3 year journal, research and meticulously execute a plan with this many parts and be willing to kill yourself just to ensure completion? Amy manipulated an entire country- news, police, and her husband. That is the exact opposite of crazy. It’s the highest form of purpose, albeit one most people would find transgressive.
I think however, what most people find hard to stomach is that a woman was the one doing these things. The strong reactions to Amy’s actions and not Nick’s betray the bias against women: we should be quiet, accept whatever a man dishes out, swallow any and every insult. It’s the laziness that acquits men (‘boys will be boys’) but holds women to unrealistic moral standards (‘she should just manage’). And there is also a tinge of fear: Nick is charming, normal. Pretty much any and every guy who gets women. No one wants to see him as the bad guy because then they would all be the bad guy- men would be him, women would be dating him.
Amy is far from a perfect heroine- she’s a murderer and a liar. She is also self-assured, intelligent, meticulous, and has an uncanny understanding of the way people think and act. In a world where women are taught to deny themselves and accept anything a man feels he should offer without consequence, she’s just the protagonist we need.