I’d been working for two weeks straight and it was my day off so I was a little apprehensive when my housemate suggested we go see a movie called Gone Girl. I was totally unaware of this movie, hadn’t seen any trailers. Somehow it was totally off my radar. “Gone Girl?” I thought, “Why are we going to see a chick flick?”
Looking ahead at a day of playing Borderlands and not wearing pants, I thought that I may as well schedule some time to stretch my legs and get some fresh air while I was at it. So it was with low expectations in my heart that I put on pants and allowed myself to be dragged to this fucking chick flick.
It was the best decision I made all month.
Gone Girl is, simply put, one of the most masterfully-crafted thrillers I’ve ever seen. It was the first time in a long time that while watching a film I had no clue what would happen next on screen. Even weeks later what I remember most is the genuine terror I felt at not knowing what might happen. Good suspense has to be able to make you second guess everything and be willing throw you for a loop when you least expect it. Those are precisely the areas in which Gone Girl excels. I really mean it, the skill with which the story of Gone Girl is told is reason enough to go see it all on its own.
But there’s a problem with that story and it’s a problem that didn’t even occur to me until I returned home from the theater that night (and the fact it took me that long is seriously a testament to the quality of the film). I apologize because I’m about to use the f-word. I am a feminist. I know, I know. None of us are prefect. My empathy for people who are put upon for the mere fact of their gender is my cross to bear and it’s also why I’m a little bothered by how much I liked Gone Girl.
[THE CAPTAIN WOULD LIKE TO INFORM YOU THAT WE ARE ENTERING SPOILER TERRITORY]
Gone Girl is the story of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who comes home on the day of his anniversary to discover his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is missing and poorly concealed evidence of a struggle in his house. Mounting evidence and suspicious behavior on Nick’s part cause the police and the media to suspect that he is responsible for Amy’s disappearance. However, the truth, as Nick finds out, is that Amy faked the evidence of her murder in an effort to get Nick arrested and executed. She did this as a punishment for his many failures as a husband. Amy later changes her mind and decides to return home but not before murdering an ex-boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris) and making it seem as if he kidnapped and raped her.
Are you seeing the problem here?
If you, like me, have the misfortune of being familiar with self-labeled Men’s Rights Activists (an online attempt to put a new face on very old misogyny) then this probably sounds to you like the paranoid fantasies they dream up on a daily basis. Amy is a woman who uses her sex appeal and her assumed victim status to manipulate those around her and ruin the lives of men essentially because she is eeeeeeeevilllll.
Amy is willing to use false rape accusations and pregnancy against men (two favorite myths of the aforementioned MRAs). Once she returns home safely, everyone believes her without question because, as we all know, any woman who accuses a man of rape will always be trusted 110% by authorities and the public and whatever hapless loser she fingers for it always ends up in pound-me-in-the-ass prison (note: the previous statement does not correlate to any known reality). On the surface this movie sounds like it was ripped straight from the mind of some lunatic woman-hater. A lot of my progressively-minded friends have pointed out this fact and criticized the film for it. I certainly can’t deny that the film easily lends itself to a deeply misogynistic reading but goddamn… I really like it.
Watching Gone Girl, I felt that I really got into the mind of Nick, the victim of his wife’s calculating abuse. Some part of me couldn’t help but imagine that what was happening to Nick was happening to me. I felt his fear and I was forced to wonder what I would do in his situation. It was plain that other men in the audience were having similar thought as I overheard many of them saying so on their way out of the theater. One guy in my row who just couldn’t contain himself let out exclamations of fear and anger throughout the film. Comments I heard on my way out of the theater ranged from “I’d kill that girl” to “I’d just do what she said.” Either way, my fellow men were affected by this movie in a way that I couldn’t help but notice the ladies in the audience seemed immune to.
I think therein lies a different, more agreeable (to me anyways) reading of this Gone Girl. I think the film could be intended as a role reversal on a more classical tale of the abusive husband that is intended to put men into the mental space of a victim of spousal abuse. Male on female spousal abuse is so common in fiction that I think it’s almost white noise to some of us. All it takes is the image of an oafish slob, his overworked wife, perhaps the utterance of a “bitch” or “slut” and we check out because we know the story. Rarely ever do we spend time trying to understand that scenario or the people in it. I think there are two very unfortunate reasons for this: 1) most adult women are already well familiar with what it’s like to live in fear of a spouse (either first hand or through second hand accounts of friends or relatives) and 2) men don’t understand that fear and too many of us just don’t care. I see Gone Girl sharing the goals of a film like Hard Candy. By reversing the genders we typically see in the victim-victimizer dynamic, the film is putting men in a role we don’t often imagine ourselves in: that of an abused spouse. The hope is that men who watch the film will come away with a new sense of empathy for people who’s positions they had not really considered before.
Now I would hope that it’s obvious that I’m speaking about men and women in broad terms here. I know there are men who experience domestic abuse. I know there are women who perpetrate domestic abuse. We’re all, from birth, saturated in a media that tells us that men abuse their wives and not the other way around. Men, in general, are not brought up thinking of themselves as potential victims, they’re brought up thinking of themselves as potential perpetrators and that affects our ability to imagine the mentality of a victim. We can do it but it’s foreign to us, like trying to speak with a different accent.
What a film like Gone Girl does is help us to see that perspective we are not accustomed to imagining. I know I could be wrong. I’m sure people on both sides of the feminist/MRA argument are going to disagree with me. I’m well aware that I might be taking an oppositional reading of this films (that is to say, maybe David Fincher really did just want to make a movie about how evil women are) but that doesn’t invalidate that reading. I feel that I learned something watching this film and well… that’s something nobody can deny.