David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's suburban crime thriller is a suspenseful piece of work. Amy Dunne disappears not entirely without a trace, and her husband, Nick, becomes the prime suspect. The atmosphere gets more and more stifling as the days tick by, and the culture of media vultures is cleverly satirized with casserole-toting trophy wives clamoring for selfies with the handsome though seemingly brutish potential wife-killer. The costume/props departments don't skimp on "oh my god" moments either (like Desi's mid-coital demise and Amy's Carrie-like visage afterwards), and the bookend shots of the back of Amy's head present a creepy, cryptic visual riddle.
That's where my accolades stop though because by the end of the movie, I couldn't make heads or tails of it (or the book it's based on, which I haven't read but hear is remarkably similar). With the incredible (both extraordinary and unbelievable) power imbalance at the end, I didn't know what to take away besides confusion over the zeitgeist appeal of such a misogynistic story. We have a pretty basic portrayal of a sadistic femme fatale - the crazy woman who will ruin a man's life. As such, I find the message of the movie irresponsible at best and reprehensible at worst.
Fans of book and film would counter that the story is a feminist satire on marriage with a brilliant, psychopathic genius who comes out on top. To the "brilliant, psychopathic genius" part, I have to say from a narrative standpoint that Amy is not that brilliant, and it's the filmmakers' machinations that make her seem otherwise. If she WERE such a genius, she wouldn't have brought ALL the money she had in the world in a loosely clipped fanny pack to mini golfing where shady neighbors could see and covet. If the movie weren't pulling the strings, Amy's headshot would have been flashed all over the evening news, and trashy neighbor would have seen through the insultingly easy Clark-Kent-glasses-disguise, perhaps leading Amy to get the hell out before she stupidly answered the door when aforementioned covetous and violent neighbors came a-calling. But of course, all that needed to happen in order for Desi's romantic hostage plot to occur.
The movie also deliberately makes everyone else dumber. Nick should have notified Boney when he found that the scavenger hunt led to the yardbarn of goodies. He was already going to come forward with the affair, so he had nothing to lose on that front. Also, the products were clearly mint, and the clue cards and Punch and Judy puppets with the missing blackjack are too cooked to have been Nick's plan all along. And it's rather farfetched that Margo didn't realize Amy had been stashing stuff in her shed for years. After Amy's bloody homecoming, Nick should have bugged the house before she returned from the police station because even that little pre-shower exchange of her being suspicious of a bug is incriminating enough. He has proven to be pretty savvy with his television interview, and Tanner Bolt, the lawyer who's well-versed in subterfuge, could have at least thought of that too. The third-act must-happens just require too much suspension of disbelief.
From a philosophical standpoint, I disagree that the story is a feminist satire on marriage and relationships. Amy claims that men want the "Cool Girl" - a common societal problem, sure - so she put on the "Cool Girl" costume in order to reel Nick in. The problem is there really is no "Cool Girl" in the movie, at least in the romantic options. Amy is urbane and posh, not down-to-earth or low maintenance. Neither is bubbly and capricious other-woman Andie. The only arguable Cool Girl (sans demanding physical requirements) is sister Margo, whom Nick has (seemingly) no choice but to reject, proving Amy's satirical point moot.
Amy's misanthropic speech on how marriage is two people eventually killing each other with vitriol and manipulations is also too much too late. It's dark and hip to inject nihilistic philosophy into the movie, but it's also too easy and not entirely true. There is no real refutation that holds a mirror up to society to show us our faults, nor is their a nod or wink to the intended satire, which makes all this a base revenge fantasy. The most effective satires aren't revenge fantasies. Even in movies with devilish female characters, they eventually reveal their true solutions to societal problems by the end (like Evelyn does in "The Shape of Things"), or they eventually recognize the absurdity of events leading up to this Mexican stand-off (like in "Closer" or "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"). The solution in "Gone Girl" is to beat one's spouse into submission through murder and mayhem. If the movie is actually winking at us and saying, "No, that's just an extreme; we don't actually want you to do that," then Amy shouldn't "win" in the end. Both Nick and Amy should end up dazed and confused at the prospect of having to spend the rest of their miserable lives together just to save each other's hides. Hatred layered on top of hatred is a simplistic plot device. Hatred layered on top of love? Now THAT'S marriage.
In "If U Seek Amy: the Grim Grossness of David Fincher's 'Gone Girl,'" writer Wesley Morris claims that Amy's "greatest power is to cry wolf," and since I've enumerated the ways in which she's NOT a diabolical genius, I have to agree. Amy is a dangerous character to champion in this day and age of rape apologists and friendzoned men who think many more women cry wolf and put men in the friendzone than are "legitimately raped" or truly just friends. Amy displays a history of sexually deviant behavior that started long before Nick. Some may claim that she has always been put into a box, what with her mother's Amazing Amy book series, but "mommy issues" seem like an easy scapegoat for such an extreme pattern of sociopathic self-abuse and emotional manipulation - harming herself to pin rape on that one guy and continually putting Desi on the hook, expecting him to save her when she needs it but then disposing of him when the plan fails.
Amy's lies and machinations eventually lead to the undermining of the only two female characters who have any substance at all: Margo and Boney. All the other women are either annoying or flat: the thief is a duplicitous vagrant; the neighbor is meddling and dumb; the casserole woman is obsessed with fame; the bouncy co-ed is needy and totally not cool. Margo, the one person who has any kind of emotional intelligence, begs tearfully for Nick's reconsideration, but he won't/can't. He essentially breaks up with his own sister, leaving her heartbroken. Boney, who up to this point has been a one-note lady-cop, knows something is fishy with Amy's story, but she is cut off by an older male detective who probably knows enough from sensitivity training classes to say the right thing to a rape victim, "Don't blame yourself," but he's actually the one being hoodwinked! Amy's undetected deception may reaffirm rape apologist's preconceived notions of the friendzoning, heartless woman, "Oh women can be abusers too!" When media focuses on female perpetrators of domestic abuse, the public then latches onto it and thinks the ratio of female to male perpetrators is equal when it's not.
Another insidious affirmation is Amy's reclamation of cunt: "The only time you ever liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like." Like with the controversial piece in "The Vagina Monologues," Amy's hella empowered in that moment, but she's still fetishizing the word (making it simultaneously dirty and sexy), which might make some viewers (of any gender) think it's okay to call others (of any gender) that word because it's not so insulting anymore if a woman identifies herself as such.
In the end, the one woman we are left to admire is a brilliant psychopath (arguably), the witchy woman, the ice cold manipulative harpy, and that's a weak support for feminism. She's the femme fatale, and that's still a type - one that there are plenty enough of, from "Fatal Attraction" to "Basic Instinct" to "The Last Seduction." Woman has been painted as temptress of Man since the original Eve. The movie upholds the stereotype of the evil woman who will ruin a man's life. That's not to mean all female characters should subscribe to the tenets of the Eternal Feminine. That'd just be the virgin/whore dichotomy all over again. We can have a strong and complex female character with flaws, but Amy is larger than life. If she has flaws, they don't figure into the plot because she lives outside the morals of the "normal world." She wins, but does she really? Is this really a win for feminism?
Todd VanDerWerff in his article, "Gone Girl is the Most Feminist Mainstream Film in Years," claims that Amy is a "Frankenstein's Monster," cobbled out of all the oppressive societal expectations for women, and that the film is feminist because by the end, she relegates Nick to the very type of supportive wife character that women are called on to play in scads of male-centric stories. (Sidebar: Is this a female-centric movie after all? Only Ben Affleck appears on the poster, and he's the one most sympathetically portrayed throughout the film. Any character who is kind to an animal pretty much gets an automatic pass.) However, I'm afraid that assessment gives exactly the wrong impression of feminism that most feminists seem to argue for. Many males and females alike already think feminism is about hating men and overpowering them. If feminism is really equalism, then my aforementioned ending of them both being stuck and unhappy would be a fairer representation of what happens after the facades fall. The power imbalance clearly tips toward Amy, so if the film IS feminist, it's a very radical, unequal feminism.
This echoes the privilege issue of why many activists say Men's Rights can't exist or White Pride or Straight Pride can't exist. The systems in power can't "rise up" any higher than they are; they are the ones oppressing minorities, whether or not they know it. They are recognized as the default...even though minorities strive to rid that rhetoric of "default" or "normal." But then where does the cycle of victimhood stop? Is it fair to cheer for this woman beating a man because women currently have less power than men? Is that justice or revenge? If we cheer more for a woman's victory over a man, aren't we still underselling women by thinking it's so impressive and out of the ordinary to beat a man? The double standard still exists, like with any multitude of sins that one gender can commit but is frowned upon if another gender does (in the vacuum of a two-gender world, of course).
All in all, "Gone Girl" is taut and suspenseful with some sick twists and turns, but it's not particularly smart in its characterization or plotting, nor is it vanguard when viewed through critical lenses. It lacks the emotional vulnerability and true social satire of effective domestic dramas that came before, and it only shines when it's exercising (instead of exorcising - zing!) every incredulously negative behavior of the femme fatale trope.