“Sometimes, the way he looks at me, I think, man of my dreams, father of my child, this man of mine may kill me. He may truly kill me.”
Gillian Flynn conquered the world of popular fiction in 2012 when she published Gone Girl, with some literary critics adamant that the bestselling psychological thriller deserved a National Book Award, or even the Pulitzer Prize. Flynn herself adapted the screenplay for David Fincher’s Academy Award-nominated Gone Girl (2014), and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of writing a sequel. In addition to these projects, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s Dark Places (2015), an adaptation of Flynn’s 2009 novel, is scheduled for a release later this year with Oscar winner Charlize Theron cast in the starring role, and Flynn is executive producing her 2006 debut, Sharp Objects, as a one-hour serialized drama through Entertainment One Television.
As popular as she is right now in Hollywood, Flynn’s work – Gone Girl especially – has been a source of controversy. She’s been accused of misogyny since her villains are predominantly female and monstrously violent. With a runtime of two-and-a-half hours, Gone Girl disappointed some with its unconventional ending.
Doctor Hye Seung Chung, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is one who found Gone Girl to be disappointing. Chung hasn’t read the book, but she saw Fincher’s film, and she enjoyed it up until the big reveal halfway through, when we learn the truth about Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and the disappearance which incriminates her husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), as the prime suspect, a la the 2002 Scott and Laci Peterson case. According to Chung, the film is misogynistic, and it’s nothing more than Fincher attempting to make art out of pulp fiction.
“I think the sentence that best sums up media misogyny is, ‘I hate the bitch,’” Chung said. “Writers write female characters for us to hate them. Women just get in the way and don’t understand their husbands.”
Chung cites Skyler White (Anna Gunn) and Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) in AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013) as examples of this, describing them as “bitches” and “nags” and “annoying,” or, at least, from the viewer’s perspective. Chung said women are irrelevant now to the male-to-male, homo-social, “bromance” bond we so frequently see, with a man’s heart belonging only to another man. A woman would be called a “gold-digger” if she married for money the way Nick does in Gone Girl, and nobody ever talks about how he cheats on Amy, or how he asks her to commit social suicide by moving from New York to Missouri, according to Chung.
“In old, classical Hollywood, we used to see female objectification,” Chung said. “Now, we see female disappearance. American audiences’ response to this movie speaks to what young men think today.”
People enjoy the story once it becomes apparent that the “good guy” is being victimized by the “evil bitch,” Chung said. According to her, the choice to cast a relatively unknown actress like Rosamund Pike in the lead alongside a more mainstream actor like Ben Affleck is deliberate when they could have just as easily picked a “girl next door” like Julia Roberts or Gone Girl producer Reese Witherspoon, with Affleck’s persona coming across as an “average joe American” and Pike’s as a “cold, icy, snobbish Brit.” Chung interprets the decision as symptomatic of an anti-intellectual zeitgeist in modern American society; the successful, educated Amy is demonized, and the rural, all-American Nick is idealized.
“If he killed her at the end, audiences would’ve accepted it,” Chung said. “She’s not a character. Her villainy is so exaggerated.”
Doctor Nick Marx is also an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at CSU. Like Chung, he hasn’t read Gone Girl, but, unlike Chung, he enjoyed the film. Marx said he’s a David Fincher fan, and his wife, who read the book, thought the film was true to the original text.
“It’s ambivalent,” Marx said, about the divisive ending. “People don’t like it when one character doesn’t win out, and there isn’t a clear protagonist-antagonist dynamic. They’re both despicable people who deserve each other.”
According to Marx, the film was relatable in that it inspired a conversation between himself and his wife, who are also a young, married couple. He describes it as “pulpy” and “melodramatic,” with all the makings of a pop culture phenomenon and the trappings of awards-bait success in its director and cast, which would’ve been different in different hands. David Fincher is well-practiced with antagonistic females, Marx said.
“I didn’t read Amy’s character as misogynistic,” Marx said. “In fact, I was attracted to her character as an active agent in the story. Her decisions were motivated, and this agency is often denied from female characters.”
A British actor in an American movie can be a cause of nervousness, but Rosamund Pike is well-cast for the part of the icy, aloof Amy Dunne, according to Marx. A prominent, A-list actress, somebody we have affection for, would’ve changed how strongly we react to her character, Marx said. He said he knew of Pike before seeing Gone Girl, but her star persona doesn’t get in the way of her performance, and he had no particular allegiance to Pike anyway, going in.
“They’d need to introduce a new conflict or a new character into the sequel,” Marx said. “The stakes have to be constantly high and shifting, so they’d need to reintroduce stakes into that marriage. I don’t envy the screenwriter whose task it is to make a sequel to such an original story.”
Gillian Flynn is on Marx’s pop culture radar. He reads little contemporary popular fiction, but Gone Girl makes him want to see what happens next. He thinks it’s particularly noteworthy that she was allowed to write her own screenplay.
“That’s uncommon in Hollywood,” Marx said. “Gone Girl is definitely talky and ‘booky’ in some stretches, but I was impressed with her transition. Many writers try the same thing and fail.”