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The Influence of Amy Dunne

The Influence of Amy Dunne

Gone Girl (2004)

David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s hugely successful crime novel, Gone Girl, starring Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, arguably created a domino effect in female focused narratives, especially in the crime genre.

This so-called ‘Gone Girl effect’ includes revenge-fuelled, and often deadly, female leads in narratives largely focused on exploiting men. The film follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) after his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) mysteriously goes missing and the police begin to suspect foul play and Nick becomes their prime suspect. This article contains spoilers. 

Released in 2012, Gillian Flynn’s novel gained immense popularity for its dual-POV narration and its intricate plot that, like any good thriller, contained many twists and turns. Famously known for writing ‘flawed’ women that blur the line between hero and villain, Flynn’s female protagonist of Gone Girl Amy Dunne soon gained notoriety because of her complex revenge plot and complicated personality. 

It is hard to think about Amy without also thinking about the ‘cool girl’ monologue, voiced by Amy in both the novel and film. This stand out moment not only reveals one of the biggest twists in the narrative (that Amy is alive) but also provides a commentary on women in our patriarchal society. Moments like these – alongside Amy’s chilling narration in both novel and film – are what make Amy one of the most compelling female villains in the contemporary crime genre.

So, what’s so special about Amy? 

Far from the stereotypical and exaggerated ‘vengeful wife’ character trope, Amy transcends this due to her complex character that could simultaneously be classed as a villain and a hero. Audiences find themselves actively rooting for Amy, whilst also appreciating that she is the villain of the story for many reasons. Part of the appeal of Amy’s character is her ‘flawed’ personality. On the outside she is young, blonde and a ‘happy wife’ whilst on the inside her borderline obsessive and villainous personality show her to be more dark and ‘real’. This sparks a bigger debate about gender roles in marriage, and Amy is shown to be a character that repels this idea of the ‘perfect wife’ that simply does not exist. Amy is aware of the role she is supposed to play, and she uses this to her advantage to carry out her plan. This refreshing self-awareness can be seen throughout her ‘cool girl’ monologue: ‘Nick and Amy will be gone. But then we never really existed. Nick loved a girl I was pretending to be’. Although her methods are extreme (and highly illegal), audiences root for Amy because of her self-awareness of gender roles. She knows what is expected of her and is not afraid to use it to get what she wants. By embodying both villain and hero, Amy exists as a character that is creating a bigger conversation about ‘flawed’ women in society and how women are forced into traditional roles by the patriarchy. 

Instead of representing a woman that the audience hates for her ‘crazy’ revenge plot, Amy has the audience actively rooting for her to succeed. Even if we categorize Amy as a clear murderous villain, it is impossible not to appreciate the extreme lengths and planning that she goes to in order to enact her revenge. 

Feminist or misogynist?

Amy is such a convoluted and complex character that it would be possible to argue that her character is both feminist and misogynist. The refreshing, if not unconventional representation of an imperfect and flawed woman can absolutely be seen as feminist. Amy is far from the one-dimensional ‘perfect wife’ trope reminiscent of past narratives. Her self-awareness and commentary of society in the cool girl monologue resonates with female audiences and the way Flynn creates these multi-dimensional female characters can absolutely be seen as feminist. 

However, critics would say ‘yes but she does this all for a man’ and this is true. Yet, Amy’s detailed and deeply terrifying plot allows her to effectively trap Nick into her marriage under her terms only. As she succeeds in her plan, it becomes obvious that Amy doesn’t just want Nick because he is a man that she loves; she wants complete power over their marriage and future. Among her many controversial moments, her faked sexual assault alongside her murder of Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) showcases her commitment to the cause to a terrifying degree. It is clear that some of Amy’s actions are inexcusable and highly problematic. However, it is possible to class the portrayal of Amy as a feminist whilst also appreciating that she is the clear villain of the narrative. 

The evolution of the femme fatale

Amy can be categorised as a modern-day evolution of the noir femme fatale. The femme fatale is famously an extremely attractive and deadly figure that usually ends up as collateral in whatever crime plot the male lead is involved in. One of the most famous and classic examples of this is Barbara Stanwyck’s character Phyllis in Double Indemnity (1944), who is killed by the male lead (Fred MacMurray) because he does not believe her. After more or less driving the whole narrative, this femme fatale is killed because of male suspicion in the end of the film. Comparatively, Amy ensures that she has back-up plans alongside her vicious plot, just in case Nick tries something. The main one being her deliberate pregnancy that effectively traps Nick in their marriage, as he feels responsible for their child and does not want to abandon it.

Nowadays, noir has evolved into neo-noir; a genre that gives more voice and agency to these female characters that are now succeeding rather than dying at the hands of a man once their usefulness effectively runs out. Both ‘versions’ of the femme fatale are equally as ‘evil’ and intelligent. Both Phyllis and Amy use their femininity to get what they want, but one survives, and the other does not. 

Influence and other similar characters

Aside from Amy, thinking of deadly and successful women brings up a lot of examples. Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in Killing Eve is arguably one of the most popular on-screen assassins of recent years. Audiences can appreciate and identify similar traits between the two characters; especially their innate talent at being ‘evil’, particularly around men. Although working in dramatically different contexts, both women know what they want and are not afraid of using their femininity to get it. Both exist as equally complex characters that add to the growing representation of the flawed and unconventional female villain/anti-hero. Amongst others, I Care a Lot (2020), also starring Rosamund Pike as lead, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) are additional contemporary examples of complex, unconventional and deadly characters that the audience (especially female audience) can’t help but root for. The influence and notoriety of Amy Dunne can therefore be seen as represented in many contemporary narratives, as we are seeing more and more female characters that exist in the same genres. Thanks to Gillian Flynn, the presence of the ‘flawed’ woman is becoming more prevalent in literature and film overall, as Amy is fast becoming the ‘iconic’ deadly woman in contemporary crime. 

Written by Lucy McMillan for The Film Dispatch.


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