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Gone Girl: When the Villain Is Female

“Cool girl. Men always use that, don’t they? As their defining compliment: ‘She’s a cool girl.’ Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man. She only smiles in a chagrined, loving manner, and then presents her mouth for f*cking. She likes what he likes, so evidently he’s a vinyl hipster who loves fetish Manga. If he likes girls gone wild, she’s a mall babe who talks football and endures buffalo wings at Hooters.”

-Gone Girl, 2014

When David Fincher’s film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl first hit theaters in 2014, it left the audience stunned — both in a twisted, fantastic way, and in a grim, mortifying way. Critics on both ends of the aisle stirred. Some thought the film itself was an introspective social commentary on the double standard surrounding gender roles, labeling protagonist Amy Dunne as a new feminist icon, while others wrote her off as a plain sociopath starring in a misogynistic storyline that ultimately made women look overly crazy and vengeful.

For background, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) is the wife of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). When they first meet, their relationship is exactly what you would expect a marriage between a trust fund baby and a charming gentleman to be like: full of laughter, glamour, mutual affection, and sugar. But things quickly go south, and the Nick and Amy love story descends into quiet dysfunction. The recession hits, they spend the last of Amy’s trust fund moving to Missouri to take care of Nick’s sick mother, Nick cheats on Amy, and as Nick becomes increasingly lazy and unfaithful, Amy grows methodically more spiteful. What could be solved by a simple divorce does no justice to the emotional betrayal Amy feels. On the day of their fifth anniversary, in the wake of turned tables and bloody kitchen tiles, she disappears. 

break up
Unsplash

Carrying out the first step in her quest for revenge, Amy’s ultimate plan consists of framing her husband for her own murder, and in turn, having him executed on death row. And when her fabricated story of abuse and murder draws to an end, she’ll “go out on the water with a handful of pills and a pocket full of stones to float past all the other abused, unwanted, inconvenient women.” 

Amy’s philosophy of marriage is, to say the least, interesting. According to her, marriage only works when both parties go to extreme lengths to pretend to be someone the other one will like. In Nick, Amy wanted someone cunning, self-aware, and empathetic. In Amy, Nick wanted the “Cool Girl.” As the antithesis of the “girly girl,” Cool Girl is raunchy and fun. Cool Girl likes cars, eats fried potato skins, and drinks canned beers while watching Adam Sandler movies. Cool Girl is available, but not slutty. She is confident, yet never takes away from the male spotlight. But above all, Cool Girl must be effortlessly hot. When Amy first met Nick, she tried her best to fit the Cool Girl trope, only to realize that at its core, the Cool Girl doesn’t exist. 

Woman staring at a window sadly
Photo by Tiago Banderia from Unsplash

Though many women enjoy and excel in traditionally male-dominated recreational activities, the problem with the trope is that it is built on one preliminary requirement: that the girl be exceptionally, and effortlessly, hot. In addition to being extremely sexist and degrading, the idea of a Cool Girl holds women to an impossible standard. She is a fantasy woman, one written into existence and perpetuated in film by male screenwriters who lack experience with real women. 

What viewers, especially male viewers, find especially frightening in Amy’s character is how she weaponsizes her femininity: She is a one-woman show, playing the abused wife, rape victim, and murdered pregnant woman all at once to exact revenge on the man who has wronged her. Amy is not praised; she is a psychopath, narcissist, and quite frankly, not a feminist icon — but she is a brillantly crafted, multifaceted character who, in rejecting all social conventions about women’s accomodating, gentle, and quiet personalities, remains (for some) cathartic to watch. Her defiance of the Cool Girl trope is relatable in a visceral sense to so many women. Ultimately, she is an authentic, wholly female villain in the male villain-dominated film industry.

Lauren Li

UC Berkeley '24

Hi! My name is Lauren Li and I'm a freshman at UC Berkeley studying Rhetoric and Media Studies. Outside of school, my interests/passions include art, film, fashion, and everything in between.
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