Gillian Flynn and the Power of a Strong Female Character

Gillian Flynn and the Power of a Strong Female Character

Complete and total spoilers ahead for both the book and film adaptation of Gone Girl. Continue at your own risk.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been counting down the days until today’s release of Gone Girl—director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller. When I read the book it hit me hard, and in the best of ways, as anyone who read my GIF review will know. It opens with the day Amy Dunne goes missing and builds a steady and convincing case against her husband Nick. Halfway through, readers hit the big hyped reveal: Amy isn’t dead. In fact, Amy orchestrated the entire disappearance to get Nick sent to jail for her murder in a state that has the death penalty—taking ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ to new levels of crazy.

From the moment of the big reveal, I have been head-over-heels in love with Amy Dunne. My girl crush even extends to her creator, Gillian Flynn. If Flynn invented Amy, she had all of that devious behavior, insufferable cleverness, and unparalleled insanity in her somewhere and for that I love her as well. I read the book over the summer, knowing that a movie was imminent, and then eagerly awaited the day that it would thrill and shock me in the same way the book did.

The film itself was excellent: stellar soundtrack, perfect casting—an impeccable adaptation overall. The trouble, however, in a perfect by-the-book script is that those who have read the book are left without many surprises. We know that Amy isn’t dead, that Andi revealed her affair with Nick live on TV, that Amy kills Desi to return to Nick. Yet as I watched, my pulse still raced. Why? Amy. Fucking. Dunne.

Rosamund Pike was cast as Amy and, though I hadn’t seen her in any of her other films, she had me sold on her performance from the first trailer. She found the core of Amy and played her out beautifully. In all future rereads, she will forever be cast as Amy Dunne to me.

Amy herself presents a challenge for an actress. Pike needed to capture the innocence of Amy in her fake diary entries, the Amy who finds love and has sugar-kissed lips and grows to live in fear of her husband, all while the real Amy (who patiently wrote fake diary entries that spanned years) is lurking just beneath the surface. We must believe that the entire nation is captivated by the sweetheart smile on the missing posters, and we must believe that that same girl is the psycho with the boxcutter and blood-stained lingerie. And with Pike playing her, I do.

Amy Dunne is by turns victim and mastermind. She manipulates every situation to her advantage. When she first encounters Nick, Pike plays an Amy whose flirtatious smile comes easily. When her fear settles in, Amy is all wide eyes and tight shoulders. When Desi locks her away, Pike’s eyes reveal Amy’s calculating. You see the wheels turning, plans clicking into place. Once Desi leaves for work, Amy throws herself against the window and mimes howls of pain for the security camera trained on her—recording footage she’ll later beg the police to retrieve because it supports her claim that he held her hostage. There is no hesitation in her actions. Later in the night, in a scene that stands out against the rest of the film, she proves exactly how far she is willing to go by slitting Desi’s throat.

She isn’t doing this to get back to Nick Dunne. Nick’s simply a pawn, the figurehead who will give her a life where she can control everything. She’s backed him so far into a corner that he has no choice but to play the happy husband, relieved to find his wife alive.

It’s challenging to find well-written flawed women. I’m not talking about women with normal flaws: too kind, clumsy, etc. Halfway through both novel and film, Amy strips away the flaws she performed as a part of her cool-girl persona and reveals a character whose type-A personality isn’t the trait of a manic pixie dream girl, it’s a trait that drives her to frame her husband for her murder. Nick isn’t the first to set Amy off, however, as the plot reveals that she’s ruined the lives of other boyfriends who didn’t behave according to her wishes. A past boyfriend was framed for rape and unloads onto Nick the troubles that have followed him since Amy’s accusation. Amy simply unleashes her own brand of punishment when the players in her game deviate from their marks. Her character, like any true villain, demands no sympathy—only fear and obedience.

When Pike grins across the hospital room at Ben Affleck (who personified the best and the worst in unfaithful husband Nick), it is clear that she’s sinking her talons in and never letting go. Nick later, in a fit of rage, throws her against the wall and Amy isn’t afraid, she’s defiant. He’s strong, but she’s outsmarted him. She knows the power that she holds over him and is fearless in wielding it. I live in awe of Gillian Flynn, not because I idealize her character Amy, but because it is excellent to see a fleshed out female villain who truly has no limits.

When we speak of strong female characters, we are most frequently referring to a heroine, and therein lies the cliche. Being strong doesn’t have to mean you are the hero. Amy has an entire nation in the palm of her hand, and not because she’s charismatic, but because she’s maniacally brilliant. In the end, she succeeds in getting exactly what she wants.

Writers such as Flynn allow female characters to shine by crafting such nuanced portraits of women. While I’m certainly not suggesting anyone look up to Amy Dunne, there’s something to be said for crafting such a diabolical female villain. It makes for great reading.

In a telling scene in the film, Amy is trapped in Desi’s home while Nick’s interview is being televised. Pike’s Amy leans forward, eyes wide and welcoming as Nick confesses his wrongdoings. As she hangs on his words, I hung on to her. Flynn’s character captivated me in the novel and she was perfectly personified in this film. When Pike was onscreen, the world fell away and all there was was insane, amazing Amy.

Kelly Gallucci
Far too busy rereading the Harry Potter series, Kelly finds that her greatest literary sin is that she neglected to read classics like The Shining and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In between overseeing the editorial content for Bookish, holding interviews with authors like Leigh Bardugo and Victoria Schwab, and creating book recommendations for Kanye West—Kelly’s trying to catch up on the books she missed out on. She just finished The Great Gatsby and might be in love with Fitzg. Kelly received her B.A. in English Writing from Marist College and her M.A. in Screenwriting from National University of Ireland, Galway. She is a Gryffindor.

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