October 3, 2014

GONE GIRL and the Fallacy of Weaponized Female Sexuality

When I went to go see the film Gone Girl last night, I hadn’t read the book yet. I’d had friends who’d read the book, and through their discussions I’d gleaned the overall plot, but I’d read the reviews and heard that this movie was very good, an excellent exploration of a troubled American marriage.

What I saw, though, was one of the most troubling films I’d seen in a long, long time.

I’m going to discuss spoilers in this, so if you haven’t read the book or the movie, be aware that it’s very twisty and turny, and I’m about to untwist all the twists and straighten out all the turns.

I’ll wait.

 

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Are you ready? All right.

Gone Girl is, as I found out, not an exploration of a marriage. It is not about how two people drift apart. I’ve seen movies like that and I’ve read books like that, and this isn’t that.

Rather, Gone Girl is the story of a shrewish, bitter wife who uses a carnival of sex, rape, domestic violence allegations, and pregnancy to punish her schlubby, cheating husband.  It is the story of one sociopathic, monstrously self-centered, angry, outraged woman, and a vast audience of similarly angry and outraged women all too willing and eager to be manipulated by her.

I walked out of the movie pretty fucking angry myself.

The story is as hooky as they come. Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) seem to have a contented marriage, but one day Nick comes home to find his wife missing, accompanied by scenes suggesting violent abduction. Nick seems suspiciously clueless, and increasingly all the evidence points to him as the culprit, despite the lack of a body. When the police follow a trail of clues – a very direct trail of clues, it should be noted – leading them to Amy’s diary, they discover a recorded history of Nick’s abuse, threats, and violence, and become increasingly certain that Nick murdered his wife.

So does the media. Nick becomes the center of a Nancy-Grace-like pundit’s campaign (this actress receives high points from me for capturing Grace’s odious, vapid, self-righteous outrage in spades, alternately saccharine and corrosive), and as revelations come spilling out, the nation becomes convinced that he is not only a philanderer, but also the murderer of his – gasp – pregnant wife.

Except he isn’t. Amy faked it all.

The movie pulls a big switcheroo on us, and reveals that Amy has been harboring deep bitterness toward Nick for years. He forced her to move from New York to Missouri to take care of his sick mother, then degenerated into apathy and wastefulness, spending Amy’s trust fund money on buying a bar, which bleeds money. In all honesty, Ben Affleck plays what seems to be a Beer Commercial Shithead Husband, a schlubby, boring guy’s guy who just wants to drink beer, play video games, and maybe run around on his wife a little on the side. He is a dull man and a bad husband.

Now, a normal person here would just divorce the bum, kick him to the curb, and move on with their lives. Sure, he’s spent your money, but it’s only money, you own all his assets and you can sell them off as you please, and besides, you only sank five years in with him. Bad marriages have lasted way longer.

But Amy does not do this. She hates Nick so much that she’s willing to:

1. Fabricate a diary describing fictitious threats and abuse from Nick

2. Ingratiate herself with the community solely so that, when she “disappears,” the community will hate Nick

3. Fake a pregnancy by stealing a pregnant woman’s urine, so that everyone will really hate Nick

4. Create an elaborate scavenger hunt game intended to draw Nick into various crime scenes

5. Drain several pints of her own blood to taint her house, then create damning “murder” scenes, all of which incriminate Nick

6. Disappear, then commit suicide weeks later solely so that the police can discover her body, the final nail in Nick’s coffin

God damn, that sounds like a lot of work, right? Especially for a boring dude like Nick.

Now, I was halfway with this for a bit here. Mostly because the movie keeps bringing out stuff we didn’t know about the characters, so maybe there was something super awful Nick did that we’d find out about later. (There wasn’t. Nick is just a garden variety asshole.) But then Nick figures out that Amy’s framed him, and goes to talk to her previous two boyfriends. One of whom, she alleged, raped her.

Except the ex-boyfriend alleges he didn’t. (And the movie, by this point, suggests we should believe him.) He tells Nick that when they were together, Amy wanted him to clean up his act and be a stand up guy, and when he didn’t, she got him drunk on bourbon, coerced him into rough sex, fabricated bondage injuries while he slept, then went to the police. The evidence was overwhelming, the ex-boyfriend plead out, and now his life is totally and completely ruined, all because he wouldn’t wear a tie once in a while.

And that was when I began to really, really turn against the movie. Because it quickly became apparent that the plot of this whole movie isn’t about the Dunne marriage: rather, Amy has a history of fabricating rape, abuse, and threats in order to ruin men’s lives because she felt they didn’t treat her right. This movie is about her pathological willingness to use the public perception of fragile, vulnerable, female sexuality to get what she wants. This is all totally in her wheelhouse, a common tactic she resorts to. I walked out of the movie feeling Nick had nothing to do with what she did: if it hadn’t been him, it’d have been some other guy.

Because there is another instance of Amy using her vulnerable sexuality to torture a man. And this last is the most brutal and the most upsetting.

After framing Nick, Amy decides not to kill herself, but her plans of hiding out in the boondocks go south. She goes to see Desi, another old boyfriend played by Neil Patrick Harris, sweetness incarnate. Desi is wealthy, and it’s suggested that Amy has been “stringing him along” for years – this precise line is used by multiple characters to describe their relationship. Desi hides her away at his opulent lake house, but it soon becomes clear that Desi is not going to let her leave (his lake house is covered in security cameras), and wants to re-initiate their relationship.

This is troubling, sure. Desi is passively aggressively trying to force Amy to be his captive lover. But by this point, we know that Amy has a history of manipulating men, and since we presume that Amy’s manipulation of Desi – “stringing him along” – has been going on for much longer, we get the impression that Amy has had a hand in creating this bad situation. (She also feeds him lines about Nick’s abuse, fakes tears whenever she doesn’t want to talk, and basically hams up the victim schtick. Desi eats it up, with NPH’s sad puppy eyes growing larger as he hears of his beloved’s sad past.)

Once again, there are some reasonable options one could take to escape Desi’s clutches. She could just run away, for instance, or maybe try to talk Desi out of it. But instead she:

1. Rubs red wine all over her crotch and deliberately positions herself in front of a security camera, so it can film her pounding on a glass door and screaming for release

2. Violently violates her vagina (and possibly her anus) with a champagne bottle so she’ll have rape-like injuries

3. Uses twine to rub her wrists raw, simulating restraint injuries

4. Convinces Desi to have rough sex with her (alarm bells), and then.

5. When he ejactulates, she slashes his throat with a box cutter

She is showered with Desi’s blood, absolutely covered in it, dark fans of blood showering her even as his penis is still inside of her. The blood pours over the white, virginal bed, and her white, gauzy negligee. It is this scene that speaks to the heart of what Amy is: a dispassionate, icy woman using the act of sex to inflict horrific violence on a man. Whereas before, Amy weaponized her body – using her blood and bruises to tell the story she wanted to – in this scene, Amy has weaponized sex itself, weaponized the idea of the vulnerable female. Even though it feels ludicrous to say, she has literally weaponized her vagina, intentionally damaging it and bruising it and filling it with the appropriately incriminating semen so that it will become yet another piece of evidence to damn a man in her life.

Because she escapes, returns dramatically to Nick, and tells the tale of a jealous ex-boyfriend who kidnapped her, held her hostage, and repeatedly raped her, only for her to miraculously escape.

And here’s the thing: it works.

The media, the city, Amy’s parents, the police, even the FBI fall for it hook, line, and sinker, as they have before. They are all gallopingly, gallopingly eager to condemn first Nick and then Desi, these oafish brutes who have so savagely punished this frail, white lily blossom, the pearl of womanhood.

And this is the next thing that troubles me: for the majority of the movie, most of the audience that so vocally damns (or tries to damn) Nick are women. To list some off the top of my head, there is:

1. The Nancy Grace proxy

2. Amy’s constantly-pregnant hick neighbor, who tends to show up at public events screaming condemnations at Nick

3. The lead detective in the case (Kim Dickens, awesome as always, even in this), who even though she thinks something about this is a little too easy, still suspects Nick

4. An E Entertainment like interviewer, who wants to land the big scoopy interview with Nick

5. The E Entertainment makeup girl, who applies Nick’s makeup with a look of scorn and disgust

6. Amy’s mother, who eventually holds a press conference just about what a shithead Nick is, and also he probably did it

And some that I’m missing, like the women in the background before Nick’s big interview, who are so disgusted with him they can’t even make eye contact.

In all, Gone Girl is surprisingly lacking in judgmental men: with the sole exception of one police officer, whose suspicion feels more in line with his Trope Character (“Cop Convinced the Innocent Man Did It”) than his gender, there are very few male characters in this movie who vocally believe Nick is guilty. Nick’s famous attorney, for example, is male and appears to completely believe him. It is mostly women who have been duped, all women who (sometimes literally) shriek and howl about this horrible, depraved man. Though there’s a group of FBI agents at the end, who sneeringly dismiss Dickens’s objections that Amy’s story of escaping Desi sounds super hinky, we mostly see women reacting to the Dunne case, eagerly eating up Amy’s story.

There is only one female character who does not accept the bait, and that’s Nick’s sister, Margot Dunne, who is his voice of reason. However, for most of the movie, she gives the audience reason to believe that Amy is exactly what she appears to be: a crazy bitch. Margot describes Amy as  someone she didn’t “like to be around” and a “spider,” and mostly plays the role of “that cool friend girl who doesn’t like your wife.” “It’s not just dudes who don’t like her!” the movie seems to be saying. “Other ladies don’t like her either!” Between Nick and Margot’s thoroughly unflattering discussions of Amy, you kind of start to get the impression that she drove Nick to cheat on her with his 22 year old student.

And this particular student quickly becomes a liability as Nick attempts damage control, and she eventually gets the jump on him, publicly releasing information about their affair before he can. And whereas before she was dressed in, how shall I put this, some pretty sexually provocative clothing, when she gets in front of the cameras she is dressed, as Amy ably points out, “like a fucking Mennonite.” It’s yet another instance of a woman playing a role for the audience, manipulating her sexuality – in this case, concealing it – in order to play the situation to her benefit. And yet again, they eat it up. How could horrible Nick Dunne dupe this sweet, innocently-dressed young girl into sex?

Amy’s “escape” from Desi’s dungeon and return to Nick is just too perfect of a story for the media and the FBI to turn down. Everyone obligingly accepts it, eating it up with both hands. Nick, of course, is less than eager to accept Amy back into his life, and there is a scene where she, bloody, naked, showers before him, confidently telling him that she will destroy him if he tries to leave her. Again, the bloody, savage, weaponized female form, used to attack a man.

But Amy knows that this threat alone won’t keep Nick in check, so she – I’m still not quite sure how – gets herself pregnant, and informs Nick that it is his. Nick’s always wanted a kid, so he’s flustered and furious that she’s used this to get an edge on him. She taunts him, telling him that since she is the battered, traumatized beauty, and he the unfaithful husband, she will most certainly keep custody of the child if he tries to leave her – and she threatens to raise the child so that it hates its father.

It’s this threat that evokes the most violent reaction from Nick, and it should – up until now, Amy has used only her body as a weapon, her own flesh and blood and bruises to condemn and entrap others. Yet now she’s using the body of her unborn child. Nick grabs her by the neck and slams her head into the wall – and Amy, who has done such a good job at being the damaged victim of abuse, simply walks it off.

His violence means nothing to her. He is powerless before her, and she knows it. And he, eventually, chooses to stay with her. Nick is a hapless, helpless dolt, trapped with this vindictive, conspiring ice queen, who has so effectively used her body and the public’s sensitivity to women in peril to entrap him, forever, the most monstrous of ball and chains.

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So yeah, this made me mad.

It made me mad because rape and domestic violence are real issues in this country, and they are a breed of crime that fail to get reported adequately, fail to get prosecuted adequately, and fail to get perceived adequately. How often do we hear in instances of rape or sexual assault or violence that the victim was, in some ways, responsible for it? She dressed the wrong way, or she said the wrong thing, or she shouldn’t have been with him in the first place.

How often do we hear that allegations of sexual abuse or assault are, in fact, “blown way out of proportion” (one of the most execrable phrases in modern media), and possibly only exist in the victim’s head? Maybe the victim is actually just using these allegations to attack the man. Maybe she’s just jealous. Maybe that’s all this is.

Gone Girl not only plays into these dehumanizing suspicions, it acts as a catalyst for them, growing to become a deluded, paranoid fantasy about a woman using society’s sensitivity to rape and abuse to condemn a helpless man, over and over again. It is erroneous in not only thinking that we do have a sensitivity to these things (because we really don’t: rape, abuse, and domestic violence are woefully underreported, and are often received with reactions of indifference or scorn), but that we are oversensitive to them, chomping at the bit to condemn the man.

This, despite a long history of our own eagerness to blame the victim. “She shouldn’t have been dressed like that. She shouldn’t have gone to that party if she didn’t want that to happen. She shouldn’t have gone walking in that neighborhood.” As if anything owning a penis hungers for nonconsensual sex like a zombie does brains.

This despite all the nude photo leaks, the online threats, and the occasional suicide.

Gone Girl, really, is a misogynist’s horror movie, one that can and likely will confirm their idea of the world, this idea of women, suddenly free to use their bodies and sexuality as they wish, will instantly use them to assault and attack and degrade innocent men. After all, female sexuality is a dangerous, corrosive thing, something we must watch and safeguard and contain. Women, certainly, cannot be trusted with it. We must control it for them.

Art does not occur in a vacuum. This is a huge movie with a huge director (one whom, I note, has had some issues with women in his films before) and huge stars. This will be a big hit, especially considering the reviews I’ve been seeing. And in a few months, or maybe even a few days or weeks, when a woman accuses a man of rape of sexual assault or domestic violence, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that more than a handful of people will smile sardonically, shake their heads, and say, “She’s probably just pulling a Gone Girl.”