Since the film’s release on October 3, Gone Girl still remains number three at the box office, has garnered $300 million worldwide making it almost the biggest money-making film yet, has a rating of 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and is even in the running for the Oscars. With its critical acclaim, fan buzz, and record-breaking consistency, the movie is a smash hit and already on the IMDb’s user-generated Top 250 movies of all time. But amidst the praise is a lack of consideration for what Gone Girl is really depicting and reinforcing: rape culture.
You don’t need to dig deep to uncover the misogyny and rape myths (generalized assumptions about sexual assault) in Gone Girl. They’re not subtly referenced or ambiguously coded within the muted cinematography and eerie imagery of the crime thriller. In fact, every men’s rights assumption about assault is rolled out like dice so effortlessly without question or explanation that my feminist radar flashed red the whole two and a half hours. Weeding out the plot twists and ominous overtones, Gone Girl is nothing shy of a simplistic, stereotyped portrayal of women. Gone Girl author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn explained how she’s tired of the girl-power protagonists filling the pages of other books and wanted to show the ugly side of women.
“To me, that puts a very, very small window on what feminism is,” she said. “Is it really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be? For me, it’s also the ability to have women who are bad characters.”
But what Flynn failed to acknowledge is that her every plot device is an already well-ingrained rape “belief” of our patriarchal society, and her story (and its growing popularity) reinvigorate those myths that feminists have tried so hard to dismantle.
Spoiler alert! The whole story and its notorious plot twist rest on Amy’s false rape allegations and Amy as the quintessential “psycho bitch” who manipulates society and victimizes men. To summarize, Amy and her husband, Nick, are unhappily married and when Amy disappears, Nick’s unmoved reaction sets off a media storm that Nick may have killed his wife. Realizing Amy might have disappeared of her own accord and is potentially framing him for her presumed murder, Nick looks for answers and comes across her ex-boyfriend, Tommy. In a very cringe-worthy scene that captures the misogynistic elements of this film so eloquently, Tommy tells Nick how he and Amy met and dated and how, when she got a little upset when he drifted away, she came over and had sex with him – totally consensual, Tommy affirms. But the next day, the police are knocking at his door for sexual assault charges. Amy filed a report against him and her wounds are consistent with those of rape. So easily Tommy’s professional and romantic life go straight to the toilet by a conniving “bitch” as she’s so elegantly referred to throughout the movie.
Toward the end of the film, she accuses her wealthy former boyfriend of kidnapping and raping her, and in self-defense she kills him. The media and police eat up her story without even the slightest hint of interrogation, and Amy is set free to destroy more men’s lives.
In almost every conversation I’ve had about rape, the topic of false rape allegations is always slipped in. In watching a film that so candidly brought the assumption that most rape allegations are false ones to life made me want to (excuse the graphic imagery) rip my eyeballs from their sockets.
Reality check please. Built as it is on false rape allegations, this film undermines efforts to raise consciousness about the truth that false rape allegations rarely occur. Most stats pin the number of false claims at about two to ten percent, about two to ten claims for every ninety to ninety-eight actual rape cases there are. Centering a motion picture on this running theme gives an even greater incentive for mainstream culture to raise false claims as a legitimate part of the discussion on sexual assault.
And to take the portrayal even one step further from reality, Amy’s allegations are filed and dealt with without the slightest backlash against her: police don’t dismiss her accusations and she experiences no shaming. Forget the number of survivors who can’t get their accusations taken seriously by the cops, friends, or family, let alone even filed.
Another disturbing aspect of Gone Girl is how it portrays the issue of domestic violence only through a lens of extreme privilege. Amy is a white, elitist trust fund kid who has enough money to escape her cheating and possibly violent husband. Enough money to buy a car, change her appearance, and rent out a new place all with a good sum left over. There are a variety of reasons as to why women stay in abusive relationships including financial reasons. While economically Amy is a rare exception, her race is another salient factor in making her story even halfway believable. How easy would it have been for her to continuously accuse men of rape had she been a woman of color?
Ever since Maleficent I’ve been hearing how Hollywood is finally giving women real representation in movies with complex, well-rounded roles. While, yes, Rosamund Pike does play a complicated, intelligent sociopath that is far away from the shallow RomCom airheads we are used to seeing depicted by female actors on screen. However, her character really isn’t doing women a grand favor in terms of representation. Amy is the epitome of a common female stereotype. She accuses men of rape when they grow distant and frames her husband for her murder when she discovers he’s cheating. In all fairness, Nick too is the male stereotype of the typical cheating jerk who has an affair with his twenty-year-old student – how cliché – but the movie veers toward portraying Nick as the protagonist and the victim, while portraying Amy as manipulative and off-the-walls insane.
It’s disappointing that in the world of Hollywood film, the intentions of female characters are still largely portrayed as driven by men’s actions and feelings towards them. This is apparent in Gone Girl: Amy is always reacting to Nick. He falls out of love and cheats, so Amy ruins his life. She thinks he cares for her again, so she comes back, and forces him to stay by artificially impregnating herself with his sperm. Whether they are portrayed as a searching-for-Mr.-Right sweetheart or a Type A villain, women are presented in formatted roles as solely irrational, romantic, and emotional beings with a man as their end game.
Flynn identifies as a feminist and Ben Affleck is never shy to express his progressive views, but both seem to disregard their forward-thinking with this film. Gone Girl may be a hit for audiences, but the film’s real legacy is in normalizing rape and spreading negative portrayals of women, bolstering the toxic attitude that sexual assault survivors and women should be treated as insignificant.
Jessica Renae Buxbaum is a Web Editorial Intern at Tikkun Magazine. Her work can be found on Peaceful Dumpling and Feminist Wednesday. You can follow her on Twitter @jessa_renae.
Thankyou for your article, Jessica, and I was also concerned about Gone Girl but for different reasons. I was depressed with the lack of character development…. how does a woman become manipulative or conniving , and what are the results in her life. The sexism was awful and the simplistic portrayal of relationships as sexual power games was offensive. But what does it say about our society that many people obviously loved it… marcia
I just finished the book and felt quite manipulated by it, kept reading it because I had to see how it resolved before I passed judgement, while feeling increasingly let down by the lack of any “redeeming social value”. I felt like I had been discarded when the book ended. I had given up my trust to this novel and was thrown to the curb.
A good contrast to this book is the Rolling Stone article about rape at the University of Virginia, as one exposition of a more widespread event in this country. That story will generate less revenue for the shareholders, sad to say.
I am still grateful to live in a country with a free press despite portrayals of fiction and fact that sicken me.