“On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his beautiful wife, Amy, has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?”
– plot summary of Gone Girl
Feminism as revenge is a concept that many people understand instinctively. Whereas 50 years ago, the unhappy woman might have sought psychiatric therapy to help her cope with feelings of disappointment, regret and inadequacy, feminism encourages women to turn their feelings into political empowerment, to view themselves as victims of systemic male-supremacist oppression, so that whatever makes them unhappy can be denounced as social injustice.
Our common-sense understanding of feminism as revenge explains why most people reject feminism, per se. We don’t buy into the “personal is political” rationale, whereby unhappy women seek to transform their discontents into a radical cause. At the very least, common sense suggests that Women’s Studies majors — “raging lesbian feminists” who condemn Disney movies as “heteronormative” and make “Smash Patriarchy” their slogan — do not really speak for all women.
If nothing else, the new thriller Gone Girl signals that Hollywood at long last has figured out how to exploit an undeniable fact about Ben Affleck: Movie audiences don’t like him. Every cinematic attempt to make Affleck a heroic protagonist is doomed, because there is something about him people simply don’t trust. The 2013 movie Runner Runner was the first time I’ve seen Affleck cast appropriately, as a selfish, cynical offshore casino owner — the villain in a 21st-century film noir. And judging from the critical debate about Gone Girl, Affleck is set up as the fall guy in a complex feminist revenge fantasy.
Nick Dunne is a victim, but he’s not an innocent victim, nor is his missing ex-wife Amy a sympathetic character. Feminists are debating Gone Girl‘s ambiguities, Emine Sanders explains at the Guardian:
It wasn’t as if the last week’s think-pieces, roughly summed up as “Is Gone Girl a feminist masterpiece or supremely damaging to all women, everywhere?”, sprung out of nowhere. When Gillian Flynn’s novel was published in 2012, and became a bestseller, the US writer found herself accused of a “deep animosity towards women”. Her gripping, if ludicrous story — be warned that the whole plot is coming — of Amy Dunne, a wealthy and beautiful psychopath whose revenge on her cheating husband involves framing him for her “murder”, making up rape allegations against men (one of whom she murders during her demented spree) before trapping her broken husband by stealing his sperm, raised hackles. One blogger neatly summarised the objections to the character, saying she “is the crystallisation of a thousand misogynist myths and fears about female behaviour. If we strapped a bunch of men’s rights advocates to beds and downloaded their nightmares, I don’t think we’d come up with stuff half as ridiculous as this plot.” . . .
In an otherwise positive piece on the film for the feminist website Jezebel, the writer Jessica Coen admits: “Movie Amy pales in comparison to the vivid character we meet in the book. Strip away Book Amy’s complexities and you’re left with little more than ‘crazy fucking bitch’. That makes her no less captivating, but it does make the film feel a lot more misogynistic than the novel.”
You can read the whole thing and see how feminism can never accept a novel as a novel or a movie as a movie. Everything in culture and society must ultimately be refracted through the warped ideological lens of feminist theory, interpreted as political symbolism rather than enjoyed as entertainment.
The classic example of this was Susan Faludi’s 1991 book,Backlash, where just one glance at the index reveals the intensity of her weird obsessions:
Fatal Attraction, 4, 25, 125-136, 141-142, 144, 157, 159, 208-210, 351
You see how this one movie, in Faludi’s mind, deserved its own 12-page treatment (pp.125-136), as well as multiple other mentions in her book. Why? Because the murderous psychopathic stalker played by Glenn Close was, in the minds of Faludi and other feminists, a symbol of a misogynistic hostility toward “liberated” women.
Personally, I’ve always viewed Fatal Attraction as a morality tale about the dangers of adultery, but many feminists seemed to take it as a personal insult, a condemnation of their own lifestyles.
Well, a hit dog will holler, as folks say down home.
If there is a stereotype of feminists as lonely, bitter, desperate, and dangerously crazy, where did that stereotype come from? Is it really just anti-feminist propaganda? Or does this stereotype contain within it some kernel of ugly truth? Returning to Gone Girl, here is Vox critic Todd Vander Werff’s take on the controversial film:
This is perhaps the most feminist mainstream movie in years, a forthright depiction of the ways that society controls women and forces them into certain roles, then lets men basically do whatever they want. Amy Dunne might be a monster, but she’s nosui generis psychopath. No, she’s Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together by a husband, parents, and a social order that demanded she be certain things, rather than who she really was.
And in destroying her husband’s life, she’s symbolically taking back power for women everywhere.
Vander Werff got scalded on Twitter for this claim, but I think he’s got a point. What he means is that Amy Dunne’s monstrous character is, as feminists would say, “socially constructed.” Or to put it in simpler terms:The patriarchy made her do it.
Amy Dunne tried to follow the script society provided her, and when that script did not bring her happiness – when Nick cheated on her — she decided she was entitled to revenge. Basically, she’s like Charles Bronson in Death Wish. Amy Dunne has been betrayed, and the abrogation of an implied contract (“Follow the script and your life will be happy”) turns her into a vigilante. Feminists are offended by Gone Girl only because they insist on viewing it through an ideological prism, perceiving the psycho killer as reflecting a negative interpretation of themselves.Here is Slate’s David Haglund’s take on the movie:
Time will tell what it is about David Fincher’s Gone Girl that people remember, but when it comes to the Gillian Flynn novel that the movie is based on, we already know: It’s the “Cool Girl” speech. That riff by the book’s titular missing woman, Amy Dunne, has been cited and debated and referenced over and over in the two years since the best-seller was published. It is, almost indisputably, the cultural legacy of the book.
The passage in question goes on for a couple of pages, but the part most frequently quoted begins like this:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
“Men,” the next paragraph says, “actually think this girl exists.” And that line is key: The essential targets of Amy’s critique are men who think of women as extensions of themselves, as creatures who are meant to fulfill their own desires and not to have independent wants or needs that might occasionally come into conflict with them.
You can read the rest of that. The point here is that Gone Girl‘s actual message is about how women drive themselves crazy by attempting to live their lives according to formulas and scripts. And I would argue that it doesn’t matter whether it’s the “Cool Girl” script (threesomes and anal sex? really?) or whatever “empowered” script the movie’s feminist critics would prefer Amy Dunne to follow. Ultimately, you have to live your own life, and finding happiness in life requires that our expectations be rooted in a realistic understanding of ourselves, and of human nature. Everyone must learn to live with disappointments. Everyone must understand that they are flawed human beings, and that the other people in their lives are all flawed and human, as well. We cannot be something we are not, and we cannot solve our problems by wishing them away.
The famed sociologist Steven Goldberg wrote an entire book about this,When Wish Replaces Thought: Why So Much of What You Believe Is False. Wishful thinking is neither a good political philosophy nor a useful life strategy, and yet time after time we see people get tripped up over the “is/ought” distinction, stumbling into failure and becoming enraged because reality (life as it is) does not conform to their egalitarian ideals of “fairness” (life as it ought to be).
Good movies help us understand life. Good movies tell us the truth about our problems as human beings. One of my favorite movie scenes is fromthe 1984 film Repo Man. That apocalyptic Reagan-era cult classic is too weird to explain here, but basically, Otto leaves behind his life as a worthless punk slacker by taking a job repossessing cars. Toward the end of the movie, Otto is in a convenience store when one of his punk buddies, Duke, bursts through the door and tries to rob the place.
The store clerk pulls a pistol and fatally shoots Duke. As Duke is bleeding out, Otto goes to comfort him, and hears Duke speak his last words: “I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.”
That, my friends, is a worthless punk way of thinking: “I blame society.”
If your response to failure is to look around for someone else to blame, you’re a punk. “Society” didn’t make Duke a criminal. He made his own choices. We all make our own choices in life.
Some people have advantages we don’t have. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives are unfortunate and arguably unfair. Sometimes other people hurt us and harm us, and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. However, the one thing we can always control is our own actions. We can choose between doing what is right and doing what is wrong. We can be wise or we can be foolish. We can do good or we can do evil. We can speak the truth or we can tell lies.
If we don’t believe that “society” makes a punk rob a convenience store, do we believe “patriarchy” causes all women’s problems? Isn’t feminism ultimately just a way of exempting women from responsibility by providing them with a scapegoat they can always blame?
If many feminists don’t like Gone Girl, it’s probably because Gone Girltells an important truth. Feminists hate the truth.
Published on May 13, 2014
It’s a film full of strong, independent women who pull their weight…which is probably why feminists never mention it.
Rest in peace, Mr Giger.
As an aside, it was really nice to do a positive video for once.
A man searches the world for a set of mystic artifacts – 12 bronze heads of the animals from the Chinese zodiac.
Hello Babies Official Trailer an upcoming Hong Kong comedy made for the Chinese New Year. Directed by Vincent Kok and starring Raymond Wong, Eric Tsang