NOTE: Gone Girl, novel and a movie, is thick with surprising twists. If you don’t want to stumble across hints about those twists then you should hold off reading anything about the story until after you see the movie. This article is no exception. Beware. Here be spoilers.
When was the last time anyone saw an actor transform themselves so dramatically as Rosamund Pike has done in Gone Girl? The demure, soft spoken Pike has reached down deep and uncovered one of the most mesmerizing femme fatales, one of the most memorable movie blondes, in film history. There aren’t many directors in town who give a damn about actresses anymore. If they don’t sell, if it doesn’t appeal to the mostly male bloggers and critics, forget it. It doesn’t get made. Fincher is one of the few who can and does get those movies made. And not since Hitchcock has a director been so good at transforming an under-the-radar actress into an icon.
The serene actress has always been cast as either the sweet love interest or the ice queen. No one has ever looked at Rosamund Pike and thought: there’s a versatile actress who could take on such complex, tricky material as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. If people were paying attention, which half of them aren’t let’s face it, they would recognize Amy Dunne as one of the most notable female anti-heroes in literature and now, on film. If they were paying attention, they would also notice that casting Amy Dunne was not unlike casting the big roles in lit history, like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind and Daisy in the Great Gatsby. As it stands, critics and bloggers barely notice women at all, let alone a central figure in an American classic as written by Gillian Flynn.
Pike dives naked into this part, peeling back her mask of beauty and mannered composure to reveal the sinister truth that lies beneath many of Type A female. Without giving too much away, Pike’s Amy Dunne toys cleverly with our expectations based on her outward appearance that she immediately has the upper hand in all situations. Women, as we know, are judged mostly on their looks first. Dunne knows this is the best card she can play because her good looks are disarming, intimidating, unattainable. That gives her an immediate upper hand. All that she really is, all that she really wants, her precious bloated ego is buried underneath the serene and sparkly surface. What man, or woman, could defend against it?
What I love so much about Pike’s version of Amy Dunne is that we fall for it, too. We fall for those high cheekbones, those sweetly wide brown eyes, that Grace Kelly smile. We women fall for it each and every time we flip through a fashion magazine. We long for it when we see a celebrity wife dropping her children off at soccer practice or strolling along with a yoga mat in hand. We ache to be so perfect. What a strange gift Gillian Flynn and David Fincher have given us with Amy Dunne — a cunning genius who knows people well and can thus predict their next move. She is the best chess player in the game and, like Maddie Walker in Body Heat, if people are dumb enough to fall for it they deserve what they get.
Despite the Eve Harringtons, the Maddie Walkers and now, the Amy Dunnes, good looks are still the best decoy when looking to deceive a dumb chump. Maybe we get one movie a decade at most where the female is the smartest character in the whole movie. Women strive to be good more than anything else. Good mothers, good wives, good fucks, good kissers, good looking, good little girls. But, as the line goes, “Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch, Dolores. Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to.” You might judge her, siding with the affable puppy dog that is Nick Dunne and that’s fine. No one deserves to be nailed to the wall when they’re so accustomed to life going their way.
A serene facade shattered, a sculpted body ruined then remade, while underneath it all the quiet hum of vulnerability. Amy Dunne might be a monster. She might be the sum total of all of your worst fears about women, especially pretty women. But she has also cut up like paper dolls society’s expectations of women — the unending torture device of self-improvement, the big lie of the fairy tale wedding and the happily ever after. Amy Dunne is the end result of what our culture has done to women.
Gillian Flynn toys with our expectations in most of her writing, at least what I’ve read. She is a master at flipping what we predict is going to happen. She had me completely fooled with the book, Gone Girl. When people talk about the ending, when men groan and women complain because something about it just isn’t fair — I always give a silent salute to Ms. Flynn for sticking with the truth, both about her writing and about human nature. These characters are always betraying their best intentions. They can no more explain what they do or why do it than they can ultimately change who they are.
Women don’t often get to explore such complexities. David Fincher is practically single-handedly bringing back the complex female lead. He did it without any fanfare with Panic Room, Benjamin Button and Alien 3. He did it amid much fanfare with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and he’s outdone it here, with Amy Dunne and Gone Girl. Would that more directors had that kind of faith in what women can do and who they can be.
The brilliant Rosamund Pike joins Julianne Moore, who is currently in the number one spot for Still Alice, where she plays a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. Also very much in the race is Hilary Swank for The Homesman, Jessica Chastain in Eleanor Rigby and Reese Witherspoon for Wild, three equally complex and well-written female leads for whom entire films were built around them. These three make up the core of the Best Actress race so far, though more performances are coming.
You can tell the state of American film when you compare the number of Best Actress contenders to Supporting Actress contenders. Since almost all of the movies in the Oscar race are about men, women exist only as a support to those men. In some instances, those supporting characters come to full, breathing life — like Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, like Viola Davis in Eleanor Rigby, like Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. In American films, men do the important things, almost exclusively. So much so that if you have a daughter you’d be better off having her watch television where women are shown doing important things, not just helping the men do important things.
No one really saw Rosamund Pike coming [an addendum to appease readers of this site who apparently need an explanation – perhaps pundits predicted her but I don’t believe anyone ever realized how deep and dark she would be willing to go for this role – that kind of dedication is surprising in an actress who has not really yet earned her chops]. No one could have figured that this mild mannered actress could pull off such a strangely complicated, childish and monstrous character in the uniquely American tradition of unforgettable femme fatales.
Also in contention in the Best Actress category:
Shailene Woodly in The Fault in Our Stars
Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Mia Wasikowska in Tracks
And coming up:
Amy Adams in Big Eyes
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods
It’s a sad day in Hollywood when the list of female leads up for contention in the Best Actress is this short. I don’t even know what to say anymore except we continue to be grateful to those precious few directors, David Fincher at the top of that list, who seem to give a good goddamn.