The Cool Girl

October 8th, 2014

Gone Girl was one of these books that all of a sudden just popped up everywhere. Around the date of release I lived in London. The bookshops were full of Gillian Flynn’s novel and I was intrigued. My friend bought it and I only came around to reading it last winter. I got hooked, although I tend to sneer at super hyped books. Well-written, although I didn’t really like the last part, but still so enjoyable. And in a way too cool for the genre it was intended for.

The famous “Cool-Girl-Monologue”, as it’s now dubbed, got me shrieking in delight when I read it. So when I heard that Fincher was going to direct a movie adaptation the excitement stuck. Last night I went to see the movie with a friend and I was not disappointed. But the movie has one main flaw and let me get down to that.

(Beware: heavy spoilers ahead)

The story comes to life so vividly due to the change of perspective. And although it is Nick Dunne who is being surprised by the events unfolding, the book makes use of Amy Elliot Dunne’s voice and makes her the sociopathic manipulative woman with a motive, that we don’t grasp when only watching the movie. But let me introduce the characters and story to get you up to speed on where I’m going with this.

Dissolution of gender and relationship expectations

Gone Girl plays with the perfect love story, perfect gender roles and reversal and imbalance of these (and the perfect victim) throughout its narration. It tells the story of (former) writers Amy and Nick, falling in love in New York and getting married. Now five years into their marriage they live in Nick’s Missouri hometown, which has been deeply unsettled by the recession, just like their job situation and their relationship successively. Nick is smart and witty whilst maintaining the down-to-earth-no-fuss-masculine-charm he got to keep from his Midwestern upbringing. Amy, from the outside, is beautiful and intelligent and inspiration for her parents bestselling Amazing Amy children’s book series. We see this in flashbacks in which Amy at first seems unfazed by the blessings of her status and upbringing and Nick in his easygoing ways are the perfect match for one another. Them against the world, against society’s demands and expectations on couples.

Following Amy’s diary entries we see this relationship blossom. And wither. We follow their first meeting to an engagement at the book release party for another of Amazing Amy’s adventures (fittingly – her wedding), wedding, their lay-offs due to the recession and first cracks in their relationship. But the scale of imbalance tips more in favour of Nick and when his mother gets terminally ill they both move, unhappy due to different reasons, to Nick’s hometown. The recession, lay-offs and move and the investment into a bar for Nick, The Bar, makes them poor and when Nick stays at his new project the whole day and often into the late evening, they both become exactly the kind of couple they never ever wanted to become. This superficial perspective leads us into the question of balance in a relationship. The promises they made, “Let’s never be like them. The others”, “Let’s not slip into roles and become clichés of ourselves” are broken by both in the course of their relationship up until now. Nick feels criticized, Amy feels neglected, their secret pact to one another has, as it so often does, run its course and is broken. The dark perspective on society’s expectations of couples, but also of two lovers of one another, is construed beautifully in Gone Girl. Not as deep and shocking (not because of its shock value per se, but rather the pure realness of the decay) as in the book, but still strong and lingering long after the movie’s twist has shown us the possible construction of the whole background story. (To be honest, in my opinion the flashbacks Amy provides up until a certain point in her forged diary reflect the reality. The way she thought they, as a couple, could be different and maybe had been up to that certain point.)

Cruel thriller with a twist

The first part of the movie is told from Nick’s perspective and flashbacks of Amy’s diary. On the day of their fifth anniversary Amy goes missing and we follow Nick get surprised by the events following that morning. All the clues seem to point in his direction and with each puzzle piece his innocence is put into doubt even further. We dive deeper into his life and quickly get a feeling that he has something to hide. But is it the meticulously planned murder of his wife? The crime scene is suspiciously arranged, Nick doesn’t seem to know anything about his wife’s life and friends and daily routines at all, his phone keeps ringing without him picking up and in aforementioned flashbacks his temper and even aggression towards his wife paint the picture of a guy one should be distrusting of. The attention he receives from police, but also neighbours, the media and even nationwide broadcast talk-shows tightens the grip on Nick and one cannot be sure who to trust.

The twist has always been luring in the background, but when it comes the whole movie (as the book did before) changes its direction. The build-up, in which all the clues point towards Nick, completely shifts direction and we find out about the real Amy. Like in the book Amy tells the viewer about her disappearance, about the whole plan she created once she found out her husband, additionally to all the other disappointments going on in her relationship and life, had an affair with the cliché that is applicable in such scenarios (he’s a middle-key professor and she is his twentysomething student with an ample cleavage and not many needs apart from sex). And once the truth is out for the viewer there is no rest. Nick is sucked deeper into the machine of the media machine, witch-hunting the husband/killer, and having no other choice than to retain a lawyer, well-known for defending husbands accused of getting rid of their wives, which takes away the last shred of credibility for his perception of being innocent. Who’d need a lawyer if …? At the same time Amy explains her motif, falls out of playing her role of being the perfect wife and daughter, letting herself go in some remote cottage. Whatever happens after that is constantly unsettling, never leaving a minute for the viewer to breathe.

Even having read the book it was gripping and exciting. And although I’d said how perfectly cast Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were, I didn’t really see how well everyone else fit. Neil Patrick Harris as the ex-boyfriend and still very creepy dude exudes just the right amount of creepy and stiff-upper-lip, whereas Tyler Perry as the smooth lawyer is a wonderful counterpart to Affleck’s bland and somehow still suspicious Nick. Nick is the dude whom one could trust to 80 %, the other 20 % are evasive: exactly the way he should be coming off to the viewer. That I don’t mention the other key characters only shows how impeccably they fit into the whole setup (this is praise! I loved them). The main attraction, just like Amazing Amy, is Rosamund Pike. And what a marvellous anti-hero she is. Just like her name is not as big as Affleck’s is (before shooting, one should note), her part of the story is for the first half of the movie just as small. But when the reveal comes along, so does her intelligence, poise and manipulation. She is a cold bitch, scheming and contriving, and even when she goes for the kill she does it with precision and beauty.

The Missing Link

Coming back to my starting point the book lives from hearing Amy’s voice. And this gets a bit lost in the adaptation. Although it beautifully, cinematographically, sound effect wise and everything in between, we don’t grasp Amy’s scorn as deeply as in the book. We don’t feel the economic pressure or the pressure put onto her by her parents’, by men’s and by society’s standards of what defines a good woman and wife. We don’t really grasp her motivation, or rather it feels somewhat superficial. What we see is what happens when a woman seeks revenge, all with claiming to be raped when not, lying about domestic abuse and exploiting the prime picture of a perfect woman: a beautiful, pregnant wife. We also should see – and I think that’s what’s missing, although it is hinted at, from the movie – the superficial expectations not only society, but even more so women force on each other. The mentioned Cool Girl monologue, which goes by in a flash in the movie, because the viewer is just so flabbergasted at the sudden twist and revelation, for me is one of the defining parts in the book. And sadly, but again, not due to the quality of the movie or the actors, but for the reason of perspective and storytelling, doesn’t come through in its entirety in the movie.

All in all I dig the concept of a female anti-hero. Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg is truly awful, Amy Elliot Dunne is just as much. And I love it.

Good movie. Go and watch it.

(and for those interested, here’s the Gone Girl Cool Girl speech:

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 actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”))

Note: This is an excerpt from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I don’t necessarily think that every part of it is true. I just enjoy the ramblings of Amy Elliot Dunne’s inner voice so much.