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Why You Root for Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne

Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) has been called a lot of things, both in her world and in ours. Ever since director David Fincher brought Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel to the screen in 2014, we’ve remained torn over whether Amy is an antihero or a villain—a feminist icon or an irredeemable monster. The divided reaction to Amy Dunne speaks to our own feelings about female rage, a notably quiet kind of anger that we normally expect women to suppress. As Gone Girl shows us through the story of a woman whose bottled-up disappointment in her husband (Ben Affleck) gradually curdles into murderous resentment, this kind of repressed anger isn’t just common—it’s accepted. Here’s our Take on Amy Dunne as an exaggerated embodiment of female rage, what our reaction to her says about our own gendered expectations, and why Amy’s revenge doesn’t have to be empowering to feel cathartic.

TRANSCRIPT

Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne has been called a lot of things, both in her world and in ours. Ever since director David Fincher brought Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel to the screen in 2014, we’ve remained torn over whether Amy is an anti-hero or a villain—a feminist icon or an irredeemable monster. Amy has been called everything from a femme fetale for the Me Too era, to a plan old psychopath. She’s continued to leave viewers polarized over whether anyone should root for her—or even sympathize with her.

The divided reaction to Amy Dunne speaks to our own feelings about female rage, a notably quiet kind of anger that we normally expect women to suppress. As Gone Girl shows us through the story of a woman whose bottled-up disappointment in her husband gradually curdles into murderous resentment, this kind of repressed anger isn’t just common—it’s accepted. This is why, to some, Amy is an anti-hero for letting that anger out, and for treating those everyday transgressions like crimes deserving of vengeance.

Here’s our take on Amy Dunne as an exaggerated embodiment of female rage, what our reaction to her says about our own gendered expectations, and why Amy’s revenge doesn’t have to be empowering to feel cathartic.

Dunne with Gender Roles

There is little doubt that Amy Dunne is somewhat irrational. She faces a situation that, however galling, is more or less typical: Her marriage is failing, her husband is cheating on her, and she’s losing her sense of self in the world. But Amy’s response isn’t to get a divorce, like most people would. It’s to concoct an elaborate set-up that will end in her suicide, and Nick’s arrest and execution. This is an extraordinary solution to an ordinary problem, yet there’s a cold logic to it as well: Amy’s extreme reaction calls attention to just how often we downplay these transgressions, and it forces us to reckon with the disparity in how we expect men and women to behave.

Much of the horror in Gone Girl stems from just how normal Nick and Amy’s relationship seems. Their marriage is slightly unbalanced and quietly dysfunctional—like a lot of marriages. And in these characters, we can recognize exaggerated versions of the gendered roles we’re asked to play to keep those dynamics alive.

Amy: “When I met Nick Dunne, I knew he wanted Cool Girl. And for him, I’ll admit, I was willing to try.” - Gone Girl

Amy represents a hyperbolized idea of society’s high expectations for women. She’s a classic overachiever who thinks she can succeed at anything that she sets her mind to—even crime. Amy’s need to be exceptional has been with her since childhood. Her parents even created a children’s book character based on her called Amazing Amy, one that taught Amy from a young age that the world would always expect more from her.

Amy: “When I was ten, I quit cello. In the next book, Amazing Amy became a prodigy.” - Gone Girl

Amy’s perfectionism proves to be a double-edged sword. When she applies it to her own life, she accomplishes remarkable things. But when it comes to her relationship, it creates an incredible strain. Amy is a winner—and seeing her marriage falter because Nick refuses to keep up with her destroys that perception.

Again, Amy and Nick’s dynamic isn’t unique. Women are conditioned to put more effort into their relationships; research shows that they still take on most of the unnoticed responsibilities, like emotional labor and housework. Meanwhile, men tend toward social loafing, a psychological phenomenon where people put in less effort in a group setting than they would individually, assuming someone else will pick up their slack. The level of effort, commitment, and emotional availability that’s required to be “a good husband” is remarkably lower. And when Amy expects as much from Nick as the world expects from her, he feels unfairly targeted.

But Nick also overlooks the fact that he’s not even doing the bare minimum in their marriage. Amy’s expectations may be inordinately high, yet Nick can’t even maintain a baseline faithfulness to her—even when he thinks his wife has been kidnapped.

Margo: “We’re having a vigil tonight for your missing wife, and this morning, you’re kissing your college girlfriend goodbye!” - Gone Girl

Nick moves Amy away from everything she knows, forces her to adapt to his hometown and his life, all while he ignores and cheats on her. Nick never seems to consider Amy’s feelings—if he even thinks about her at all—which forces her to go to drastic lengths to get his attention.

Nick’s descent into betrayal and neglect is gradual, which is what makes it all the more infuriating for Amy: She feels she’s been deceived. After all, she also agreed to play a role: In the film’s most iconic monologue, Amy explains how she pretended to be the kind of Cool Girl she knew Nick wanted.

Amy: “I wax-stripped my p***y raw. I drank canned beer, watching Adam Sandler movies. I ate cold pizza and remained a size two.” - Gone Girl

She knew it was all a charade, but Amy also knew that this is how the game is played—and that if they could only keep up the act, they could both be happy. But when Nick doesn’t hold up his end, it leaves her playing another role.

Amy: “I don’t get why you’re daring me to be someone I don’t wanna be. The nagging shrew. The controlling bitch. I’m not that person.” - Gone Girl

As she learns, it doesn’t matter how well Amy plays the Cool Girl, because ultimately, the game is stacked in Nick’s favor. As a man, he’s allowed to remain oblivious and take advantage of all her efforts, while the failure of their marriage only takes its toll on her.

In the end, Amy decides the only way she can win this game is by turning those stereotypical gender roles against Nick. As Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn describes, Amy is “someone who knows all the tropes [...] about being a woman and is not afraid to use [them] to get her own way.” The Cool Girl, the expectant mother, the battered wife, the rape victim, the helpless prisoner; Amy weaves all of these various identities into her scheme, using the perceptions and assumptions around them to punish the men in her life. This is, of course, partly why her character is so disturbing: as Flynn says, “[S]he’s made of a bundle of stories that she’s pulled together. And at the [center], she’s nothing.” But it’s also the reason Amy is such a potent symbol. She’s nothing but the tropes she performs, and she reveals that our culture is too inclined to see women in the victim’s role: indifferent to their problems until it’s too late, or oblivious to what their innocence might hide.

Rooting for the Wrong Side

Plenty of viewers have offered their armchair diagnosis of Amy—that she’s a narcissist, or suffering from antisocial personality disorder. But despite the pervasive idea that there’s something wrong with her—and despite all her twisted crimes and manipulations—many still find themselves on Amy’s side. Even David Fincher agrees, saying, “There are parts of the movie where I go, oh yeah, ‘Go Amy.’ I love Amy.” So what is it that draws us to a character who seems so cold, calculating, and even a little crazy?

One of the biggest factors is exactly what leads Amy to her scheme in the first place: Nick really does seem to deserve some kind of retribution. Even total strangers seem to pick up on something that’s especially smarmy about Nick, something that is disingenuous about him. Nick has a generally unpleasant attitude that only makes it all too easy for the public to believe he could have murdered his wife—and at first, that goes for the audience as well.

Nick: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull.” - Gone Girl

By the time we finally learn Nick didn’t kill her, we’ve also seen that he’s not necessarily innocent. Even discounting the stories of physical abuse that Amy invents to frame him, we’ve already seen proof that Nick is abusive in other ways—and there’s clearly a dark side to him we can’t ignore.

But we’re also used to seeing Nick’s behavior not just normalized, but celebrated. In many ways, Gone Girl feels like a reaction to the lazy, self-involved manchild archetype who dominated screens in the years leading up to the film’s release. Seeing Nick punished feels like a cultural backlash to all the do-nothing men who get everything they want without really trying—who get the girl anyway, and who always get to be the good guy.

Nick’s laziness and ineptitude is contrasted against Amy’s cunning and sheer artistry—another reason we may find ourselves rooting for her. After all, it’s not often we see a criminal genius who, as Rosamund Pike claims, “could never have been a man. She’s purely female.” Amy isn’t just brilliant: She has near-total control over her emotions. She’s unnervingly good at putting up the feminine mask that lets women curb their reactions to avoid being labeled hysterical—and using it to her advantage.

Amy’s ability to detach herself emotionally and remain unflinching in her commitment is just part of what lets her pull off her scheme. Her character is actually defined by strengths—like creativity, critical thinking, and self-regulation—that she twists into particularly effective abuses instead. And in the process of her plotting, she manages to prove that she’s largely been underestimated. When things don’t go according to her master plan, Amy’s still able to improvise. She turns to her ex-boyfriend Desi for help out of desperation, yet she knows exactly how to play the role he demands.

Amy: “I’ve been so mistreated for so long. I’ve forgotten how to behave.”

Desi: “I’ll move in here tomorrow, and we’ll work it out together.” - Gone Girl

And when Desi has outlived his usefulness to her, Amy shifts seamlessly into the next phase, doing whatever it takes to keep going—without hesitation.

In the end, Amy provides us with the ultimate revenge fantasy against entitled men, and she tops it off with an infectious, albeit toxic, self-regard. We can empathize with her reasoning and appreciate her impressive flair for the dramatic—and all together, it’s powerful enough to have us questioning why we’d cheer on something we’d never openly condone.

Anti-Hero? Or Anti-Feminist?

Gone Girl has all the macabre magnetism of the true crime genre—something Amy knowingly references by adding credible, consumable elements to her story.

Amy: “You need to package yourself so that people will truly mourn your loss. And America loves pregnant women.” - Gone Girl

She makes sure to include stories of domestic violence in her faked diary entries, and she knowingly plays into what the journalist Gwen Ifill termed Missing White Woman Syndrome: taking disproportionate interest in and extending extra sympathy and resources toward endangered white women. Amy turns her life into the kind of thriller she knows an audience won’t be able to turn away from—and that includes us.

Amy’s exploitation of these very real examples of victimized women has earned Gone Girl its fair share of criticism. For playing into certain tropes—like the manipulative wife who traps her husband with pregnancy, or the idea that women make false allegations of sexual or physical abuse—the film has been criticized as anti-feminist.

Tommy: “There’s Amy. She’s graduated from being raped to being murdered.” - Gone Girl

Author Gillian Flynn told Time Magazine that she’s even “been called a misogynist” for creating a woman character who dares to weaponize her femininity and use it for evil. From a certain viewpoint, the film is about Amy terrorizing and dominating Nick, then essentially imprisoning him, forcing him to be who she wants him to be for the rest of his life. As Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff puts it, “It depicts a men’s rights activist’s worst nightmare come to vicious, bleeding life.”

But as Flynn herself has countered, the idea that a woman character can’t or shouldn’t be evil is sexist in itself. To decry Amy as anti-feminist, just because she does bad things, is an argument that relies on the same old-fashioned gender stereotypes the film is investigating and critiquing. Several critics have compared Gone Girl to Fight Club, another David Fincher film in which a charismatic, yet dangerous anti-hero pushes back against oppressive ideas about gender and domesticity, channeling their suppressed rage into violence.

Tyler: “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.” - Fight Club

Amy: “We’re so cute. I want to punch us in the face.” - Gone Girl

As the New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman elucidates, “In both stories, the characters rebel against the unbearable myth of attainable perfection, substituting for it an alternative one of transcendent, authentic, freedom-giving destruction.” Yet whereas men—and even some women—may see Tyler Durden’s rebellion as something principled and empowering, they’re just as likely to see Amy Dunne’s actions as selfish and insane. The difference in those responses represents the very sexism that Gone Girl is trying to call out: We expect women to be victims, to quietly accept the everyday injustices they endure. While we may not agree with Amy Dunne’s methods, if we’re honest about this imbalance, we can at least understand where her madness comes from.

As Gillian Flynn has said, “Women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves [...] we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.” Amy Dunne is fully in touch with her dark side, and there is genuine catharsis in seeing her nurture it and allow it to bloom—even if we recoil in horror at what we uncover.

Margo: “I can’t watch you play house with that thing for the next 18 years.” - Gone Girl

The rage and resentment she feels is extreme yet relatable, and Nick and Amy’s story is emblematic of just how much tension exists within our gender dynamics.

As Ben Affleck himself puts it, Gone Girl is “an indictment of how we lie to one another until, eventually, the mask falls off.” The fact that we may find ourselves rooting for Amy, despite all the bad things she does, speaks to just how much we expect women to keep up their mask—to do all the work of maintaining the lie. And it shows us how terrifying, yet liberating, it can be to watch as someone stops pretending and finally lets it all go.

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