Gone Girl as Counter Cinema

Claire Johnston, in her essay entitled “Women’s Cinema As Counter Cinema,” argues how women’s counter cinema can exist by challenging stereotypes of women that are perpetuated in films that we see. Stereotypes that are consistently being portrayed in films are women being symbols of grace and femininity, and men being dominant and protectors. Gone Girl, released in 2014 and directed by David Fincher, centers around the disappearance of Amy Dunne and has her husband Nick Dunne as a prime suspect, but the story unfolds as we learn truths that were hidden by the couple. Gone Girl provides an example of counter cinema in modern times as it opposes the traditional myths of women and men in the film. 

Johnston cites Erwin Panofsky who argued that early audiences of cinema had a hard time deciphering what they were watching on screen, which caused film creators to make a “fixed iconography,” or myths of the sexes in film, that helped the audience understand what they were watching in the film. Most of those iconographies or myths were things that were already seen in society, and those myths can also be seen today. For example, women are stereotypically viewed as graceful, gentle, and feminine. This is where Gone Girl paints a different picture. At the beginning of the film, we can see Amy Dunne give in to the trope of being the “cool girl” in order to attract Nick; her job is to “please her husband”, she basically mothers him, and she doesn’t argue back with her husband- she acts like the type of girl that guys typically want to be with. But throughout the film, her true self is exposed and she is more violent and cunning than she was portrayed to be. The stereotype and myth of being gentle and feminine is countered by Amy as she hatches a plan to frame her husband for her murder, doing whatever it takes to ensure that she is successful. Furthermore, Amy Dunne has a lot more power than Nick in their story. This contradicts the stereotype of women being powerless, essentially “lesser” than men. We are seeing the film from Amy’s perspective, with her narration throughout the entire film, even though the first half of the film was unfolding the story through Nick’s eyes. 

Johnston makes a point in her essay that as cinema developed over time, the stereotypes of men have been “increasingly interpreted as contravening the realization of the notion of ‘character.’” In other words, men are portrayed in the film the way that they should be portrayed in society: strong, dominant, and protectors. Johnston goes on and states that those stereotypes can be modified, unlike female stereotypes presenting women as “eternal and unchanging.” At the beginning of the film, Nick was portrayed as very charming and loving towards Amy. Then, we can see that their marriage is unraveling and he is growing more and more unhappy as time goes on. So, Nick commits infidelity and grows resentment towards his wife. Based on what I have experienced, it seems like men are able to avert their eyes and be non-committal when they are in a relationship with no consequence, but women are forced to be loyal and faithful to their partners. A common cultural aspect that I see in our society is the traditional bachelor’s party where men have their “last night of freedom” before getting married. 

Another trope seen in movies discussed by Johnston is “woman-as-phallus,” where a woman “becomes a man.” When a woman in a film portrays qualities that are traditionally seen in male characters, she can be accepted into the “male universe.” Amy Dunne presents traditionally masculine traits by coming up with a detailed, thorough plan. She is very meticulous, attentive, and precise, which is why the public does not believe that she could be capable in framing her husband for her own murder, and assume that right away, her husband would be capable. This is where the traditional trait of women being innocent comes into play and why Amy Dunne is so cunning; she knows that people would assume her innocence. 

Counter cinema is stories in the film viewed from a woman’s perspective and breaking down traditional stereotypes that are seen in society. Gone Girl breaks down those stereotypes of women being gentle and innocent, and stereotypes of men being strong protectors, and describes how Amy Dunne portrays traditional masculine traits throughout the film. 

Works Cited:

  1. Johnston, C. (1999). ‘WOMEN’S CINEMA AS COUNTER-CINEMA.’ In S. Thornham (Ed.), Feminist Film Theory: A Reader (pp. 31–40). Edinburgh University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctvxcrtm8.7

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