Most unlikeable women, including Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, have been proclaimed so by men. All it really takes is a somewhat popular guy in your Spanish class to call you annoying, and then suddenly, the rest of the class thinks the same. A fourteen-year-old boy sporting basketball shorts and Nike socks is the ultimate authority. And hard as you try, you cannot pull yourself out of the hole he dug for you. Unless, of course, other men see value in you. Do you know how many high school girls are redeemed by the boy they’re dating?
Men call the verdict on women’s value, even to other women. I knew that the girl on my seventh grade cheer squad was weird because one of the football players told me so. The rest of us were just as unlikeable and awkward as she was, but we pinned all of the grossness on her, hoping that no one would notice we were practically the same.
Secretly, I sometimes let out a breath of relief when men make a judgement on women. There’s comfort in knowing that you aren’t the person they’re devaluing. Maybe that’s where the desire to both become and maintain the role of the “cool girl” comes from — knowing that it keeps our value. We must distance ourselves from things we like, present our interests as ironic, be cool, aloof, wild, emotionless, and so, so available to men all at once. If we aren’t attractive to them, we’re void of value. And when they tell other people that much, they believe them. We believe them.
It’s social preservation, if anything, to want to be the cool girl.
I think that’s why there’s nothing new to say about Amy Dunne. She represents so much repressed rage against the men who have made us cool, then uncool, again. Amy Dunne is a universal experience.
“I’m not like other girls”
The original characterization of Amy set her as far apart from other girls as possible. She insisted upon her and Nick not being “one of those couples” — the kind that lean heavily on each other, that need each other. What Amy really meant, though, is that she wasn’t “one of those girls.” She didn’t need Nick’s reassurance and affection. She was above other women. She was the cool girl.
When we see Amy truly emotionally combust for the first time, it’s through her memory of discovering Nick’s infidelity. Amy watched as Nick walked his college-aged mistress out of the bar he bought with the remainder of Amy’s trust fund. As the snow fell, he kissed her, the same way he had first kissed Amy in a cloud of sugar.
Amy discovered that, despite her reassurances, she was nothing particularly new or special. She was just a brand of girl both created by and replaceable to Nick. Should the cycle persist, there would be a million other versions of this girl who Nick invented, then let burn out.
Vulnerability & its consequences
Before Amy discovered Nick was cheating, her cool girl act began to slip. She clung to him — as much as Amy ever clung — asking to go out with him that night, asking him to stay home, to be with her. Nick parroted her words back to her, saying that he thought they agreed not to be “one of those couples,” which really meant he thought Amy agreed to be everything he wanted with none of the hangups.
And though Nick was already cheating, and the audience already knew he was cheating, the moment following is the first time Amy saw it. She showed up outside The Bar, the one she quietly funded and supported so Nick could be happy in his career, unexpectedly. Chronologically, this is when Nick’s infidelity becomes apparent, and it plays out as though it’s a result of Amy’s vulnerability. She forgot to maintain her image, so Nick found someone new.
Amy Dunne became unlikeable through her vulnerability, because cool girls aren’t vulnerable in a way that isn’t palatable, naive, and sexy — like a college girl needing guidance.
In one of her rare moments of truth while being on the run, Amy recounted this story to her neighbor at the place she rented. As they grew closer, Amy let her guard down, and the two begin to form somewhat of a friendship. In a moment of excitement after getting a hole-in-one in mini golf, Amy jumped up and down and her cash bag fell out. Upon seeing the wad of cash, her neighbor and her neighbor’s lover plotted to steal it, leaving Amy broke and alone. Amy paid a dear price for her vulnerability for a second time.
Nothing about Amy changed before she staged her own murder, not really. Nick changed. He decided that Amy Dunne was unlikeable, and therefore, she was. The film even sets the audience up to believe so, showcasing Nick’s concern and unhappiness in his marriage, keeping his affair under wraps, victimizing him when the audience believed something terrible must’ve happened to Amy.
As Nick changed, Amy looked less appealing in comparison. Her witty anniversary gifts that Nick used to hold in such high regard became an impossible standard he had to meet. Her spontaneity turned desperate, rather than sexy. And her love for Nick no longer looked sweet, but restless.
As I said, it’s like when the popular boys in high school decide you aren’t cool. There’s nothing you can do to redeem yourself.
Except maybe find another man.
This time, when Amy found her salvation in a stalker-type ex-lover, Desi Collings, she saw his fascination with the “cool girl” persona she used to present. Desi wasn’t interested in rescuing her from Nick because he loved her, he just wanted the Amy he used to know back. He wanted the cool girl, too, same as Nick. That time, Amy did not mistake that for love.
When Amy saw the future she wanted — a future that involves going back home to Nick, curating the image of a happy family, being named the “Miracle on the Mississippi”— she took it. With some hair dye and new clothes, Desi made Amy into the wife he always wanted. In the same vein, Amy framed him for her kidnapping, slit his throat, and took her old life back, using Desi in a parallel way.
Getting away with murder
Obviously, Amy’s crimes are not on par with the mistreatment she has suffered at the hands of men. Her reaction, however, is the physical manifestation of the emotional damage they did to her. So yes, Amy does get away with murder, but so does Nick (metaphorically speaking).
Nick, who preyed on a teenage girl when she was his student. Nick, who isn’t didn’t know the details of Amy’s life, smiled while taking a picture with her missing poster, and was consistently more worried about clearing his name than finding her. And Nick, who admitted he was relieved when Amy was potentially kidnapped, even before he knew about her plot to frame him.
Nick, who was a worse person than Amy (at least, in the beginning), but got to be the authority on defining Amy. Nick, who never had to suffer the consequences for any of that, until Amy made him.
Women’s role in the destruction of Amy Dunne
The women in Amy’s life are as big of a culprit as the men. They are the facilitators. They are the women who are relieved to not be the “crazy one.”
Nick and Amy’s wrongdoings are made equivalent through the lens of Margo, Nick’s twin sister. Before the plot thickens with Amy’s plan, Margo described Amy as a bitch. Amy’s crimes included: being too perfect of a wife, being overbearing, and expecting too much of Nick. When Margo found out that Nick was sleeping with a twenty-year-old, she called him an asshole. Subconsciously, Margo equated these two faults. Nick got away with more than Amy could (again, before the murder plot), but they held similar titles.
Even the women who love Amy, who fiercely rallied for Nick to be put in prison when he was accused of her murder, know nothing about her. They only know her as the poor, pregnant, abused persona she created to gain attention and sympathy upon her disappearance. And, just like she did with Nick, Amy fell in love with their perception of her. Ever the perfectionist, she maintained this image for them to consume in the form of news reels, exclusive interviews, and lifetime movies.
An endless cycle of performing
It all began with Amazing Amy, a character Amy’s parents invented to sell children’s books. Amazing Amy was constantly outdoing her real-life counterpart, while real Amy was struggling to compare to her fictionalized self. Then came Nick, who Amy performed for as the “cool girl,” until that resolve finally cracked. Still, he rescued her from the confines of Amazing Amy, the same way Amy’s fans would rescue her from Nick.
I think Amy’s real motive to come back to Nick as a “battered woman” was that she had a new audience to perform for — her loving, adoring fans who hated Nick, then Desi, who she posed as her kidnapper, and anyone else who would bring harm to Amy. They wanted justice for Nick’s perceived wrongdoings, which Amy wanted, as well. And when they found out Amy was alive, they wanted her home safe. They wanted her to prosper. More importantly, they wanted to know more about her story. Amy Dunne was interesting again.
It’s just another cycle of being the “cool girl,” except this time, Amy has someone new to be cool for. It’s only a matter of time before Amy breaks under the weight of wanting to be perfect for someone else — or, in this case, many someones. Like the litany of unlikeable women before her, Amy Dunne so desperately wants to be liked.