Columns, Opinion

Fine tunings: crafting Amy Dunne | Mad Women

Amy Elliott Dunne is a cool girl. She’s tall, beautiful and slender. She’s sophisticated and highly educated from a successful and wealthy family. She’s in a happy and stable marriage with her husband of five years, Nick Dunne. 

This is how Amy Elliott Dunne appears to those around her. However, something wicked lies underneath all the glitter and glory. Underneath lies the maddest of women, a woman who is calculated, irrational and unpredictable. A woman who has embraced madness.

Lila Baltaxe | Senior Graphic Artist

“Gone Girl” was published in 2012 as a thriller novel written by Gillian Flynn. The book was adapted into a film in 2014 directed by David Fincher, starring Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne and Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne. The plot follows Amy as she executes her plan to frame her husband for her murder after she caught him cheating on her with his student.

Amy met Nick at a social gathering and the two immediately hit it off, exchanging witty banter mixed with a facade of romantic chemistry. The pair do start out a happy couple, living together in New York City and both working as writers. The disintegration begins when the couple lose their jobs due to the recession and move to Nick’s home state of Missouri due to his parent’s declining health. Despite their troubles, Amy is determined to stay the ideal, supportive wife.

This changes once Amy catches Nick cheating on her with his student, Andie. Amy snaps and begins to craft her master plan to frame Nick for her murder. She shows incredible patience and self-discipline with this, planning the plot for a year, creating fake debt statements, crafting a treasure hunt for Nick while she is missing and fictionalizing the key evidence in the investigation: her diary. With quotes like “For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d buy a gun,” and “This man of mine may kill me. He may truly kill me,” it was the perfect framework to frame Nick.

Nick is a non-confrontational person. Amy was especially meticulous with this characteristic of him because it is something the media would weaponize against him. It’s a punishment for Nick for changing from the sweet and quiet man she once knew to a cheating liar who has also altered his personality for her. Amy believes that marriage will only work if both spouses are happy all of the time, even though that isn’t the case. She didn’t want to experience the ebbs and flows of a healthy marriage and it contributes massively to her downfall.

While “missing,” Amy goes to incredible lengths to alter herself, even slamming a hammer into her face to puff it up while she is staying in a cabin community in the mountains. As she watches the investigation unfold, just before she is about to finish her plan and kill herself, she does a 180 and runs to her wealthy ex-boyfriend, Desi Collings. While staying at Desi’s, she takes advantage of his wealth and adoration, pretending to be a victim of Nick Dunne and that she’s realized Desi is her true love — all just to kill Desi in the name of “self defense” and frame him for her disappearance after seeing Nick appear on a talk show, defending himself and stating he loves her.

Upon Amy’s return home, she crafts yet another narrative for the cameras, immediately broadcasting her story to the media. Amy’s charm wins the hearts of viewers, returning to a picture-perfect happy marriage and even announcing a pregnancy. When Nick confronts her about her disappearance, she says, “I’ve killed for you. Who else can say that?” When the movie ends, the couple is still together and Amy is in complete control of the rest of the narrative, which can only be assumed as more unanswered questions and mistrust within the relationship.

Amy Dunne is an emotional con artist. The roots of this persona can be traced back to her parents’ children’s book series “Amazing Amy,” based loosely on Amy’s childhood. Loosely because Amazing Amy was everything real Amy wasn’t. Amazing Amy had the puppy Amy never had and she was on the volleyball team when Amy got cut. As Rosamund Pike puts it in a 2014 interview with Charlie Rose, “[she’s] under the media spotlight for something [she] didn’t earn through [her] own merits.” Growing up with this fictional yet superior Amy affected Amy’s self-image and transformed her into a sporadic character who molds herself to match whomever she is with.

The scariest part of the film is Amy’s ability to get audiences to sympathize with her. Any woman would want to be perceived as a “cool girl” and any woman would be upset if their husband cheated on them. Amy’s gradual execution of her plan invites the audience to gradually rationalize her actions, even if it’s just rationalizing her choice to run away from Nick. The narrative sets the scene of a relationship lacking healthy communication, and audiences sympathizing with Amy for this or saying they’re entering their “Gone Girl era” is completely irrational and unhealthy for people to embrace. While it is reasonable to criticize Nick for wronging Amy, it is unreasonable to encourage and be influenced by Amy’s narcissistic tendencies and maliciousness. 

“Gone Girl” has an emphasis on personality altering to flatter others, an exhausting task for any and a task that Nick eventually gave up when he cheats on Amy. Amy Dunne has never known peace. She has never had the opportunity to be authentically herself, perhaps because she doesn’t know her true self or perhaps because she’s actually much more evil than those around her realize. 

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