The Perfect Marriage: Gone Girl and The Couple Next Door

In many novels that depict the story of relationship, a woman meets a man throughout the plot in social institutions such as school, at a party, at the mall, or even online. Soon this couple falls in love, and eventually decides to tie the knot; the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship, otherwise known as marriage. The myth of the perfect marriage comes from expectations that society set on couples who are conditioned to expect the ‘happily ever after’ fairytale, whereas many marriages lead to affairs, divorces, and custody battles, resulting in the complete opposite of the fantasy. Marco and Anne Conti from Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, and Nick and Amy Dunn from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl are both prime examples of marriages that fall under the false perceptions of the perfect marriage. In these two novels, it is seen that both female characters, Amy and Anne have caught a glimpse of what a perfect marriage is supposed to look like based on their parents relationship, and would take revenge, or any means necessary to get what they want; the ideal marriage.

There are many roles individuals play in society, to their bosses, parents, friends, siblings, teachers, strangers, and even spouses. Usually the role that is played as a parent, sibling, or spouse is considered a private life. However, roles involving their bosses, friends, teachers, or co-workers are considered public lives. Amy and Anne both come from wealthy families. Amy Dunn’s parents were authors, who Amy’s husband views as an “icon of sorts” (Flynn, 49). Nick goes on to describe the main character of the book as “Amazing Amy”, who Amy never liked, as her character in the book just seemed to be the better version of her in real life, “whenever I screw something up, Amazing Amy does it right,” (Flynn, 319).  This may have been the reason why Amy always wants to be perceived as the perfect girl, and lead the perfect life. She always compared herself to ‘Amazing Amy’, in every instance of her life. When she had to move to Missouri, she said “I could hear the tale, how everyone would love telling it: how Amazing Amy, the girl who never did wrong, let herself be dragged, penniless, to the middle of the country, where her husband threw her over for a younger woman. How predictable, how perfectly average.” (Flynn, 315) She was more worried about what people thought of her, than what she thought of herself. The same can be said for Anne Conti, who also cared about what people thought of her. Anne’s mother Alice is a wealthy woman who “comes from old money”. (Lapena, 30) Alice has a lot of say in Anne’s life as she wants the best for her daughter. This is shown when Alice sent her to the finest high school, and university. However, when Alice tried to control her daughters love life, she failed, which resulted Anne to marrying Marco, and the displeasures between Marco and his in-laws. Alice thought Marco “wasn’t good enough” (Lapena, 117) for her daughter nor did she “approve of him” (Lapena, 117). Anne disregarded all conflicts around her family and husband, and focused on what the other mothers would think if she left her baby home alone. Anne also dealt with postpartum depression, which was discovered by the police who found her prescription in the bathroom cabinet, which she defended herself by saying that it is “quite common” and that “lots of mothers get it.” (Lapena, 54) more so to reassure herself that it is okay, and to the detective that it isn’t anything . Both Anne and Amy’s parents are the reason why they both care a lot about others’ opinions and want to be perceived as living ‘perfect lives’. Living up to their parents’ high expectations was very important to both characters as both sets of adults set high bars for them to reach.

The truth of a marriage is shared between man and wife. Not everything leads to happily ever after. Nick and Amy’s marriage was very healthy, until the 2008 recession occurred which resulted with them losing their jobs. Amy’s trust fund was soon wiped by Amy’s parents as they were going through early stages of bankruptcy. As of Nick’s parents, his mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer causing them to move back to Nick’s hometown, Missouri. Nick got a job at the local community college as a teacher for a writing class, where he starts having an affair with a student. He admits to having a mistress and she was “pretty young, very young mistress, and her name is Andie,” (Flynn, 193). This is the reason Amy frames Nick for her ‘murder’, which she so amazingly admits, “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead” (Flynn, 295). Marco and Anne’s marriage isn’t perfect either, as they did have a daughter named Cora, which sadly led to Anne’s postpartum depression and causing her to lay off work. As for Marco his business was not doing great, and he approached his father in law Richard for help. Richard refuses, leaving Marco desperate. Eventually, he meets a man who befriends him and gives him the idea of kidnapping his own daughter and getting the ransom money from his in-laws. When Cora is kidnapped nothing goes as planned and Marco worries while he continuously tells himself that “Cora is fine” (Lapena, 142). Fortunately, at the end of the novel, the couple gets their baby back. Every couple has problems in their marriages. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Some couples have it worse than others. Problems can occur with loyalty itself, as it can also be with money problems. In most cases, divorce might not always be the best bet.

Although the truth might have gone out both couples still had an evident public perception that was restored when Amy and Cora came back. Everyone thought Amy and Nick were happy and had mutual feelings of wanting a child but Nick “was a prisoner after all.” (Flynn, 551). Amy used an old sample of Nick’s sperm, which was taken for when they did want a baby, to get pregnant. Nick was under the assumption that Amy threw his sample out, when she had not. When she was robbed and was left penniless, she contacted one of her past boyfriends, Desi. She used him to return home, still sticking to her missing case. She framed Desi for her kidnapping and killed him as an act of self-defense and returned back to her husband. Amy is a very dangerous woman, and will do anything including lying, black mailing, revenge, and even committing murder to get what she wants. She had later confessed to Nick in the shower, just to make sure he wasn’t recording her and told him that the reason she killed Desi was because “he was power” and was “playing her way back into her old life”, she also said that “she murdered him” and “could blame everything on him”(Flynn, 523). In the Couple Next Door, even though Anne and Marco get their baby Cora back, they both agree to work on their marriage as its better for them and their daughter. But readers find out that Anne’s step father, Richard, is behind the kidnapping of her baby Cora. Richard found a vulnerable Marco who was need of money and sent his friend Bruce Neel and to befriend Marco, in order for his plan to work. Richard’s intent was to get the ransom money all for himself, which was going to come from Alice as she has all the money. He wanted to get a divorce from Alice, but he needed her money. Alice knew about the affair her husband was having with another woman, “It wasn’t the first time he’d cheated on her. But this time she knew it was different” (Lapena, 285). Richard was having a very serious affair with Marco and Anne’s neighbor Cynthia. Even when the truth comes out, they always seem to have grown another public perception. It’s evident between the two novels, as it is in real life.

In the Couple Next Door, Marco and Anne’s marriage is threatened by the kidnapping of their child Cora, which was all orchestrated by her step-father Richard. Before the incident, Anne and Marco had a “pattern of not speaking about difficult things.” (Lapena, 186). Everything was not going perfectly between the two from Anne’s postpartum depression and Marco’s business problems. In both novels, there is a revenge aspect involved between Anne and Amy. In Gone Girl, Amy had gotten revenge on Nick for cheating on her and getting in the way of her idea of the perfect marriage. In The Couple Next Door, there was an incident at Anne’s high school St. Mildred’s, but she had no memory of it. Anne was diagnosed with “dissociative disorder” (Lapena, 220). The person disconnects from reality for a brief time. This happened to her at school when she confronted some of her bullies and all she could remember was the aftermath, “being in the girl’s bathroom, the blood on the wall, Susan slumped on the floor as if she were dead, and everyone- Janice, Debbie, the science teacher, and the headmistress looking at her in horror.” (Lapena, 220). After Anne found out about how her step-father Richard plot to get money from her mother Alice, while simultaneously leaving her for Anne’s neighbor Cynthia. She went to confront Cynthia about it. This lead to Cynthia taking too far, and threatening the life of Anne’s child, she would not “let the baby survive” (Lapena, 306) and would have got “Richard just to kill it at the beginning”. This triggered Anne. Readers don’t find out exactly what happened to Cynthia but the book ends by Marco waking up to “red lights flashing, circling around the bedroom walls.” (Lapena, 306) and finding Anne sitting in their living room, “holding a large carving knife in her lap” with “dark splatters of blood on her face and in her hair.” (Lapena, 308)

Marco and Anne Conti, and Nick and Amy Dunn are both examples of marriages that fall under the perception of the “perfect” marriage. In both novels, it is seen that Amy and Anne have grown up with the idea of being in a “perfect” marriage and will get revenge if that does not go their way. They both get revenge, even though Anne’s revenge backfires. Amy succeeds and gets her perfect marriage at the end of the novel. Although there always will be a public perception as well as the truth of a marriage. What happens between a couple will always be the side that matters, no matter what other people think. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Not all marriages are the same and will face different obstacles. They must overcome these barriers to fulfill the strength of their relationship.

Madwoman in the Suburbs: A Feminist Critique of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

As the biggest literary phenomenon of 2012, Gone Girl, penned by former television critic Gillian Flynn, was at one point a household item, commonplace among coffee tables, airplanes, and offices alike. Ubiquitous among both the older and younger generations, the novel stood as the subject of intense speculation and countless debates. Having waned in recent months, the widespread media scrutiny surrounding the novel may have baffled some, but nevertheless resurfaced due to the 2014 release of the movie adaptation, also written by Flynn. The root of the argument has remained the same, however, with many still wondering if Gone Girl is as truly groundbreaking as it first seemed. While some insist that it should be heralded as a feminist text for the complex portrayal of the psychotic female protagonist, Amy Dunne, other critics have painted Flynn as a misogynist because of the inherently unflattering, vengeful image of Amy that plays right into the societal stereotypes that her character abhors. While dualistic in these circumstances, it cannot be denied that through Amy’s cunning manipulation of her husband and society at large, Gone Girl offers a subversion of male power and a rearranging of standard women’s roles uncommon in the history of literature. Moreover, the reader is forced to acknowledge and scrutinize the gender roles which pervade the novel by means of Amy’s sexist husband Nick, his mistress Andie, and other background characters. When applied to feminist criticism, these featured gender dynamics, along with Amy’s succession of female archetypes, such as scorned lover, madwoman, and femme fatale, provide an interesting exploration into how the work as a whole is made complicated when viewed through a patriarchal lens.

Anti-feminist critiques of Gone Girl simplify the character of Amy into that of a misandrist and a lunatic, essentially limiting her to the role of Gilbert and Gubar’s “madwoman.” They state that the madwoman is “usually in some sense the author’s double, an image of her own anxiety and rage” (Moi 78) and go on to elaborate that “in projecting their anger and dis-ease into dreadful figures, creating dark doubles for themselves and their heroines, women writers are both identifying with and revising the self-definitions patriarchal culture has imposed on them” (Moi 79). Flynn herself has admitted to having sadistic urges as a child, confirming in her autobiography, aptly titled I Was Not a Nice Little Girl, that the character of Amy Dunne was partially based off her own inner monologue. In the piece, she also argues that women have been systematically taught to suppress their violent impulses, and so by integrating them into her own narrative, she came to the realization that “libraries are filled with stories on generations of brutal men, trapped in a cycle of aggression. I wanted to write about the violence of women” (Flynn, Powells). Flynn expounded on this idea in response to critics casting her as a misogynist, maintaining that she feels there needs to be more villainous women in literature. Self-identifying as a feminist, she clarified “the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish” (Flynn, The Guardian). The reception of her work by critics and by the general public alike reveals how the operation of patriarchy seeks to place female characters into specific boxes, however Flynn typifying “the most recurrent theme of Anglo-American feminist criticism” rebels against this phenomenon through her “feminist rage,” which embodies “the author’s ‘female rage’ against patriarchal oppression” (Moi 61). Perhaps what Flynn is trying to suggest is that literary equality can only be achieved once the female figure can be just as implicitly malevolent as the male, which as of now still goes against the grain of literary tradition. The problematic nature of anti-feminist reception towards Amy therefore becomes clear through the scrutiny of Flynn’s work, as it’s obvious that what is being criticized is the act of having a female character fulfill more than one role in a text.

Gillian Flynn’s characters are shown to struggle with established literary tropes which are abundant throughout the novel and aid in its progression. Images of the “angel and the monster, the sweet heroine and the raging madwoman,” which all stand as “aspects of the author’s self-image, as well as elements of her treacherous anti-patriarchal strategies” (Moi 60) drive the unconventional narrative and impart themselves onto the unreliable narrators until the self-aware aspect of the roles become a reality. Since childhood, Amy’s life has been one large attempt at fulfilling the roles that society demands from her. The reader comes to learn that ‘Diary Amy’ was merely a facade of a dutiful wife (I am fun. I am playful. I am game. I feel naturally happy and entirely satisfied. I am a wife!) (Flynn 39). When her true self is first revealed, Amy confesses, “the way some women change fashion regularly, I change personalities.” (Flynn 222) By switching her personalities to fit into societal expectations, her character represents a manifestation of how “women are denied the right to create their own images of femaleness, and instead must seek to conform to patriarchal standards imposed on them” (Moi 57). She first strives to find an identity separate from her “paper-bound better half” (Flynn 26), the embellished ‘Amazing Amy’ books written by her parents, disclosed when she states “I’ve never been more to them than a symbol anyway, the walking ideal. Amazing Amy in the flesh. Don’t screw up, you are Amazing Amy.” (Flynn 259) The girlhood burden of having to personify a flawless fictitious character has driven Amy crazy, and thus continuously throughout the novel the reader sees her assuming desirable female archetypes that she feels she must inhabit.

Once Amy meets the laidback, misogynist Nick at a party, she immediately adopts the role of the ‘Cool girl,’ recalling: “That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. 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, and 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” (Flynn 222). Amy’s preoccupation with the ‘Cool girl’ role is one of the most ingrained roles in patriarchal society. The ideal, pure women is expected to be exactly what a male wants, which Gilbert and Gubar touch upon in The Madwoman in the Attic, asserting, “from the eighteenth century on, conduct books for ladies had proliferated, enjoining young girls to submissiveness, modesty, selflessness; reminding all women that they should be angelic” (600). Women thus have a societal obligation to enjoy all that men enjoy whilst maintaining a perfectly ‘feminine’ image, and as a result, as discussed in Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, “all such visions of women are contaminated by male-defined notions of the truth of femininity” (Felski 38). The expected role of women is to subjugate their own desires while appeasing those of a man, and accordingly women allow their identities to be determined by someone else’s desire. Amy recognizes this disparity, expressing “it’s tempting to be Cool Girl. For someone like me, who likes to win, it’s tempting to be the girl every guy wants…but then I had to stop because it wasn’t real, it wasn’t me” (Flynn 223-224). Amy’s critique of patriarchal society is that women allow themselves to be erased and replaced by someone else, which feminist criticism posits as a fundamental examples of ‘otherness,’ in which the silent image of a woman is controlled by a man. By coming to the revelation that she does not wish to be confined by the Cool girl image, she decides instead to use her next form of programming to get what she wants. Amy kills the version of herself designed to please Nick, thereby becoming the novel’s paragon of self-awareness. As conceived by Gilbert and Gubar, She kills herself “into a ‘perfect’ image” (597) of what the media will exploit. By willingly creating a new image as the vulnerable woman ordinarily assumed by society, Amy once and for all disposes of the Cool girl and becomes the ‘Gone girl.’

Amy’s ‘Gone girl’ image is arguably the most important in the book, because it capitalizes on society’s tendency to pigeonhole women as the helpless victim in the clutches of their abusive husbands. As a direct response to Nick’s philandering, Amy assumes all power in the marital relationship by framing him in this way, however she does so with no enjoyment. The role of the wronged woman is one she despises, stating: “I know women whose entire personas are woven from a benign mediocrity. Their lives are a list of shortcomings: the unappreciative boyfriend, the extra ten pounds, the dismissive boss, the conniving sister, the straying husband. I’ve always hovered above their stories, nodding in sympathy and thinking how foolish they are, these women, to let these things happen, how undisciplined. And now to be one of them! One of the women with the endless stories that make people nod sympathetically and think: Poor dumb bitch.” (Flynn 234) Amy exhibits her strength as a female character by using the patriarchal oppressive force to her advantage. Asserting that women shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as a doormat, she states that she “gave, and he took and took. He Giving Treed me out of existence” (Flynn 238). This represents a rejection of the “realm of the Gift,” in which the ideal woman “gives without a thought of return” (Moi 111). At this point in the novel, Amy has completely replaced her role as the selfless, ideal woman with that of the monster woman, who “acts on her own initiative, has a story to tell- in short, a woman who rejects the submissive role patriarchy has reserved for her” (Moi 57). By utilizing the pre-written, feminine roles that society has assigned to her against her will, Amy definitively comes out on top in the power relationship between the sexes. Flynn’s choice in having Amy follow these socially constructed expectations can be viewed on either side of the feminist spectrum, but it’s undeniable to the reader that idea of subsumption and destruction of gender roles is being put forth in a flagrant and unavoidable manner.

While Amy challenges the divisions between each archetype, Nick is shown trying to decipher and uphold his own throughout the text. According to Gilbert and Gubar, as a female voice, Flynn was able to effectively use the “female textual strategy” of “assaulting and revising, deconstructing and reconstructing those images of women inherited from male literature” (Moi 59) to write for Amy, however Nick’s character is presented as downright sexist and more one-dimensional, though still challenging society’s expectations for him to live up to his seemingly unsympathetic ‘killer husband’ disposition. The reader first sees him portray a role when, on the day of Amy’s ‘disappearance’ he admits, “like some awful piece of performance art, I felt myself enacting Concerned Husband” (Flynn 23). Similarly In front of Diary Amy, Nick claims to be “the sitcom-husband version” (Flynn 211) of himself, while in front of the police he plays the part of the “hero narrative: the husband who sticks by his wife” (Flynn 180) through thick and thin. Flynn often depicts him as emotionless and inappropriately reacting to situations, which all stems from his father’s influence on his life. His stunted emotions during the investigation are proof of this, as he is haunted by his father’s axiom that “men don’t cry” (Flynn 64) and must later remind himself to “act the way a man acts when he hears the news” (Flynn 202) that Amy is pregnant. In Nick’s patriarchal ideology, masculinity is constituted by being unemotional and detached, as he detested stooping to the “womanly art of articulation” (Flynn 133) and “lauded the emotional solidity of midwesterners: stoic, humble, without affectation (Flynn 146). Nick tries desperately to avoid growing into the image of his misogynistic father, but his recurrently sexists thoughts are not few and far in between. For example, after talking to Amy’s “best friend” Noelle Hawthorne, he experiences “the unkind thought, one of those that burbled up beyond my control…Women are fucking crazy. No qualifier: Not some women, not many women. Women are crazy” (Flynn 131). Fulfilling his “daddy’s-boy attitude” (Flynn 130), Nick repeatedly refers to women as ‘bitches’, ‘cunts’ and ‘whores’, and must fight his propensity for violence against them (“I wanted to smack her, right then, the obliviousness, the girliness of her”) (Flynn 96) in order to maintain the “Good Guy Nick” (Flynn 204) narrative. His role is defined as the quintessential ‘nice guy’, who is laidback and universally liked, and he embodies these traits by appearing flippant and phlegmatic. However this only reflects his external identity, as the reader knows that his internalized misogyny resides just below the surface.

Amy and Nick’s reunion at the end of the novel sheds light on her roles of the ‘perfect wife’ and ‘mother figure’, and can also be applied to the theory “Infantile fantasy.” As stated in Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, a heroine will “rebel against the tyranny of the loved men,” and yet “the qualities which make these men so desirable are, actually the qualities which feminists have chosen to ridicule: power…emotional distance…and singular love for the heroine (the inability to relate to anyone other than the sexual partner)” (Coward 174). In this example, we see why Nick cheating on Amy was a necessary obstacle in their twisted hero/heroine narrative. According to Coward, “a rival for the hero’s affections is almost obligatory…and the crunch point in the narrative often comes when the heroine sees the hero and the other woman embracing” (Coward 175). Exactly paralleling the reveal of her true self and the subsequent transition into the gone girl, Amy follows Nick to Missouri and watches him with “the mistress” Andie, as “he pressed her up against a tree- in the middle of town- and kissed her” (Flynn 233) Andie personifies the typical ‘whore’ image within the novel, however her character only serves to drive the plot along, and eventually “we discover that the hero was thinking about the heroine all along” (Coward 175). Nick confesses this fault at the end of the novel, stating “the indulged mama’s boy in me wouldn’t be able to find peace with this normal woman, and pretty soon she wouldn’t just be normal, she’d be substandard, and then my father’s voice-dumb bitch-would rise up and take it from there” (Flynn 397). Admittedly, Nick stays with Amy because he can’t live without the tension and excitement that she adds to his life. Due to the relationship he shares with his parents, on one hand being “always mothered” by his mom and receiving “the best of everything” (Flynn 8, 24) as a child, and on the other hand being turned into a constant people-pleaser by his pejorative, unsatisfiable father, it’s safe to assume that Amy fulfilled the “mother role” after his own mother died. On Amy’s neurotic perfectionism, Nick notes that she “made me believe that I was exceptional, that I was up to her level of play” (Flynn 214). Amy clearly bolstered Nick’s egotism, and vice versa, and coupled with his misogynist tendencies and her sociopathic behavior, their characters belonged with no one but each other in the end.

The popularity of Gone Girl landed Gillian Flynn with the heavy burden to appease all with her representation of women. One of the main facets of feminist criticism is that female characters should not have to uphold the societal expectations of women in literature, and this is exactly what Gillian Flynn sought to do. Very few popular female writers have successfully created complex, evil characters with intriguing motivations, and Flynn stood by her choice to create them despite receiving constant flack for her past works. Amy as a character may borrow from established literary tropes, but by acknowledging them and turning them on their head, Flynn did something not commonly seen in literary history. Breaking from literary tradition, Gone Girl critiques and subverts one-dimensional figurines and in the process creates an intelligently self-aware, layered villain that, because of its rarity alone, should be considered a feminist text.

“We Complete Each Other in the Nastiest, Ugliest Way Possible”: The Incorporation of Flawed Marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Great Gatsby, and Gone Girl

Marriage will always have its share of imperfections, subtle and explicit, but the espoused in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl suffer from a bundle of particularly damaging marital complications. While their imperfection as couples arise in similar manifestations, the effects their dysfunctionalities and desires for dominance bring upon the surrounding world are the differentiating factors. From simplistic cheating on one spouse to the promised demolishment of the other, each text exemplifies a set of matrimonial struggles and identifies the consequences of each. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Great Gatsby, and Gone Girl illustrate the theme of how imperfect marriage results in a discontented atmosphere and a struggle for superiority, which develops into a series of devastating repercussions that affect not only the couple, but also the characters they are involved with.

The imperfectness of Martha and George’s relationship in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? stems from a combination of marital dissatisfaction and a desire for supremacy from both partners. The bickering between these two characters ensues from the beginning of the very first scene, as Martha demands her husband to prepare her a beverage while crudely criticizing his laziness (Albee 3-5). This not only firmly establishes Martha’s high perception of herself in the marriage, but also reveals a deep, underlying bitterness that illustrates the rift between them. Only moments after their guests, Nick and Honey arrive, Martha displays her dissatisfaction with George’s inability to progress in his profession by saying, “somebody’s going to take over the history department, someday, and it ain’t gonna be Georgie boy” (Albee 34). This exemplifies how effectively Martha is able to diminish George, and additionally shows his difficulty in gaining power in both his line of work and over his wife. As their bickering grows more incessant and prevalent, George physically assaults his wife and begins verbally tormenting her about the death of their imaginary child, which she takes extreme offense to (Albee 137-140). This affirms the “undeviating pattern of recrimination and one-upmanship” that marks their union (Luere 51), and shows Martha’s ultimate dissatisfaction at George abruptly dragging her out of her idealistic fantasy that had been forged over several years of imperfect marriage.

A similar struggle for superiority between Nick and Amy, the espoused couple in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl ensues, but their marital imperfections are more heavily based on their dissatisfactions with one another. Upon meeting each other for the first time, both Nick and Amy wore masks of understanding and acceptance, but they “weren’t [themselves] when [they] fell in love, and when [they] became [themselves] – surprise! – [they] were poison” (Flynn 277). After five years of watching Nick gradually grow away from her and sustaining a lenient persona with him, Amy made the decision to turn to a stricter and more serious approach to save her floundering marriage. Nevertheless, the revelation of her true personality inadvertently draws out Nick’s and increases his dissatisfaction, which drives him to cheat on his wife with one of his former students (Flynn 256). Amy catches her husband in the act however, and subsequently chooses to embark on a meticulously evil campaign with the sole purpose of ending Nick’s life, which not only highlights a stark contrast to George’s blank, quiet reaction to Martha’s affair of similar nature, but also affirms Amy’s power in her relationship. After molding her husband into the villain she needed him to be, Nick attempts to expose his wife for her wicked lies, but relinquishes his intentions after Amy threatens him with aborting their child with the the hope that he learns to “love her unconditionally. Under all [her] conditions” (Flynn 425). This demonstrates the unhealthy amount of control Amy exerts over Nick, and though there was a short struggle for superiority, she planned everything in a manner that locked her husband into an inescapable marital misery.

Flawed marriage exists differently in The Great Gatsby; Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s wealth-based relationship lacks a passionate love that only offers them only an empty, materialized version of happiness which imperfectly binds the two together. In the first chapter, Daisy exclaims “I’m p-paralyzed with happiness” upon meeting Nick (Fitzgerald 9). Taken deeper than face value, this shows how Daisy is trapped into a relationship that is technically perfect with money and station, but lacks enough adequate passion to amass any actual happiness. Like Nick in Gone Girl, Tom cheats on Daisy with his mistress to make up for the dissatisfaction he feels in his marriage with Daisy (Fitzgerald 15). Unlike Amy however, Daisy merely resents the situation in silence; she does not lash out, nor does she plan to leave Tom, she simply accepts it, which further perpetuates her own dissatisfaction with the marriage in addition to her inability to escape its promises of wealth and status. Daisy made the decision to marry out of material worth, and in doing so, she has allowed herself to be “shaped forever by Tom’s money,” but soon discovers that “Tom’s world is hopelessly corrupt” (Person 253). This exemplifies how in marrying Tom, she was caught and entrapped in his shadow, forsaking her own individuality in exchange for the fulfillment of her tangible desires.

Every iteration of imperfect marriage has consequences of varying degrees; the constant battle for marital dominance between Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? eventually results in the unraveling and revealing of the imperfections in Nick and Honey’s own relationship. After hours of absorbing the constant bickering between his hosts and with his wife out of the room, Nick reveals that he married Honey merely because of a hysterical pregnancy and a vast wealth (Albee 105). Like Daisy’s marriage to Tom, there was no actual love involved, rather there was a tangible means that allured them to their respective spouses in both cases, with money being a common denominator for each; at the beginning of the play, Nick and Honey’s relationship stood in contrast to the major imperfections of George and Martha’s, but as Nick becomes more absorbed with his counter-couple, he discloses more information that parallelizes their relationships. Once George begins to physically assault Martha, Nick attempts to intervene, which results in George telling an allegorical account of Nick’s reasoning for marrying Honey, who, although intoxicated, becomes distraught once she pieces the narrative together (Albee 148). This shows more of a collapse in their already-severed marriage, and gives way for it to unravel further. Martha eventually seduces Nick with very little effort, despite being described as“rendered biologically impotent by Honey” (Alder 68), and proceeds with an affair committed in direct view of her husband (Albee 162). With this act of adultery, Martha’s work, a cry for attention from George, has consequently made Nick’s relationship with Honey meaningless; his character is the very opposite of who he was to begin the play.

Nick and Amy’s matrimonial struggles created a chaotic short-term world for the family on the latter’s side, while creating everlasting despair for the former’s. Amy’s fake death was done so without her family’s concern in mind, but her parents in particular endured a period of unnecessarily intense distress (Flynn 120). Any desire Amy was harboring to take her family into account was immediately suppressed by her desire to address her imperfect marriage on the largest scale possible. Once Nick was securely fixed in Amy’s grip, his tear-ridden sister, Margo, distraughtly pledged to stand by his side against Amy (Flynn 415). Though she attempted to assist Nick in exposing Amy, she was completely aware that her brother would forever be held captive by his psychotically imperfect bride. Towards the end of the novel, Amy threatened to abort the child or raise it to view Nick as the evil monstrosity that she did, if he refused to comply with her demands (Flynn 425). Nick’s childhood was marked by an abusive and neglectful father, and he promised himself that he would not allow the faults of his marriage to deprive him of fixing his father’s mistakes.

Like Nick, Daisy was entrapped in an unfulfilling marriage, which provided for an unnecessary struggle for not only the bride to achieve true, passionate love, but Jay Gatsby as well. Jordan Baker, Nick Carraway’s partner, tells the story of Daisy’s relationship to Gatsby, and that, “despite the $350,000 string of pearls, (…) when Daisy receives a letter from Gatsby the night before the wedding, she [was] prepared to call the whole thing off” (Person 255). Gatsby harbors an appeal that Tom cannot match, yet she chooses to satisfy only conventional happiness. Gatsby and Daisy are incredibly fitting for each other (Person 255), but Tom’s wealth and her desire for more blinds and prevents her from ever being able to acknowledge Gatsby in the way that he acknowledges her.

The marriages in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Gone Girl, and The Great Gatsby suffer from a number of imperfections that establish destructive consequences for the characters they are surrounded by. Regardless of how minor their flaws may be, most of the partners in these corrupt couples are beyond miserable, and the anguish they spread across the world around them creates circumstances as corrupt and tragic as they are themselves. Though they are imperfect, they are all permanently bound; whether they thrive off their spouse or are caught in the other’s shadow, there is an underlying quality that unifies them together eternally.

Amy Dunne Altercates the Dynamics of a Classical Detective Film Love Story

Out of the Past (1947), directed by Jacques Tourneur, contributes to the classical detective film genre that flourished throughout the 40s and 50s. Kathie Moffat encompasses the elements of the genre’s femme fatale, who falls in love with a man originally set to return her to an antagonistic ex-boyfriend. To protect the fate of her own life and her new relationship, Kathy uses her erotic appeal to manipulate her male love interest, Jeff Bailey. She corresponds smoothly with Amy Dunne in Gone Girl (2014), directed by David Fincher, an underestimated housewife who has opposed her gender role in her marriage and finesses her way back into her husband’s arms with careful calculation. From a glance, Kathie and Amy respect the classic femme fatale role as they both act on their own self-centered agendas, getting tangled up in murders along the way to save their relationships. Out of the Past and Gone Girl both feature a female lead who uses their sex appeal as manipulation and eventually contributes to the male hero’s demise. Although, the latter distinguishes itself from the classical detective genre by enhancing the femme fatale’s power in their relationship, influenced by the change in social climate. In this paper, I will argue that the post-classical femme fatale enhances the manipulative tendencies of its prototype to possess control over their relationship and therefore alter the romantic dynamics of the detective film genre.

This post-classical revision involves the victory of the femme fatale, but still utilizes her prototype’s traits for her benefit. Amy uses sex appeal to her advantage, similarly to classic femme fatale archetypes, but in a more intensified fashion. To fully convince her ex, Desi Collings, that she intends to stay with him she gets sexually physical and lies about her love for him. With passionate facial expressions and “teasing,” Amy is able to squash any doubts that Desi may have about her. She is aware that she must perform a convincing act to solidify her plan and uses sex appeal as a strategy to accomplish her goals. She follows elements of Kathie’s character, who works with soft gazes and witty banter to win men over. After revealing she had signed an affidavit to Jeff and anticipating his hatred, she immediately explains how much she loves him and that they could plot together. During their conversation there are no cuts to Jeff’s face, just a continuous shot of Kathie’s upward gaze, emphasizing the beauty and passion he is encountering from her. She never brings her gaze away from Jeff’s eyes as she makes desperate facial expressions, ensuring her body language makes her appear sincere. Both femme fatales are calculating and can shift into actors when persuading men to do what they want.

However, post-classical Amy conflicts with the conventions seen in Out of the Past when she is seen using sex against Desi. Not much skin or adult content are featured in these classical detective films, in contrast to Gone Girl, but the director can convey Kathie’s sex appeal with blocking. Her costuming incorporates clothing that accentuates the silhouette, polished hairstyles and makeup. The Motion Picture Production Code applied to the time period of Out of the Past, therefore blocking could be utilized to uphold Kathie’s allure. Amy’s sexual image is therefore more vivid than that of a classical femme fatale, but her use sex appeal as a tool for persuading complies with Kathie’s intentions with Jeff. Although this theme is shared, Amy and Nick’s relationship complicates the conventions of the detective genre prototype by putting her in a position of full control. Amy and Kathy’s relationships with their male spouses contrast greatly, especially when conflict is presented. During the scene that precedes Amy and Nick’s interview together, she reveals to him a positive pregnancy test. As they argue the viewer sees both characters on the same playing field, as they are framed together in low-key light. Neither one is highlighted or put in focus over the other. Even as Nick slams Amy into the wall, she keeps her composure and defends herself, claiming he could not be with anyone else because she had murdered to save their relationship.

A close-up of Amy draws attention to her stern expression and switches to Nick, where he stares at her with awe and confusion, then questions her sanity. This establishes a dynamic in their marriage, where Amy stands her ground and refuses to step down even when her husband challenges her both physically and verbally. Thus, the audience and Nick are aware of her strength, and even more so when the argument ends with Nick’s slumping shoulders in the darkness, indicating this defeat. Whereas classical femme fatale, Kathie, is presented in weaker manner when Jeff confronts her about Eels’ death. Kathie is shoved by Jeff onto a couch, which exposes her as her coat falls off of the shoulders. This movement creates a vulnerability for Kathie, and the audience can sense that she is being targeted by Jeff. His action of grabbing her by the chin and forcing her to look at him, creates a hyper-masculine power and is enhanced by her enlarged, fearful eyes. His facial expressions remain mild, alluding to the noir hero whose emotions are in control. The screenplay and high camera angle work together to frame Jeff as the dominant half and avoid the disruption of his masculinity. This satisfies the coordination of characteristics with the two sexes and while Kathie’s femme fatale persona represented rebellion at the time, their places in the relationship also reflect the deep rooted gender roles. One could argue that Kathie reclaims power when murdering Whit and pressuring Jeff to go to Mexico with her. However, when Jeff is the victim with Kathy, he is not perceived as weak, just stuck. His body language and emotions are calm, remains untouched by Kathie and is framed at a level angle.

The dynamic of of Amy and Nick’s relationship strays away from that of a crime film, where the femme fatale opposes the roles of a mother, but still endures the patriarchy associated with the era. Furthermore, the classic femme fatale defies the compliant roles of domestic housewives by using their sexuality and disregarding marriage. This is a reflection of the shifting gender roles taken place during World War II, where women entered the labor force and left their place in the home to support war efforts. This patriarchal stir bleeds into the female leads of classic detective films and is a major contributing factor to modern ones such as Gone Girl. The film builds on this convention by highlighting the neglect in the marriage and the expectations that ultimately push Amy to frame her husband. Gender roles in place for women have evolved away from the home since the 1940s, but Amy Dunne defies cultural norms by bringing attention to the “cool girl”. This façade is what a woman might create to keep her male interest happy, involving an easygoing and pleasant attitude towards their significant other. This post-classical relationship expands on the conventions of the classical detective genre by including the opposition of gender norms. Not all female leads in classic detective films are the same but they are all able to rivet the audience and break expectations. Out of the Past, which also falls into the film noir genre, is a visually stimulating film that uses low-key lighting, smoke, and especially beautiful women to contribute to the aesthetic.

Sexually charged women in film can come off as just another part of mise en scène; something for the male gaze to look at. However, the femme fatale opposes the expectations of a viewer and become a more interesting aspect of the plot when they commit a crime and stray from being a simple victim, present for a male audience. Gone Girl compliments this notion over fifty years later, where the thrill is heightened once a seemingly helpless victim is revealed to be devious and deceitful. The common theme supports the entertaining plot twists through both films, as it carries impact while still contributing to the aesthetics of the mise en scène.

In conclusion, some aspects of Gone Girl agree with the classical detective film genre, including the manipulative and clever character traits that both Amy and Kathie possess. The prototype represents a rebellion of female gender roles but executes her intentions in a fashion that still respects the patriarchy of the 40s; weaker than her male love interest and sexually charged enough to challenge the image of a housewife while still satisfying the male gaze. Amy uses the foundations of the classical genre to win back her husband and simultaneously gain back her power in the relationship. By utilizing her sex appeal, she is able to frame herself as a victim and win the hearts of an audience that could destroy her husband if he ever left her. Amy’s control over Nick does not accurately represent the dynamics of Kathie’s relationship, as Jeff secretly plotted against her consistently towards their end, but the change in the patriarchy allowed Amy to build off of the conventions of the femme fatale prototype to lead to her own victory.