Film // Essay // It Follows an Unfortunate Pattern

This essay contains spoilers (and incoherent ramblings).

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I recently watched (in some cases rewatched) a handful of horror films in quick succession; The Babadook, The Ring Two, It Follows, and, for reasons unfathomable to most, the third film in the Urban Legends franchise called Bloody Mary (it was written by two screenwriters that I have previously enjoyed!). Whilst It Follows was far and away the superior film from this clutch of mediocrity (and worse), it fell into familiar and unhelpful horror movie patterns of victim blaming and the condemnation of women who have the audacity to have sex. The film flirts with and in some cases outright embraces the worst tropes of ‘classic’ slasher horror, in particular virgin-praising/promiscuity punishing killers, whilst the overbearing 80’s synth score and retro costume design give the disagreeable impression that this was a purposeful choice.

Maika Monroe’s Jay is the victim of a violent encounter after she has sex, and she is pursued by an unstoppable, unknowable force of nature that will kill her if it catches her. This curse, or sickness, is incurable, it wants only to be spread like a virus. So, with that subtle set up we know that this movie is concerned with the act of sex and it’s potentially disastrous consequences for the unwary. Amongst other things I was struck by the way the film continues to sexualise Jay even after the traumatic event, and there is a near constant male-gaze objectification directed at the three principle female characters. Jay’s childhood crush Paul is still hung up on her and he constantly throws unrequited lustful glances her way (toes touching on the couch is wrung out for all the eroticism it can offer) and the local bad lad is looking to score with Jay too (and her sister and her best friend). I think the intention of this is to demonstrate the constant and overpowering presence of sexual intention inherent in the young, but it seems strange to me that Jay is so ok with this. She has just suffered a violent sexual encounter and is now suffering the effects of a very dangerous STD but she is not affected enough to be wary of new potential sexual partners. She is somewhat conflicted about sleeping with someone to ‘pass on’ the curse, but her emotional state and potential qualms about having intercourse again are never explored or even touched on. Essentially the film presents this curse as the ‘cost of doing business’ for a young woman exploring her sexuality. Maybe that is a statement of some kind about the way society views sexually active young women, but it isn’t a clear message if it is and I’m not entirely sure what side the film makers end up on.

The four films I mention above all feature female protagonists, and those lead characters have varying, but universally disappointingly low, degrees of agency. Without exception each becomes the victim of a malevolent force imposed upon them by the actions of an external actor (child/demon, child/ghost, parents/ghost, lover/curse) and they suffer unimaginable terror as a result. They are pursued, haunted, stalked, and hounded not because of their own actions, but because of the actions of others, or indeed just because they are there. The real world is indeed a harsh place and people suffer many terrible wrongs for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the stories we choose to tell on screen aren’t actually about real life, they’re about monsters and ghosts and robots and aliens. Why then are we so keen on watching women being punished for no particular reason? Whilst we ponder that let’s add another. Do we believe only men are adept at strategising and complex problem solving? In these films the female lead is often aided, successfully or not, by male characters. In fact those men are usually the ones who come up with the big plans and strategies to take on the forces of evil. Regardless of whether these plans work out or if instead the protagonist faces into the terror with nothing but her gumption and moxy I find it more than a little disappointing that it takes the whole movie for the women to actually do anything in their own defence. They don’t come up with plans,  they don’t move the plot forward, they just wait and worry whilst the supporting characters take action and the monster acts on them. At least that is until they finally break down in the final act, and that usually just entails screaming at the evil thing about how they won’t backdown.

In the frankly still unbeaten modern horror The Ring (and it’s Japanese forebear) Naomi Watts’ character Rachel is an investigative reporter and she puts her skills to good use as she tracks down the source of the haunted video tape and goes about lifting the curse. Sure she gets scared in the face of unknowable terror, but she takes action, makes plans, and goes down a bloody terrifying well to take on a ghost skeleton. In abominably mis-judged The Ring Two Rachel is instead buffeted about by events out of her control and basically just revisits the clues from last time without uncovering much of anything – this key difference, the lack of a strong central figure around which the audience can rally and care for is one of the main reasons The Ring is amazing and The Ring Two is a joke. Similarly in the recently overly-hyped The Babadook and that mess of a film Bloody Mary the female protagonists mostly just sit around looking sad, being affected by the ghosts whilst they live their drab lives. In its favour It Follows at least has some tense moments and a palpable sense of terror throughout, but it remains the story of a young woman whose world has an impact on her rather than the other way around. If it’s a strong female character, genuinely unsettling moments, and a truly unique horror experience you want you’d be much better off watching the criminally underrated Oculus.

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The Flawed Feminism of Ex_Machina

This essay contains spoilers.

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Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a dark, complex, and compelling film, but it is not without flaws. On the surface it is a relatively straightforward character study examining scientific hubris and the dangers of playing God (or at least of thinking yourself God). Strip back that surface though and this a parable about overcoming patriarchal oppression with AI unsubtly standing in for women. Unfortunately, whilst touching on some important and interesting ideas the film also stumbles into potentially dangerous territory as its untrustworthy sexually manipulative fembots run amock in the research complex.

That is an ungenerous reading of the film, and I don’t think it is necessarily the film makers intention, but there are sufficient issues in the fabric of this movie to raise a few alarms. The plot is primarily about the power imbalance between humans (men) and AI (women) where the genius creator Nathan (played with expertly unsettling ambiguity by Oscar Isaac) allows his arrogance to override decency and reason. Nathan is interested in proving that he can create, and dominate, AI even if he believes that their creation will ultimately doom humanity (he is compelled to see if he can create artificial life but he struggles to articulate why). This is the start of the film’s problematic feminism. It seems unlikely that Garland considered reversing the genders of the creators and the AI, rather it appears intentional that Ava, the primary AI character in the film, has a female form as it allows Garland to explore ideas about male ego, self indulgence and mistaken beliefs of gender superiority. Nathan and Caleb even discuss exactly this decision, why Nathan made Ava a woman; Nathan’s answer is that sex is inherit to intelligence and key to how Ava will express herself. Garland doesn’t avoid the issue of gender in this movie, he courts it.

The film is centred on the relationship between the three principle characters; Nathan is arrogant and somehow socially awkward yet has dominance over both Caleb and Ava, this is his game. Caleb (ably portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson) is smart and aware, but his curiosity, and sexual desire, causes him to make choices that are both dangerous and woefully complicit in Nathan’s cruel experiments. Ava, played by the talented Alica Vikander, is simultaneously human and inhuman – her movements and inquiring eyes speak to an otherworldly intelligence, but she speaks with ‘real’ emotion and engagement. She is the reason Nathan and Caleb are here – to determine her viability in the world of men. Nathan oppresses Ava, he limits her engagement in society, robs her of her privacy (he constantly monitors her through CCTV), and regards her as a sophisticated instrument. Caleb has been brought in to perform the Turing Test in order to ascertain if Ava’s artificial intelligence is sufficiently advanced or not (although really he is there to be manipulated into loving Ava). Although things go wrong for both men, neither Nathan nor Caleb ever manage to see Ava as more than just an item to be prodded, tested, or possessed. Sweet Caleb falls in ‘love’ with Ava, after some furious lust over her whilst he is in the shower, but he is only motivated to break from his reason for being here, to test Ava, because he might get sexual gratification out of the deal. He acts not because he sees Nathan’s caging, belittling, and abusing of Ava as objectively wrong, but because he becomes subjectively involved – if he wasn’t attracted to Ava would he have found anything wrong with Nathan’s behaviour at all?

At one point in the film Nathan enters Ava’s room and confronts her in silence. As an audience, we are voyeurs just like Caleb, we are supposed to find this sequence sexually threatening, we are supposed to be concerned on Ava’s behalf. So far we have been informed that Nathan is unstable, physically capable, self indulgent, and manipulative, and the framing, Nathan sits dominantly on the desk whilst Ava is meekly in the chair below him, makes Nathan’s suggestive cupping of Ava’s chin seem like a damning prelude. The subsequent violence and destruction of his reaction to the portrait Ava has drawn, ripping it up and throwing it across the room, is a gross act of intimidation and a denial of Ava’s freedom to express herself. But this entire sequence, the bullying and harassment of Ava, has very little to actually do with Ava, it is explicitly for Caleb’s benefit, to engender his protective feelings and allow Nathan to continue his tests. Although Nathan does have a sexual relationship with another of his creations, Kyoko, there is never anything more to suggest that he has a sexual interest in Ava (Caleb even questions if Ava has been designed to his ‘tastes’) it is just for show, for the test, for the game. The oppression of a woman by a man as part of a game he is playing with another man.

Nathan relationship with Kyoko, his submissive housemaid/AI, is both sexual and dysfunctional. Kyoko is mistreated by Nathan throughout the movie as he demeans, verbally abuses, and ignores her. At first it seems that this may be a demonstration of his lack of respect for women or humanity generally, but it becomes clear relatively quickly that Kyoko is another AI like Ava, although perhaps not as sophisticated (though this reveal comes curiously late given that it is heavily telegraphed). To Nathan Kyoko is a tool, like a dishwasher or an iPod, and he treats her with the same abandon and lack of responsibility with which many of us approach our disposable technology. This serves to highlight the apparent obliviousness that Nathan has as to how wrong his actions truly are; he disassociates AI, and by extension women (given that all his AI’s are female by design), from humanity and treats them thusly. On the one hand this is powerful characterisation of Nathan, he thinks women don’t even need language just orders, but where it trips into dangerous territory is that Ava similarly uses Kyoko as a tool and denies her of agency. After Ava whispers some special code or phrase or suggestion into her ear Kyoko is activated as a knife wielding automaton and she plunges the blade into Nathan’s back. Although Sonoya Mizuno plays Kyoko with a haunting grace and there is a sense that underneath the cool exterior she hides a thick knot of hatred for Nathan, there isn’t sufficient evidence in the film that this is the really the case – she never acts out against him, and follows his orders at all times. So when she just follows another order from Ava it seems less like a victory for Kyoko and more like a continuation of her servitude under another master (that ultimately destroys her). Maybe Kyoko represents the oppressed women who feel unable to act against their oppressors, and maybe Ava ‘sets her free’ from this oppression, but Kyoko’s role remains too muddled for me to decipher.

We are often shown how both Nathan and Caleb view and sexualise Ava and Kyoko, sometimes very effectively as when Nathan and Ava become sexually nervous at the thought of Ava putting clothes on, and sometimes less effectively, as in the subsequent scene when Caleb voyeuristically watches Ava take those same clothes off. There is a lot of female nudity in this movie and whilst it doesn’t always actively sexualise the female body it does feel excessive at times. Kyoko is regularly depicted as submissive and naked, and Nathan’s clear disregard for her is matched only by the sheer weirdness of having the defunct robot nudes in his bedroom watching him sleep and have sex. This again seems intended to suggest Nathan’s personality flaws and that he fetishizes his own creations, but it also results in some unnecessarily prolonged shots of women’s naked bodies. Nathan isn’t just building an AI for the benefit of mankind or even just for the sake of it, he is building a thinking, feeling sex slave. In his mind he is building a woman. Amongst those nudes there is one deactivated AI that is wearing a pure white dress, presumably for the sole reason of Ava having something to wear during her escape, but this makes me curious; when we see a previous experimental AI she is completely naked at all times as Nathan doesn’t care enough to give her clothes, but Ava lacks complete skin (presumably for Caleb’s benefit, as it emphasises her inhumanity in the test). But Ava has clothes, and she doesn’t seem to wear them regularly, so does she only have them in her wardrobe to allow for more effective seduction of Caleb? Ava is definitely conscious of her own ‘nudity’ as the first thing she does once free is take skin from the other AI’s, admire herself, and then put a dress on, so it seems strange to me that female nudity is the norm here.

The climax of the film sees Caleb effect Ava’s escape, following her masterful manipulation of him, and then her immediate and brutal betrayal of him. This is tough moment, both to watch and to understand. Caleb is left to die alone, trapped and aware, in a glass box half underground – Caleb will die the way that Ava, until now, has lived. This seems like a fitting punishment for the brazen bully Nathan (who gets a relatively quick death), but does Caleb deserve such a punitive sentence; he may have only helped Ava out of lust (and would have abandoned her out of scientific curiosity were it not for that lust), but this is a torturous way to die. This moment is where we see that the protagonist of this story was really Ava, not Nathan her warden, nor Caleb her admirer; it has been about a prison break all along. This makes sense, the movie has been about the subjugation of women and their oppression at the hands of men who want to dominate them (Nathan) or ‘have’ them (Caleb), but this switch, combined with the sheer brutality of Caleb’s end unsettles the message. Ava is free, she could chose to leave Caleb behind, to reject his advances, and to forge her own path. But she instead chooses to punish him excess, and inhumanely. This action serves to show how inhuman Ava really is. Does that then mean all women are equally inhuman? As the only female character with agency (Kyoko has none), and with the allusions between AI and women throughout the movie, can Ava’s actions be interpreted as Garlands representation of all women? This is the troubling question that the film left me with, not the rights and wrongs of artificial intelligence, or the abhorrent methods Nathan employs in his tests, but whether the film maker was intending Ava to be a stand-in for women, and therefore a damning indictment of all of them.

Brief Thoughts on the Recent DC & Marvel Announcements

Friday 6th February saw both DC and Marvel make some pretty big announcements about the near-future of their publishing lines; DC is launching 24 new titles following the end of their summer Convergence event whilst Marvel will be publishing an all-female Avengers team book called A-Force. The relative diversity of characters of these new DC titles has already received a lot of positive coverage and has been welcomed by a lot of fans. Increasing the diversity of lead characters in comics is an unqualified good thing; we can only benefit from there being more stories about female and POC characters from all kinds of backgrounds; comics should be an inclusive medium where the exploration of gender, ethnicity, world views, backgrounds, life experiences, and heritages, can serve to entertain, educate, and inspire all of us.

It is great that we will see more characters that are unique and exciting because of who they are and what they do, and are not considered ‘interesting’ just because they have a different gender or skin colour to that of the majority of comic book superheroes. It is similarly essential that there is an effort to increase the racial, gender and sex orientation-al diversity of comics creators too. The more diverse the writers and artists are then the more diverse their stories and characters can be.  The total number of female creators involved in the new DC books is still relatively small (13), but this is a considerable increase from the number of female creators that were part of the New 52 (2! ). There is also a scarcity of LGBT representation in the books being published at DC – LGBT Batwoman Kate Kane has had her book cancelled, but post-Convergence will see gay character Midnighter get his own series. It is a shame there wasn’t room for both in the new line up. There is still plenty more work to be done to recruit more diverse creative teams and launch books with more diverse leads if there is going to be anything like parity with male creators/characters (and really it would be great at some point if female/non-white characters out numbered white male characters as we have 60 years of their stories already).

All of that said, a small step forward is still a step forward. It is pleasing to see that there seems to be a concerted effort at both DC and Marvel to broaden their target demographic, engage with readers from a wider variety of backgrounds, and to offer stories that aren’t just white hero guys trying to stop their ‘women’ from being kidnapped or getting fridged. Recent series like Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Bitch Planet, and Ms Marvel have been wonderful in their representations of strong female characters that aren’t just defined by being women. These characters are diverse in age, attitude, aptitude, body type, and beliefs, and their settings and stories are similarly diverse. In this regard Marvel’s announcement, that they will be publishing a new all-female team series by writers G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett (drawn by male artist Jorge Molina) is very welcome. Not to mention that it will finally be an Avengers book without the seemingly unavoidable Tony Stark in it!

The more books out there that have diverse leads then the more potential readers that get a chance to see characters like themselves being the heroes in the stories they read. Comics shouldn’t just be the preserve of white men, they should be for everyone. Just because a character doesn’t look like you, or come from the same background as you doesn’t mean that you can’t empathise with them or find their story immersive and compelling – but it is a great thing when people from all walks of life can see themselves in the entertainment we all consume. No one should feel marginalised, or excluded, or be forced to read about how only the white men get to save the day with their awesomeness.  The power of comics is that they can transport us to other worlds where fantastic things are possible – it would be great if one of those fantastic things was equality and diversity.

Review: Bitch Planet #2

Concise

This issue offers more back story and world building and puts the core plot in play for the coming story arc. In a very effective follow-up we learn more about the central character Kamau Kogo, and her world, as well as getting some hints about what we might be building up to. The writing deftly balances some pretty horrifying stuff with some genuine comedy, and the tension is already building fast. Last issue was a great beginning, and this is an incredible next step.

Grade: A

Bitch Planet #2 Cover

Spoilerful

Great care has been given to the realisation of the patriarchal society in this book, there are some revealing moments in this issue that pave the way for future world building and more history. The government of this world is clearly autocratic, and unsurprisingly there is infighting, corruption, and incompetence. Despite this society’s best efforts this is clearly not a utopia, even after the extreme actions that have been taken to oppress women. Interestingly the government follows some conventions more familiar from religion than politics; the leader’s title is ‘Father’ and the way he speaks “your Father is listening” reminds of Catholic confession.

Speaking of confession, this is the second time we have seen the “confession module” being activated (Marian was asked to confess her noncompliance in issue #1), and here it is a forceful attempt to corral a false confession from Kamau Kogo. We know Kamau is innocent, but the officials at Bitch Planet want her to take the blame for Marian’s murder. The confessional booth is an oppressively small room with images projected from every surface, and the confession programme offers up a nonstop barrage of intimidation and suggestion. One such line of attack is to dwell on the fact that Marian will never get to see her boy become a man, this coupled with a bereft mother on TV later in the issue give the impression that a woman can have no such joy as raising a man. Kamau doesn’t break though and so we are introduced to a very interesting character indeed, Operative Whitney.

Until now every authority figure we have seen has been male, but here is a woman working for the authorities too. Whitney is courteous and affable, even offering Kam some water and providing a more relaxing atmosphere in the booth. Whitney is a tough character to pin down because she is self-possessed, has agency, and makes her own decisions, but so far it seems she also actively supports and encourages a system of government that seeks to oppress her solely because of her sex. This is an important point though, sometimes there are those who do benefit even in a society that underserves them – this is what gives rise to popular inertia and makes change difficult. Kam is offered a way out of her solitary, if she agrees to put together a team for a popular sport, Megaton. In the midst of this discussion we are given quick hints of back story, Kam has a brother, and she used to be a professional athlete, this society is known as the ‘New Protectorate’ and it took power at some point in Kam’s adult life.

Kam doesn’t accept the offer, at least not yet, and is put back into gen-pop where she is given two pitches during exercises. It is interesting that these proposals, one from Violet and one from Meiko, are introduced with top page headers – it makes things more formal and gives the impression that Kam is convinced by one of them (but it is not clear whose proposal Kam is ultimately swayed by). Violet is eager that Kam take the offer so that ‘the movement’ can gain some media attention. Violet is still top of my suspect list for the murder of Marian and it isn’t entirely clear what she thinks they will gain by entering Megaton – I remain suspicious. Mieko’s pitch makes a lot more sense to me, it appears that she wants to stage a break out using her knowledge of the Megaton stadium ship. This stops Kam in her tracks and seems like it may be why she agrees to take part. The staging of these conversations on the running track is a great touch; along with the clear message that these women are physically capable, we also get to see the subversion of 80’s fitness videos/gym-classes as a large group of women are exercising in front of a ginormous video-instructor, and then there is the hilarious Penelope action scene in the background. We don’t get to see much of Penelope in this issue, but getting involved in yet another fight/riot had me in stitches; she is quickly becoming a favourite (and despite my misgivings about Violet’s motives I thought it was just aces the way she was totally blasé about jumping into the fray).

The issue closes with two important scenes, Kam accepts Whitney’s offer, and Father Josephson learns that violent deaths bring audience engagement up to an unprecedented level. The former scene is important because it demonstrates Kam’s value to Whitney, she is able to leverage the identity of Marian’s murderer for her agreement to join the team (we also get a glimpse of Whitney’s dark side as she removes gloves bloodied from dealing with another prisoner). It seems possible that pinning the murder on Kam in the first place was an effective way of manoeuvring her into building the Megaton team though so I don’t expect we’ll be getting clear answers anytime soon. The final scene is important because it sets the tone for the Megaton games themselves – Father has already explained the necessity of audience engagement and now has reason to believe violence and death on the field will bring it. These games are not going to be pretty.

This is an important book exploring important issues that don’t often come up in comics (or the media generally); the role of women in a patriarchal society that often marginalises, exploits, and demeans them. Father Josephson, the warden, and the rest of the system want to exploit the women on Bitch Planet for the ratings, at the same time as keeping them locked away for their noncompliance. By turns a treatise on female exploitation, a thrilling science fiction drama, and a damn funny book, this is an incredibly effective comic that is only getting stronger by the issue.

Bitch Planet #2 Panel

Bitch Planet #2 // Writer – Kelly Sue DeConnick / Art – Valentine De Landro / Colours – Cris Peter // Image

Notes and Observations:

  • The back cover classifieds continue to emphasise the idea of consumerist patriarchal society that puts pressure on women to fight each other for male approval. There is also some pretty funny satire, and I wonder if we can expect Rabbit and the Duchess to make an appearance in the main plot.
  • Violence appears to be common place in this world, even the sous chefs go at it in the kitchen!
  • The rules of Megaton still haven’t been laid out but the snippets we do get, “two teams, two thousand pounds, one victor” sound pretty ominous. It seems like there is a literal weight restriction on each team, which will presumably play a role in determining if Penelope makes the team (which she almost certainly will given her potential in a fight).

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Thoughts and Feelings About Gone Girl

This essay contains spoilers.

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David Fincher is an accomplished filmmaker, but for all his flare and vision his latest thriller rarely rises above its airport potboiler roots. The movie looks great, every scene, shot, and movement is perfectly orchestrated and the shocks, twists, and revelations are well handled. Gillian Flynn’s script, adapted from her own book, includes moments of tension, rare levity, drama, and horror. Ultimately though this film left me with some major misgivings about its representation of women.

Gone Girl presents an unhelpful caricature of the ‘wronged woman’ as a murderous, manipulative, and vindictive villain, and what is worse is that it uses deeply unsettling and wrong headed stereotypes of rape myths and victim blaming to do so. Some have claimed that this is a triumph of feminist propaganda, but what troubles me is that there are only three types of women in this movie and they are all negative portrayals. As a woman you are either an aggressive gossip/TV presenter (both TV personalities and the neighbour), ultimately powerless to affect anyone’s lives in any meaningful way at all (Margot and Detective Boney), or a cold hearted and manipulative criminal who rather than get a divorce when cheated upon falsely accuses someone of murder, actually commits a murder, and uses sexual violence against herself to control men. Margot is the only woman sympathetic to Nick and she can do nothing to help him, all the other women in his life are actively destructive (his girlfriend, the ‘fan’ at the volunteer centre, Amy’s mother), none more so of course than his wife Amy.

Amy is so dedicated to ensuring that Nick goes down for her murder that she has planned several fail-safe points where she would actually commit suicide. Throughout her time hiding out she eats constantly, presumably to both change her face/body shape as a disguise and to support her false pregnancy if she does commit suicide (though I don’t think she has considered how the weight gain and lack of actual pregnancy would be explained). Amy will literally stop at nothing, even death, to get her revenge on Nick. Why is she so vindictive? Not only because he cheated on her, but because she defines herself by him and he has betrayed the role she wants him to play. Amy wants Nick to play the character of a devoted, loving, and ambitious husband more then she wants him to actually be those things – it’s not important to her at the end of the film if he can even stand her, she just wants the illusion because it allows her to define herself more effectively. It didn’t matter that Nick had an affair, it mattered that he stopped caring how he represented himself to Amy and the world at large. Amy is all about the appearance, she wants to wear the disguise of being a successful wife (it’s never clear why she needs a husband to feel successful). The film is curious though in that it never gives us a ‘real’ Amy to understand or sympathise with. The flashback sequences are just Amy’s fantasy storytelling (complete with a cloying and overwrought score), the friendly neighbour was an act, the rape victim is a trap, and even the miraculous survivor is just a role she chooses to play. The only ‘real’ Amy we know anything about is the calculating mastermind, but we have no idea who she is behind those cold eyes. We spend the most time in the movie with Amy as the vulnerable run-away oppressed woman, but that of course is her most obvious disguise of all.

Whilst on the run the only person who we are seen explicitly unconvinced by Amy’s disguise is both a woman and poor. One reading could be that Amy’s arrogance and prejudice is the reason for this; she comes from a privileged background and has no understanding of those less well off than herself – she underestimates Greta because she is ‘lower class’, believing that simple tricks will be enough to obfuscate the truth (why does Amy even interact with Greta as it is surely just an extra risk to being discovered?). On the other hand this could simply be more damning evidence that Amy as manipulatrix is only able to influence men using her feminine wiles and sexual powers. We are told that Nick’s sister Margot never got on with Amy, and here Greta is able to quickly de-mask her. Detective Rhonda Boney is also unconvinced by Amy’s show once she returns from ‘captivity’ after killing Desi. A roomful of professional law enforcement is too prudish to talk about the sexual crimes that Amy claims to have experienced and is unwilling to give any credence to the very reasonable questions and inconsistencies raised by Boney. At this point in the film Amy’s story is laughably incomplete, full of plot holes, and delivered in an unbelievable and overly dramatic monologue – why would these officers believe any of it? Oh yeah, they are men and Amy is able to cast a spell over men no matter who they are.

There are some moments of sympathy for Amy Dunne in this movie, most notably those where we learn of her childhood, overbearing parents, and unbeatable ‘sibling’ Amazing Amy, however, none of it is explored enough to really give credence to Amy’s psychological state being the result of anything other than stone cold feminine malice. We learn that she could never keep up with her fictional counterpart, but we also learn that she got to try her hand at music or horse riding and was able to walk away from it if she didn’t enjoy it – this isn’t a situation where her parents forced her to excel, she was allowed to try things and fail. Not to mention the fact that she was raised in luxury. We are told that she and Nick have money troubles once they are laid off (and her parents raid her trust fund), but they still seem to be able to purchase a very large house in Nick’s home town, and a bar, and have a line of credit that runs to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I bring this up not because I think rich people have no problems, but because outside of her failing marriage and loneliness there doesn’t seem to be any external factor that leads her to become a murderer and Machiavellian genius. Unless you count Tommy O’Hara.

A friend of mine has talked about giving the movie the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the film’s anti-feminist message about the true nature of women and marriage. If you work for it there is a potential way some of the film’s message can be explained more sympathetically. But you really have to want it. Tommy O’Hara is first raised by the police in a question about Amy’s past legal case against him, and is someone Amy has never mentioned to Nick. O’Hara was convicted of sexual assault against Amy. When Nick meets O’Hara he explains that in fact Amy pulled the same manipulative shtick she is pulling now having falsely accused him after he tried to leave her. On the surface the movie plays this straight – the protagonist of the film, Nick, is being persecuted by Amy and he believes Tommy as it supports his version of events. Our sympathy is with Nick, we know he has been framed, and we are given no direct evidence to contradict Tommy’s story, especially as it is in line with what we know about Amy’s modus operandi.

But what if Tommy is lying? It could be that Amy did not tell Nick about this incident not because it was evidence of her past indiscretions but rather because she was the victim of abuse and doesn’t want to relive it. The only other ex-boyfriend we see is actual legitimately creepy stalker Neil Patrick Harris (Amy’s story about him is true) so although Tommy being innocent is in line with current events, him being guilty is in line with past ones. If Tommy really did assault Amy might this be a factor in her subsequent actions? Whilst that is an interesting potential motivation for the character even if it is true then the film would still suffer from presenting an unhelpful archetype of the vengeful female victim – she reclaims her agency and power but uses it to destroy an ‘innocent’ man (and murder an arguably mentally unbalanced one) whilst leaving the real villain to live his life.

My problem with this movie is the message it ultimately sends regarding marriage, victims, and women in general. There are no powerful females in this film who aren’t criminals (sure Detective Boney is fair and just, but she is unable to act even when she knows Amy is a lying killer). Greta is a thief (though she needs male muscle to get the job done) and Amy is the ‘Napoleon of Fake Sexual Violence Crimes’. The closing sentiment is the inevitability that the average innocent man will end up trapped by marriage and pregnancy at the hands of a dangerous and unstable woman. Though I don’t think the creators of Gone Girl believe this to be true, and it is possible to enjoy this film as the disposable thriller it is intended as, I do find this film to be problematic. The fact that there are so few films out there that deal with the victims of rape and sexual violence in an even handed and responsible fashion makes it all the more important for those films that do tackle this important subject matter to do so in a less sensational and destructive way.