Gone Girl: The Complexity of Human Behavior
Gillian Flynn’s name has been placarding book stores all over the world for a while now and pretty soon, it’s going to take a tour around the silver screens as well. It was Flynn’s novel Gone Girl, published summer 2012, that put the former journalist’s name on bestseller’s lists and secured her a movie deal. The intense and mysterious crime drama is a maze of different points-of-view and two kaleidoscopic main characters that are never actually the people they try to be. Gone Girl observes the unraveling of a long-time relationship that starts out as your romantically comedic love story and ends up as the opposite.
In the center of the story is the disappearance of Amy Dunne, (house-) wife of Nick Dunne, famous for being the inspiration for her parent’s successful children’s books “Amazing Amy”. Via Amy’s diary entries, we find out that when the couple moved to Nick’s home town in Missouri, their marriage took a u-turn. Back in New York, it was the perfect love story, the perfect couple – the perfect marriage. After the cracks in their relationship have grown enormous, Amy disappears. Quickly, the media and police suspect Nick of murder – after all, it’s always the husband. Amy’s (undiscovered) diary adds to the reader’s suspicions, while other details speak against it– against any murder at all.
What’s particularly interesting about the characters of Nick and Amy, is that the reader is led to believe that they are certain people that they actually aren’t. Nick seems to be either The Perfect Husband or the Murderer, while Amy seems to be the Cool Girl and the Victim. There are different reasons for this, depending on which of the two one is focusing. Let us take a look at each character separately.
The Husband: Nick Dunne
It’s always the husband, so this time it can’t be. Although Nick Dunne is a dishonest character, the reader will not immediately believe that he killed his wife. Diary Amy makes him look like a variation of the prince on a white horse by painting him as a nice and flirty man. He is the love of her life and saves her from a dull single life in New York. While Diary Amy recounts those days “back when”, Nick discovers that his wife has gone missing, so there is a back and forth between these two time lines and points-of-view. Although Nick lies to the police a few times, one accepts his insecurity as a normal flaw. It seems like he doesn’t want the police to know about his wretched marriage.
When the media gets involved in the case, Nick’s behaviour starts to become alien. He seems happy and flirty – the same man Amy describes in her diary. Knowing of their troubled relationship, we assume that he is going back to his “normal self” after the disappearance of his wife. While the media interprets this as suspicious, we accept that Nick just doesn’t know how to act in public and how to express his emotions fittingly. Even though this inability act “normally” does not really fit with the confident persona of early Diary Nick, there are several points that support our assumption: Nick has had a big life change moving to a small town and becoming a professor, while his marriage has been rough. This supports the picture of a confused and troubled man.
As the pages continue to turn, Nick for his part turns into a moron. This development is mainly triggered by Diary Amy’s narration of how Nick decided for the couple to move away from New York. According to the diary, Nick he changed into a loveless, cold and distant husband in Missouri. There is more though; Nick lies about more important things like his alibi and secrets are discovered by both the police and the reader. The fact that the book hides these secrets from us for so long makes it seem like Nick has been hiding them from us. He becomes untrustworthy – suspicious. And we start asking ourselves: Isn’t it always the husband?
The Wife: Amy Dunne
The first variation of Amy that the reader meets in the book is Diary Amy, or rather Diary Amy #1. The first entries go as far back as five to six years before Amy’s disappearance, when she was still a single New York writer, frustrated by her controlling parents and men. Nick is her rescue and the two spend some heavenly years together before the recession hits and both lose their jobs and home. In these early years, Amy is a weirdly perfect female character, although she’ll later describe this persona as the ‘cool girl’. This is a character she invented for herself to play. Cool Girl is not very jealous, does not control every single step her husband takes and she’s always happy and friendly.
The move to Missouri transforms Amy into a house wife. Flynn manages to let this transformation look inevitable, as if it were forced on Amy. At the same time, she’s not a damsel in distress. Her depression (because that’s what her behavior adds up to) seems genuine, an actual sickness triggered by her husband’s estrangement. Furthermore, the South has been hit badly by the recession too, so there isn’t actually any option for Amy to work. As is found out, she builds herself a life of her own with a few new friends, while starting to wish for a baby.
All the while, Nick paints a different picture of his wife’s character; she’s a controlling, self-righteous narcissist with twisted morals. Following the pattern in his character development, this starts out as being possible and then becomes less likely with every page. As Nick gets less sympathetic, Diary Amy gets more realistic. In the end, her subtly growing fear of her husband and the coldness with which he treats her (in the diary) add up to the suspicion that Nick killed his wife. We do not believe Nick’s description of his wife, but Diary Amy’s.
The Real Nick and Amy
The last third of the novel has a couple of twists that I shall not spoil in this article, but I’ll say this much: we discover both who the real Nick is and who the real Amy is. For some part, they are what they seemed to be at various points in the story. This is particularly true of Nick, who is far from being a prince on a white horse or perfect in any other way. However, he is not a moron in every aspect. The impression we got of him in different parts of the book are like impressions we get from other people in real life. We judge people by fragments, never being able to know who they are deep down. Amy knows the real Nick though and he knows the real Amy — who, by the way, isn’t Diary Amy if you haven’t figured that out. The fragments we get from her life are less random and unintended than Nick’s – in fact, their character arcs are opposites in this way. Yet, they are similar in luring the reader into believing that this is what these characters are like.
It’s an easy assumption; after all, in most other books the characters are written in the way they “really” are. Or in the case of mysterious characters, you only get fragments of them, but at least of their “real” persona. In this way, Gone Girl is a reminder of how complex the human mind is both in interpreting and executing different patterns of behavior.
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