Perception of Gender Roles and Victimization in Gone Girl

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains trying to get answers. These are the first words said by Ben Affleck’s character, Nick Dunne, regarding his wife Amy Dunne (played by Rosalind Pike) in Gone Girl. Gone Girl was directed by David Fincher and based on the 2012 novel of the same name written by Gillian Flynn. This mystery drama portrays the story of when Nick’s wife Amy is presumably kidnapped the morning of their 5 year anniversary and the resulting backlash. Her kidnapping is only the beginning of a complex and premeditated plan created by Amy to frame Nick for her murder. As the movie progresses, the resulting police and media involvement reveal the true nature of their marriage and leaves the audience questioning Nick and Amy’s moral and mental capabilities. Gone Girl uses non traditional narration, lighting, and camera angles to create a world in which the perception of masculinity and femininity are called into question to present the complexity between victimization and marriage.

The narrative story in Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy’s marriage from both point-of-views and the events in their relationship that led them to their current state of resentment and distrust. The film begins from Nick’s perspective but continuously shifts to Amy’s first person narrative story. This continuous shift in the story keeps the audience guessing as to the reliability of each character and makes it difficult to sympathize with one over the other since both clearly have moral and/or mental shortcomings. It is up to the reader to distinguish the lies that Nick and Amy tell about their relationship from the truth and that presents the question of who the real victim is within their union. The fact that Dunne describes how he pictures cracking her lovely skull and unspooling her brain immediately paints an image of violence and deception, which also happens to be two of the main themes Fincher operates with in the film. This theme of deception is exaggerated through Dunne’s need to get answers. It seems as though primal questions about his wife dominate his mind: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? This suggests that the marriage between the two is far from stable, and foreshadows the conflict that will take place within the film. This idea of conflict is reinforced through the question; What have we done to each other? Again, it is immediately clear to the audience that this marriage is anything but healthy. The character’s narration here also disturbs the audience, as Dunne passes off cracking her lovely skull to get answers as the primal desires of any marriage. Furthermore, the narration by Dunne has a slight echoing and effect on it, as well as the sound feeling very close, as though Affleck has purposefully gotten very close to the mic when recording these lines. This gives a sense of intimacy to his words, which then make what he is saying that much more unnerving and unsettling. As the narrative point of view shifts between Nick’s first-person narration and Amy’s first-person diary, it is up to the reader to distinguish the lies that Nick and Amy tell about their relationship from the truth and presenting the question of who the real victim is within their union. The non traditional narration in this film manages to capture Nick and Amy’s relationship from both points of views in order to question traditional marriage roles and present a dynamic view to victimization within marriage.

Lighting in this film plays a monumental role in highlighting the drama and tension between Nick and Amy through the film. The film starts just before dawn and the emphasis of the mid and dark tones, especially with the blues, gives the whole sequence a very moody, atmospheric feel. Because of the time of day of the sequence, the lighting is very low- key, which sets the film up to be dark in tone. This particular use of lighting could be considered a metaphor for the characters’ thoughts and feelings; presently their lives are dull and boring, yet an event is about to occur that will ‘awaken’ them, so to speak, just like dawn would literally do that. The shadowy nature of the shots used in the scene creates intrigue “ it shrouds aspects of the town in mystery, and makes the audience want to find out more about the people that live there without giving important plot points away. Nick’s face is mostly in the shadows when Amy first because Nick himself is a mystery. The only thing the audience knows about Nick is his dishonest and unhappy marriage. That changes for Nick because as the audience learns more about his relationship and starts to sympathize with his character his face is portrayed more in direct light and less in the shadows that were obscuring his face. Amy, on the other hand, is portrayed differently from the beginning; her face is lit and she is portrayed front and center. A perfect example is the very beginning when Nick is stroking Amy’s hair and she is looking straight into the camera; nothing is hidden or obscure. However, as the movie progresses and more is learned about her deception she is portrayed in less flattering lighting. The best example being the scene where she finally returns home in her bloody nightdress and runs up to Nick to hug him and is consequently presented in very harsh sunlight and the with deep black shadows in the background.

A variety of camera angles were used in this film to further illustrate the perception of Amy and Nick’s jaundiced view of marriage and resulting backlash. At the beginning of the film a series of shots lasting a few seconds each show the setting where the movie will take place.

There is rarely any movement, and definitely no lavish scenes to break up the shots of the town. Only the few of the shots are close-ups, with most being long- shots that have a wide field of view. This makes the subjects and buildings the camera focuses on seem empty and abandoned. It is also important to note that the title card begins to fade out quickly after the shot fades in. This may relate to the theme of deception and disappearance, as the title is pretty much ‘Gone’ before the audience can even see it. The shot itself is a wide angle long-shot of a boat moving down the Mississippi river, which denotes a very solitary and lonely feel, especially when combined with the washed-out colours. Overall, the establishing sequence of the town serves to not only show the audience settings and locations that will later become important to the film, but also serve as a symbol for the lonely and empty feel to the scene as a whole. Although most of the focus of the title sequence is on the establishing location-based shots, the two main protagonists, Amy and Nick, are also shown. The audience knows they are of significance to the rest of the story because they are the first characters shown in the film. In the first shot, Amy’s character is shown in a close up. The camera angle is extremely close and centered on her so she is the sole thing the audience can focus on, emphasizing her importance to the story. At the end of the sequence, Ben Affleck’s character is shown outside what is presumed to be is house, from a further distance than Amy’s character was framed. He is wearing lightly coloured clothes to give the idea of innocence and naivety of his character. Just like the female protagonist, he is dressed very lazily. His posture also shows how tired he feels.

Fincher’s Gone Girl successfully used cinematographic techniques such as narrative story, lighting, and camera angles to convey the story about a dysfunctional heterosexual marriage and using social satire to explore the ways in which, under the right circumstances, the institution of marriage can reduce a previously healthy relationship into struggle for autonomy and control, a game where each spouse competes to be the most valued or desired member of a marriage. The profound effect this film had on me since I first saw it when it came out in theaters has to do with the extreme circumstances that the female protagonist goes to prove a point about her marriage. Although exaggerated circumstances are presented in this movie I do understand what the director is trying to convey. Marriage is a complicated journey and, like with Amy and Nick, there is no guarantee that the person you marry will be the same person 5 years later. In their case economic and family crisis served as the perfect storm for the dissolution of their marriage which is also the case in many modern real life marriages. Although there have been many movies over the years depicting the same theme I believe that Gone Girl, although through exaggerated circumstances, was able to capture the complex relationship between victimization and marriage.

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