Why Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne is one of horror cinema’s most malevolent creations.
What’s in the box?
This is a question that assumes a murderous significance in director David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynns adaptation of Flynns novel, GONE GIRL. Fincher has of course forced us to ask this question before and twenty years later we are still scarred by the experience. In the closing moments of SEVEN we were taken to a place beyond the bleakest corners of mainstream cinema. Under the glare of a merciless sun we saw the blazing fires of the personal hell into which a good man was descending and the frozen stare of the devil who was pushing him. And in that box, oh God that terrible, cruel box, was evidence of an appalling crime against humanity, a revelation made all the more devastating by the discovery that not one but two lives had been violently taken; at the heart of our hero’s desperate rage was the realization that his wife was pregnant. And the devil had given him this news – too late, too late.
The ultimate master stroke that Fincher and Flynn deliver with GONE GIRL is to present us with a new moment in which a man is made to open a box by the devil and to discover that his wife is pregnant. And here the results are even more devastating. Because by now we know that devil and wife are one and the same. For twenty years we had been convinced that Kevin Spacey was the last word in glassy-eyed, reptilian, icy objectivity but now we have met Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne.
Amazing Amy – the terrifyingly beautiful new face of absolute evil.
There is a magnificent pun in the ClearBlue device nestling snugly and smugly in its box, returning the hapless stare of Ben Affleck’s pathetic Nick with its hard, coldly gleaming certainty and clarity. The same ‘clear blue’ look is there in his wife’s eyes. It’s a look that says, ‘You’re doomed. I have you. You’re trapped now by this new life. Your soul belongs to me and I will bleed it dry.’
Never could a pregnancy test look more sinister…more like a murder weapon.
The grotesque, perverse distortions of love, sex, marriage and parenthood presented by this film are the stuff of true horror. And in Pike’s Amy it has a creation to rival any monster. It is wonderful to see the ways in which Fincher and Flynn present Amy as the logical development of Spacey’s John Doe. Where Doe had his extraordinarily meticulous and extremely disturbing scrapbook, Amy has her diary – both books chart the ruthless and carefully planned progress of evil, both work almost as psychotic manifestos. And while Doe was a serial killer using different individuals to highlight the seven deadly sins Amy is directing all of her murderous focus on one man, her husband (the killing of her ex-boyfriend is an incidental improvisation compelled by a change in her circumstances) but her strategies for the annihilation of this one man’s character are every bit as varied as Doe’s. She is working with a serial killer’s sense of energy, mission and constant renewal of purpose – the poor bastard really doesn’t stand a chance.
It is only a matter of time before he is forced to accept that his life, to all intents and purposes, is over but that he will live on as her victim.
And crucially, we are made to realize that each stage in his defeat is made to correspond to one of the seven deadly sins: when they are first hit by the recession he becomes slothful and bitterly resentful of her money; he is driven to lusting after one of his young students; he is made to appear as if he is greedily hoarding expensive items in his sister’s garage; he outrages investigators and media observers with what appears to be arrogant detachment, and on a number of key occasions he cannot help but explode in anger. Indeed the only one of the traditional sins he does not really show is gluttony and this is surely part of the plot’s design – from our very first encounter with him we see him as a man who seems curiously devoid of real appetite and we understand that this is precisely the weakness that Amy will exploit.
Nowhere are the links between Doe and Amy more obvious than in the moment when she returns to Nick, performing her scene brilliantly for the cameras, covered in another man’s blood and ready to ‘tell all’. Here she brilliantly mirrors the moment when Doe appears to turn himself in. In both cases we realize that this is merely the next stage in their carefully calculated assault on a helpless man’s life and spirit. The awful difference is that Nick can see exactly what Amy is doing and yet cannot do anything to stop her – she is forcing them both to look through a ‘clear blue’ lens into the abyss.
This last point is superbly underlined in what must be one of the great horror scenes of recent years. Amy forces Nick to undress and join her as she showers away the blood of the man she has killed, blood that was shed at the moment of orgasm. She is effectively washing away the gruesome evidence of another man’s sexual emission and she wants to make sure her husband watches every stage in the process – first showing how darkly and extensively it is covering her before then letting the water languorously, seductively lick it away from her body. There is an intense erotic charge to the moment and Nick, standing in the lair of the Beast, surely almost able to see a spear-headed tail extending from her perfect posterior, is both mesmerized and disgusted.
These are the conflicting feelings we all share as we gaze at Amy’s glacial beauty. Cleverly, the film is bookended by a close up of her face, staring out at us as Nick’s hand strokes her hair. Both hand and head are curiously disembodied. We know that the appearance of tenderness belies the feelings that run underneath this image.
That hand would like nothing more than to tear this head from its body.
It is of course another brilliant reference to SEVEN. But of course the head here, the head of the pregnant wife, is also the head of the devil. It cannot and will not be separated from its dangerously seductive body. And the hand stroking its hair is destined to keep pathetically repeating this servile gesture as the cold fires of marital hell flicker around them.