When David Fincher’s adaptation of the book Gone Girl was initially released, there was many debates on whether Amy Dunne was a feminist dream or collection of misogynistic stereotypes, especially when looking at how her character fits the “Psycho Bitch” trope.
The role of the Psycho Bitch has been a highly used trope within the film, particularly within horror and thrillers. Perhaps she has been scorned by a past lover, maybe trapped in unrequited love, or she wants something she can’t have. She then ends up trying to exact revenge, becoming obsessed, sometimes even murderous. No matter what direction a film takes it is clear the woman is meant to be seen as “crazy”. The use of this trope has been heavily critiqued not only because of its portrayal of women but how it connects to stereotypes about mental health. It invalidates women’s behaviour and real mental health struggles by simply reducing the person to being crazy. When a woman is deemed crazy she is dismissible and irrelevant.
Gone Girl’s variation involves teacher Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who cheats on his wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) with a student. Amy then concocts an elaborate plan to destroy her husband for what he has done. Amy is seemingly another example of the latest addition to the Psycho Bitch trope but perhaps her character has moved beyond that. Author Gillian Flynn rejected Amy as a Psycho Bitch. In an interview with the Guardian last year, when looking at the gender politics surrounding the film she said, “is [feminism] really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be? For me, it’s also the ability to have women who are bad characters … 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 push back against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish… I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy – she has no motive, and so she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho-bitchiness.” If you take a look at some popular and/or recent Psycho Bitch films, there are some similarities with Gone Girl but also some key differences.
Fatal Attraction (1987) is probably the most remembered Psycho Bitch film of the 80s. Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) has an affair with a woman named Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his wife Beth (Anne Archer) is out of town. Upon the wife’s return, Dan calls off the relationship and Alex is not pleased, to say the least. The obsession ensues with repeated phone calls all hours of the night, showing up to his house, following him, murdering his kid’s bunny, kidnapping, the list goes on and on. Eventually, the final showdown happens, and Alex ends up dead. This film is essentially a classic rendition of the Psycho Bitch trope.
Similarly, with Obsessed (2009), Derek Charles (Idris Elba) works for a finance company and is the husband of Sharon (Beyonce Knowles). Derek gets a temporary assistant Lisa Sheridan (Ali Larter) who continuously makes repeated advances towards him despite his refusal. At one point she drugs him, rapes him, there are suicide attempts, kidnapping, and the final showdown that ends with a chandelier killing Ali.
Knock Knock (2015) sticks to the basic Psycho Bitch outline but takes on a very clear (poorly told albeit) morality tale. Evan Webber’s (Keanu Reeves) family goes out of town two women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) show up at his door asking for the address of a party they are trying to find. The taxi dropped them off already and their phones are conveniently dead. The women begin their very obvious flirtation and eventually seduce Evan. Turns out to be a bad move on Evan’s part because the women’s entire plan was to get revenge on men who cheat. They refuse to leave, rape him, torture him, bury him, destroy his house, etc.
There are couple elements that more or less remain the same throughout many films with a Psycho Bitch. The cheating husband, the lover who wants revenge for some reason or another queuing the stalking, the obsessiveness, the general craziness, and someone usually ends up dead. And there you have it, a recipe for a shitty thriller. All of which end up coming across as a cautionary tale about crazy women.
When looking at Gone Girl, it’s easy to see where it lines up with other films containing a crazy woman. The trigger event of an affair is still present and revenge is the goal for Amy. But Gone Girl switched it up by making the villain the wife instead of the lover. While Amy doesn’t completely shed the Psycho Bitch trope her craziness isn’t the centrefold of her character. The best elements of the trope were still there while adding depth to her character.
Gone Girl is by no means perfect in its portrayal of women. Amy’s character still does perpetuate myths that are harmful to women. She creates herself to be a victim that she isn’t in many circumstances. Although, Gone Girl manages to breathe life into a trope that was overdone and boring. The film throws you into a tizzy trying to figure out what actually happened. Usually, it’s obvious who the psycho is, they’re messy and obsessive while making it clear they are the ones who is out for revenge. What becomes one of the best elements of her character is her sheer genius. The precision, planning, and calculation that Amy used took her out of the box of the average Psycho Bitch. She wasn’t just a one-dimensional character. Her actions weren’t crazy but diabolical and conniving. She displayed societal awareness on the confines put on women inside and out of relationships. An analysis hardly any Psycho Bitch let alone female characters in general possess. While I wouldn’t quite classify her as an evil, she definitely doesn’t belong in the average Psycho Bitch definition, she’s somewhere in between.
While some may argue that Amy only continues to give women a bad name, the combination of David Fincher, Rosamund Pike, and Gillian Flynn were able to create a female with the depth and complexity that so many female characters lack.