The Psycho Bitch, Gone Girl, and What It Should Mean
Film and film criticism have an uneasy history with female anti-heroes or “psycho bitches.” Famously, we have Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close, in Fatal Attraction. She is cinema’s first great “psycho bitch,” a bunny-boiler to the nth degree. Sure, she has wild passionate sex with Michael Douglas and kills the family pets for a good two hours, but, at the end of the film, she is dutifully punished for disrupting the sanctity of marriage. How dare she let Michael Douglas cheat on his wife with her! She is shot, killed, and Michael Douglass goes back to his wife. That’ll teach her.
And of course, we have Catharine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone, in Basic Instinct. Tramell isn’t punished by the end of the movie, but we still get to see her writhe naked for sex scene after sex scene. Thrusting and moaning on satin sheets, bare breasts swelling as Michael Douglas sucks them. We get the infamous upskirt in her interrogation scene. Then more sex. And sex, and sex, and sex. Tramell is packaged as a manipulative psychopath who uses sex to get what she wants. And, lucky for us, we get to watch her do it again and again. After so many times, you have to wonder if Tramell’s intentions or motivations even matter, or do the producers just want to show Sharon Stone naked again? Basic Instinct is a movie created by men, for men, with the male-gaze always in mind. Tramell is acceptable because even though she leaves the film unpunished, she’s given a male viewing audience everything they could want. They can still objectify her and leave the theater thinking about how fucking hot her tits were.
These two famous examples are written and directed by men. Tramell and Forest don’t represent real women; they represent how men view women. Mysterious, conniving, sexual. Can we label them as “strong” female characters? Ultimately, these women are only “strong” until a man comes along and woos them.
So, here comes Gone Girl and Amy Elliot-Dunne.
There’s a lot of buzz about Gone Girl being misogynistic. Amy Elliot-Dunne appears to be a Men’s Rights Activists’ worst nightmare: their vision of how all women are. She fakes rapes, uses pregnancy to trap men, she’s cold, manipulative, unattainable, and it’s all wrapped up in a beautiful woman who isn’t afraid to slit a throat. To top that off, Amy leaves the narrative unscathed. By the end of the film, the “psycho bitch” wins.
How patronizing is that term: “psycho bitch.” If Amy (or Forest, or Tramell) were a man, the term most people would come up with is “anti-hero.” Your Hannibal Lecters and Patrick Batemans. But, if a woman does something crazy, just write her off as a psycho bitch. That’s a douchebag’s favorite description of a girl who doesn’t do what he wants. She’s crazy, nuts, psychotic. It’s the easiest way to reduce someone to something unworthy of analysis.
Gone Girl starts by selling itself as a standard, male-driven police procedural. It populates the first act with your typical females. The abused, doting wife. The sex-kitten twenty-something who gives the audience the obligatory boob shot. But, at the midpoint, these are revealed to be ways to get the audience comfortable, unassuming, so that the real Amy can take the stage and dismantle the genre from the inside. The men are suddenly clueless, useless creatures bumbling around while the women get down to brass tax. The men are reduced to the dimensionality that women are normally afforded. It even goes so far as to objectify the men in a way that women are objectified in film. The “pause the TV” moments, the brief flashes of Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick’s Harris’ cock. It’s Sharon Stone’s vagina, Jessica Rabbit’s nude frame.
Gone Girl seems fed up with the roles women have available to them. And it doesn’t let its “psycho bitch” be fucked into submission by something as inconsequential as a man. A male-audience doesn’t even get the joy of seeing her bouncing breasts and perky behind. They get a woman who wouldn’t give a fuck about them. Who would wad them up like used tissues and toss them out.
True, Amy does use sex, but it’s not presented as something she is susceptible to like Tramell and Forest are. The one true sex scene in the film is a murderous reclaiming of Basic Instinct’s opening. Amy’s underwear stays on. Her breasts are tucked away. She’s impossible to objectify. The camerawork is crisp, clinical. It doesn’t luxuriate in the act. We hear Neil Patrick Harris whimper in pleasure. Amy commands him to thrust harder. She reaches under the pillow, grabs a box cutter. The second he orgasms, she slits his throat. When he’s dead, she tosses her hair out of her face and leaves the room, blood-covered and fully clothed.
Sex is just another tool in her toolbox. Something she takes out, uses, and puts away with utilitarian interest. And in the end, she goes back to the husband she framed for murder and wins. She gets everything she wanted. Nick is left with nothing. He is punished. She remains.
Now, we can ask what a character like Amy means for women. What are we supposed to take away from her? What is she saying about that unrepresented majority of the population? What are we supposed to learn?
The answer? Nothing.
Amy is just a character. But, she seems so new that people are left wondering if this kind of transgressive approach to a female is inherently political. Even though Amy delivers some well-thought out tidbits in her “cool girl” monologue, she is not a stand-in for women. In the same way that Hannibal or Patrick Bateman isn’t interpreted as representative of all men. We have such a wide array of male characters that it isn’t an issue. Amy feels like one of a kind, so we want to interpret and assume she’s meant to be a comment on women as a whole.
It’s an issue that applies to any character that isn’t a white, straight, cis male. They see Brokeback Mountain or The Kids Are Alright and wonder what it means for all gays. They see Priscilla: Queen of the Desert or Transamerica and wonder it means for anyone whose transgender. They see 12 Years a Slave and wonder what it means for all black people. The answer should be nothing. There should be such a wide berth of media for these people that a singular character doesn’t become a stand-in for everyone in that group. No one leaves a Jennifer Aniston rom-com asking, “What was that trying to say about white people?” Or a Scorsese movie asking, “What did that say about straight men?”
Amy is just a character in a movie, but it’s a great movie. It not only passes the Bechdel and Mako Mori test several times over, but it’s written and produced by women. And it isn’t just home to a manipulative sociopath, but all sorts of women. “Cool girls” and take-charge detectives. Ditzy neighbors, no-nonsense socialites, and merciless media personnel. Women who support other women, dismantle other women, fight and thrive.
I want movies with all these kind of women. I want movies with any women. Anything that isn’t a supportive wife telling her husband how important he is. Or, hot girlfriends who try to stop their men from doing the brave thing.
I never want to tell women “don’t make that movie because it might make a Men’s Rights Activist angry.” I hope our measure for media is never based on their imaginary view of the world. I want better roles for women. And I want more writers like Gillian Flynn and producers like Reese Witherspoon. I want women to make movies that earn over a hundred million at the box office, like Gone Girl and Zero Dark Thirty. I want more movies with fucked-up women who are so well-written, so crazy layered that they can be mercilessly examined in a million think pieces just like this one.
pumping, his face alert with excitement and momentary apprehension,
Prince Harry reaches out to touch the flanks of a fully grown male lion.
an extraordinary and heartstopping moment, as the fearsome beast –
which has been lightly sedated – lies semi-conscious at his feet on a
pitch-black night in the African bush.
Prince is monitoring the animal’s breathing during the vital few
minutes needed for vets to carry out tests. Maintaining a commendable
calm, he then helps wildlife vets draw blood from the lion for DNA
identification, replace a broken GPS collar under its shaggy mane and
But this is
Harry – the ‘Playboy Prince’ – and he soon lifts the tension. With his
head torch hanging around his neck he jokingly pulls down his shorts
crying: ‘OK, me next!’ before pretending to reach for the red-hot
these exclusive pictures show, Harry, 30, has been living his African
dream on a wildlife reserve and, unencumbered by the pressures of public
life and paparazzi, has opened up to his companions as he never does in
jokes about what a ‘bad uncle’ he is to his brother Prince William’s
and posing for the all-important photographs with baby Charlotte, Harry
was standing barefoot in the bush, tucking into chicken stew cooked over
the camp fire.
seriously about his longing to spend more time in the wild in Africa,
Harry told his friend: ‘I have to go along with the way my life is, and
in many ways I’m very privileged.
how things are and I know what I have to do. But I want to spend time
out here regularly, it’s become really precious to me and I’m learning a
who has also spent time with armed soldiers fighting off rhino poachers
from helicopters in Kruger national park in South Africa, added: ‘This
is a recce really. I’m taking a lot of new information back home with me
for my brother and me to analyse. We’re going to work out a strategy
for doing more in Africa and to encourage new conservation initiatives.’
has been playing a full role in the work of a team tracking lions in
the remote, 10,000sq mile Palmwag Reserve in Namibia’s north-west Kunene
region, where lions, elephants, rhino and leopards roam across vast
vistas of desert and scrub.
swapped life as an Army Apache helicopter pilot for the sharp end of
animal conservation, he has been living his African dream as part of a
three-month assignment in southern Africa, where he has joined the
campaign against rhino poachers – and he is relishing the freedom.
is so much in his element that he often goes barefoot and, to the alarm
of colleagues who warned him about the dangers of wild animals
marauding in the night, he stubbornly insists on sleeping in the open
rather than in a tent.
Harry told one: ‘I’ve come all the way to Africa to be free. I’m taking my bedroll and I’m sleeping by the fire.’
Prince’s encounter with the king of the jungle came after he told his
companions – two royal protection officers, two vets, a Namibian police
officer, a senior tracker-guide, and Simson – that he desperately wanted
to see lions up close and personal in the wild.
wildlife vet Dr Peter Morkel, a rhino expert, had already spent time
elsewhere in Namibia showing Harry the process of painlessly removing
horns to save the species from destructive poaching. Now he had brought
the Prince to these wildlife-rich lands where local communities have
been given responsibility for conservation efforts, including keeping an
eye on the lions.
said: ‘We tracked down a pair, one male one female, for him earlier in
the day by following the animals’ droppings and footprints. Harry wanted
a taste of conservation in the raw and it became a huge adventure.’
vet Dr Philip Stander used sound equipment to blare out a recording of
an oryx screaming, followed by a hyena’s call.
the lions, sensing the imaginary kill, padded into view. Simson said
Harry had been continually whispering: ‘Are you sure they’ll come? How
can you be sure?’
knew he would have an important role to play if the animals appeared,
said Simson, adding: ‘He was nervous and thrilled at the same time.’
Stander used tranquilliser darts to sedate the animals, and beckoned
the others forward. ‘It was rocky and sandy underfoot and we all crept
up quietly,’ said Simson. ‘Harry had already been told what to do.’
companions have warned the Prince that tranquillising large exotic
animals is a ‘tricky science’, and to work very quickly before the drug
Stander said: ‘The male lion’s radio collar had been damaged and it
needed replacing. The work had tobe done in a matter of minutes – you
only lightly sedate the animals so as not to interfere with their
metabolism, and you must work fast.’
said Harry did not hesitate to crouch down next to the lion and, as
instructed, monitor his breathing to check it remained regular while Dr
Stander prepared a syringe to take blood.
‘Harry knew what he was doing. He stayed calm and helped to fix the new collar with its studs and buckles.’
a fleece top with a Walking With The Wounded logo from his time on the
Forces charity’s South Pole expedition, Harry later poses proudly beside
the lion, his hand resting gently on its head.
Stander lit a small fire to heat up a branding iron and stamped a code
number on to the lion’s fur, which prompted the Prince to offer his
a member of a team of eight, Harry has been enjoying the camaraderie of
the tight-knit group and has asked for no special favours, camping with
his companions at night and doing his share of the chores, chopping
vegetables, preparing meat for the barbecue and washing-up.
Simson said: ‘He was with us for five nights, all spent out in the bush in quite rough conditions.’
at 5.30am with the rest of the team in the camp, he helped to make tea
over an open fire or fry eggs, before heading off into the bush.
Simson said: ‘There were no toilet or shower facilities.
‘We got water from a nearby spring and splashed it, cold, on our faces.
‘Harry joined in uncomplaining, and took a bucket of water like the rest of us for an all-over wash.
could see straightaway when I was introduced to him that he was going
to be a great companion and a team player. He looks pale and slim
compared to some of us, but he is strong and you can tell he’s been
military trained. He’s impressive.’
shared beers around the camp fire in the evenings and, despite serious
warnings from Simson, Harry insisted on sleeping under the stars.
told him it would be safer to sleep in his tent. He had pitched it
expertly himself and we were all sleeping inside ours. We know that
anything can happen unexpectedly – from snakes approaching to insect
bites, or an elephant or hyena coming into camp.’
briefed Harry on how to get out of sight and stay downwind if animals
approached, saying: ‘That was the least I could do if he insisted on
sleeping in the open.’ He added: ‘Of course every time Harry slept out,
his bodyguards had to be there too.
‘There was a lot of teasing and joking about him spending his life with them. It was very funny.’
one occasion, the Prince came face to face with a big rhino bull called
Harry. ‘That amused him very much,’ Simson said. ‘Finally Harry met
Interviewer: Thank you, Oliver. How are you? I just heard that congratulations are in order?
Oliver: Yes, thank you, yeah, I’m engaged.
Interviewer: Ladies everywhere are mourning right now, I’m sure.
Oliver: Oh god, yeah, I…that was a lifetime ago. I’m not that person anymore.
Interviewer: Indeed, I imagine the things you’ve been through since your father’s boat went down, that may have had a little to do with your–
Oliver: Yeah, my personality change? Just a little.
Interviewer: Only a little bit. Hardly at all.
Oliver: [laughing] Right.
Interviewer: Now, we’ve had a chance to speak to your fiancee–
Oliver: Yeah, I saw the video.
Interviewer: She is something else, Oliver. You’re a lucky man.
Oliver: She’s incredible. I thank my lucky stars every day for my broken laptop.
Interviewer: Right! That’s how you met. She was an I.T. girl at the company and you were the billionaire with a broken laptop. It’s almost like a Cinderella story.
Oliver: Oh no, no…it may seem that way on the surface, but it’s more like…if I had to compare it to a Disney movie, it’s far more Beauty and the Beast than Cinderella. She’s no damsel, she’s a fighter.
Interviewer: So you’re comparing yourself to the Beast? That’s fascinating.
Oliver: Sure. I have a little bit of a temper, I’m ashamed to say, but one little slap on my paw from her, and I’m done for.
Interviewer: [laughing] That’s amazing. I can see that about her. She’s very protective of you.
Oliver: Yeah…there’s been a lot of negative press around me and my family, and certain events which I won’t talk about here–
Interviewer: Even though it’s something everyone wants to talk about–
Oliver: Not going there, sorry.
Interviewer: It’s a trending topic in social media right now. And the silence around the issue from people like yourself just adds fuel–
Oliver: What’s the next question?
Interviewer: Uh…well…let’s, let’s talk about your campaign. Give us a summary of your policies and goals if you’re elected.
Oliver: Starling City is my home. Star City, excuse me, I’m still getting used to that. Star City is my home. And I want to fix my home. I feel partially responsible for a lot of the damage, not just physically, but emotionally as well. My mother and my best friend’s father were involved in the earthquakes, I carry some guilt over that–I unwittingly handed my company over to…well, a psychopath, one that killed Mayor Blood and destroyed this city. I carry some guilt over that. I know my fiancee and my friends constantly remind me that those weren’t my fault, but I can’t help it. The only thing I can do, or try to do, is fix my mess. Make things right. Whatever needs to be done, I’ll do it, whatever resources I have to scrounge up, I’ll find it. Family is important to me, and the people of Star City are my family.
Interviewer: That’s incredibly moving, but there’s still a lot of anxiety over the Queen name. How will you overcome that?
Oliver: By bringing in a new Queen, one who’s already stabilized the company now called Queen Inc., stabilized my life, and already has this city eating out of the palm of her hand.
Interviewer: Most of them, anyway. She has faced some less than favorable opinions.
Oliver: That…is something I can’t respond to without losing some professionalism. But she handles it all very well. She fights her own battles.
Interviewer: She’s already living up to her future name. Well, Oliver, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me.