An Analysis of Gone Girl
By Kendall Haney
The movie Gone Girl can be summed up by one line, spoken by the lead and focus of this essay, Amy Dunne. “That’s marriage,” she says, as the movie comes near its close. Briefly, Gone Girl is a genre-shaking thriller. The story surrounds two main characters, Nick and Amy Dunne, who are unhappily married and have been for quite some time. On the morning of their anniversary, Amy disappears from their home, with signs of a struggle and yet no sign of forced entry. All signs point to Nick, alibi-less and teeming with motives, as the perpetrator of her disappearance. As the story unravels, the audience realizes that not everything is as it seems, and that there is more to Amy than her diary-format flashbacks suggest. Amy Dunne is nothing short of an unreliable narrator, and this essay is not the first, nor will it be the last, to try and unravel her character and give a diagnosis to her particular brand of psychosis. Given that the author is a fan of both the book and the movie, however, there is no harm in trying to take a stab at layers of Amy Dunne that are revealed throughout the course of the story.
Gone Girl has drawn the attention of movie analysts and psychologists alike given its unique story line, and described as “disturbing,” by many, female antagonist. Diagnoses for Amy vary from Borderline Personality Disorder to Antisocial Personality Disorder, with a smattering of anxiety, narcissism, and pathological habits thrown in for good measure. Given the complexity of her character, it is very likely that Amy suffers from multiple disorders, as she exhibits symptoms congruent with various personality and mood disorders. However, for this essay’s purposes, it will continue along the vein of Antisocial Personality Disorder as Amy’s overall diagnosis.
At the beginning of the film, the audience meets Amy as a brilliant, beautiful, witty woman working for a magazine, writing personality quizzes. Nick and Amy’s meet-cute introduction and their subsequent golden years, all told from the point of view of Amy’s diary entries, portray a blissful relationship that steadily fell into disarray and unhappiness due to Nick’s incompetence and general inability to be a decent husband. Amy, on the other hand, is portrayed as the understanding, “cool girl” wife. She does not get angry, she does not get jealous, she does not nag. She is, in every way, a dream girl. But, none of these diary entries are true, and at the midway point of the film, Amy’s true nature is revealed.
One psychologist weighed in on Amy’s mental state, stating. “Someone with antisocial personality disorder usually executes their action for primarily one or two things: some ulterior motive like money or for the cruelty or aspect of hurting other people. Amy’s behavior really kind of tracks with the lack of perspective on what she’s doing compared to society norms. We can see from what she’s doing that this is so over the top. Within her world and her narrative for herself, she’s the hero, and she has to paint a picture for herself that we all do of how these kinds of circumstances could make her the hero. In her case, she’s really playing the victim, so she’s creating a really dramatic victim role, so that she can be the hero.”
Amy has made herself the perfect victim. She has framed her husband for murder. Her murder. The audience finds out that she spent an entire year plotting and planning and framing the perfect murder of herself, so that all the signs of her disappearance will point to the first and most obvious choice: her husband, Nick Dunne. “Let the punishment fit the crime,” she says in one of her monologues, thus reaffirming to herself and to the audience that she believes she is justified in her actions.
This is the first sign of Amy’s psychopathy; her lack of remorse throughout the movie. Not once does Amy’s internal monologue suggest that she feels anything but justified in what she does. In fact, it does not even occur to her to feel guilty. Even at the end of the movie, she never once exhibits remorse, only insisting that she and Nick belong together after all.
Another major sign of her psychopathy is her impressive ability to lie and manipulate. Throughout the course of the movie, Amy repeatedly tells different complex, intricate lies and stories to paint herself as an innocent victim to those around her. Never is this more obvious then when Amy must turn to Desi Collings, a man who has been in love with her for over 20 years, for help when her plans fall through. Amy begins telling Desi her story of how Nick Dunne is an abusive and violent husband, who would “find her” if she tried to leave. But, when it becomes obvious to Amy that she can no longer stay with Desi—who seems content to keep her locked up inside his lake house—she begins manipulating him again, planning to kill him and make it look like he kidnapped and raped her, repeatedly, for over a month.
Amy feels no need to take responsibility for what she has done. She feels no remorse and she takes no other person’s feelings into account. Her viewpoint of Nick is unstable at best, with her being fully prepared to let him die, and then changing her mind when he apologizes on television to her. Amy also exhibits a disturbing capacity for self-harm in the name of achieving her goals. She bleeds herself out, hits herself repeatedly, and gives herself wounds consistent with rape to ensure that her story is fool-proof. While some of these traits might not be directly linked to symptoms of psychopathy, neither should they go ignored.
The question then becomes, how did her disorder affect her life, and the lives of those around her? One obvious example of this is Nick Dunne. Amy and Nick both state that they have made each other miserable, but looking strictly at how Amy has impacted Nick, she has caused him an immense amount of emotional and psychological pain. More examples of Amy’s impact on others are the people she has framed for horrible crimes, such as the man she framed for rape when he no longer complied with her view of how things should be.
Antisocial personality disorders are complex. According to this course’s book, individuals with antisocial personality disorders are described as, “people with antisocial personality disorder, however, do not seem to have a moral compass. These individuals act as though they neither have a sense of nor care about right or wrong. Not surprisingly, these people represent a serious problem for others and for society in general.” Those with antisocial personality disorder, sometimes referred to as psychopaths, are individuals who have no sense of right or wrong, lack empathy, lack remorse, and tend to manipulate and harm those in their path. On the surface, they can appear charming, clever, and fun to be around, but this façade eventually falls to reveal the person underneath. These are all traits that Amy exhibits to the extreme throughout the movie.
To bring up another point of reference, the NHS website has a list of symptoms that point toward antisocial personality disorder. Listed below, the bolded are symptoms that Amy exhibits throughout the movie, as discussed above.
• exploit, manipulate or violate the rights of others
• lack concern, regret or remorse about other people's distress
• behave irresponsibly and show disregard for normal social behavior
• have difficulty sustaining long-term relationships
• be unable to control their anger
• lack guilt, or not learn from their mistakes
• blame others for problems in their lives
• repeatedly break the law
Treatments for antisocial personality disorders are less researched than treatments for other disorders, such as borderline personality disorder. Because of this, less is known about what treatments do and don’t work for those with this disorder. However, research has shown that talk therapy can be effective. In the case of Amy Dunne, her disorder has gone—as far as the audience knows—completely undiagnosed and completely untreated. The likelihood that she would seek out treatment is also very doubtful.
Unfortunately, not much is known about the root source of antisocial personality disorders. One website (mentalhealth.gov) states that: “Cause of antisocial personality disorder is unknown. Genetic factors and environmental factors, such as child abuse, are believed to contribute to the development of this condition. People with an antisocial or alcoholic parent are at increased risk. Far more men than women are affected. The condition is common among people who are in prison.” Given this, it is more difficult to tell when and where Amy’s disorder began to emerge. The audience is made aware that Amy was manipulating and framing people even in her teens, but there is little else to go on. It is possible that her parents’ fictional book character, Amazing Amy, and how she would never live up to this fictional version of herself, might have helped trigger some of the behaviors she exhibits in her adulthood.
Ultimately, Amy Dunne’s character remains a complex female antagonist in a film where no one is really a hero. She turned a revenge fantasy into a reality, and the actions she takes, the thoughts she narrates, evoke a sense of discomfort and horror in the watcher as they observe her destroy the life of the man she married. Whether Amy Dunne is a good example of a female psychopath or not, can be left up to the real psychologists. At the end of watching this movie, all that is left is the feeling that these two people deserve each other. After all, that’s marriage.
“The Strengths of the Gone Girl Psychopath.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-matters-most/201410/the-strengths-the-gone-girl-psychopath.
NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder/.
Duca, Lauren. “A Psychiatrist Weighs In On 'Gone Girl'.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 3 Oct. 2014, www.huffpost.com/entry/amy-gone-girl-psychiatrist_n_5922842.
“Antisocial Personality Disorder.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/intl/conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder.
National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). “INTERVENTIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER AND ASSOCIATED SYMPTOMS AND BEHAVIOURS.” Antisocial Personality Disorder: Treatment, Management and Prevention., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK55350/.
“Antisocial Personality Disorder.” Antisocial Personality Disorder | MentalHealth.gov, www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/personality-disorders/antisocial-personality-disorder.