Contains spoilers for Gone Girl & Before I Go To Sleep!
The message that recent movies seem to be suggesting is that the successful everyday woman… is insane. What, with the pressure of a career, a marriage, and children, she must be crazy. Women with it all couldn’t really be stable could they? In 2010, striving to be the “perfect” prima ballerina drove Nina Sayers mad in Black Swan. A cheating fraudster of a husband led Jasmine French to a nervous breakdown in Blue Jasmine (2013). The same pressures took their toll on the life of Christine Lucas in this year’s Before I go to Sleep, and now David Fincher’s latest drama Gone Girl features a brilliantly designed plot twist which toys with our perceptions of the married modern woman.
Each of these characters, whether losing control of their career, relationship, or their sanity, seem to have a particular space in which they “allow” themselves to fall apart. These characters allow the chaos within their mind to control their thoughts and actions, but only once we see that the mask of composure has been let down. There is a definite pattern here, and that is the three aspects of life which confine these women to their unhappy lives: men, work and family.
So what does this say about society’s view of the modern, successful woman? It tells us that they are trapped, and on one side of the story, that these characters aren’t entirely to blame for their behaviour. Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) is Gone Girl’s unexpected psychopath. We see her transcend from a normal, perhaps slightly begrudged woman (though this seems irrelevant) to a completely different person altogether. Amy Dunne becomes a monster, as writer Gillian Flynn creates a fraudulent, deceptive sociopath who thrives upon revenge and the emotional destruction of her partners.
David Fincher directs a film intensely focused upon the difficulties of marriage. His critical analysis of the relationship status is dressed up as the psychological demise of Amy Dunne, who leaves the audience wondering whether she was mentally sound in the first place. Christine Lucas (Before I go to Sleep) is in a similar situation. She accepts that her life is devoid of meaning, order and reason. She lives by her captor’s rules, until she is reminded of her son. When she re-discovers that she had a baby, Christine is given a drive and her goal is to fullfil her role as a mother, and frees herself from his clutches. Black Swan’s Nina lives a life governed by her controlling mother, from whom she is desperate to be rid of, whereas Jasmine’s husband is to blame for turning her life (and consequently her sanity) upside down.
Amy Dunne is highly intelligent, there’s no doubt about it; such a cleverly contrived escape plan could not have been executed by someone short of a genius. After revealing that her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) was unfaithful and cheated on her, the audience are left half-hoping that her intention to frame her husband succeeds. However once the media have the story in their grasp, it becomes clear that Nick’s fate is the death penalty. This leaves viewers questioning Amy’s moral compass and, in turn, her rationale. In Before I go to Sleep, Christine’s narrative leads her to a transformation, as does that of Nina and Jasmine. On one side, the women of psychological dramas are portrayed as the vulnerable party; victims in their relationships. However, after watching Gone Girl, it isn’t all too clear who is in the wrong.
These films look at the reality of taking on too much, and the devastating effects of the strained relationships and over-bearing responsibilities that today’s women endure. Whether resulting in a full mental breakdown or death, today’s psychological drama portrays a woman who is pushed to the limit by the surrounding pressures of work, the strain of children, and the difficulty of marriage. True or not, it’s a mantra for the times in which we live.