UG Film 17/18 Dissertation 6CINE002 Jordan Gosling [email protected] and Psychopathy in Contemporary American Cinema.In this dissertation I will aim to analyse and investigate the use of misogyny and psychopathy in contemporary American cinema. I will do this by exploring three films in particular (Gone Girl 2014 dir. David Fincher, Black Swan 2010 dir. Darren Aronofsky and Leave Her To Heaven 1945 dir. John M. Stahl) as I feel that these films all have similarities and differences in regards to their misogynistic view and their psychopathic protagonists. Misogyny is defined as the hatred of, contempt for or prejudice against females, whether adult or children. It can be shown in numerous different ways including social exclusion, patriarchism, sexual discrimination, objectification, violence etc. Misogyny is prominent in these films, and whilst the themes of constant misogyny run through the narratives, they also affect the protagonists and antagonists of the stories. These characters seem to either be a product of the rampant misogyny, or are already mentally unstable. This brings me to the topic of psychopathy. The psychopath is an important character role in the contemporary cinematic world, they add a layer of uncertainty and spontaneity to the narrative around them. A psychopath is determined a psychopath via their score on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. This checklist is rated on a scale of 40, and if someone scores above 30 they are subject to diagnosis of psychopathy. A psychopath can feature a multitude of traits including, a lack of empathy, no sense of remorse, egoism, diminished responsibility, narcissism, superficial charm, promiscuity etc. I will be using these traits that are included in this checklist to relate to female protagonists within my chosen films and analysing whether or not they exhibit these interconnected states of mental instability. There is a theme of a hidden psychopath that runs through these narratives, mainly in Gone Girl and Leave Her To Heaven. The idea of a hidden psychopath is quite relevant when comparing these films, as the unstable characters seem to be able to hide their volatility throughout the narratives. Typically, a psychopath is gendered as a male, and with this comes aggression, abuse, jealousy etc for instance Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000 dir. Mary Harron). This type of psychopath is what we typically imagine when we think of what a psychopath is, however the films that I have chosen seem to subvert this traditional gender trope. Female psychopaths have been shown in film before, however when we think about these characters we think about their emotional instability and their lost of rationality, when in comparison the male psychopath seems to be cold, calculating and in control. However, in the examples I have chosen, specifically Gone Girl, Amy embodies the prototypical male psychopath. It could be argued that she is forced into this role of a psychopath and that her behaviour is reactive to the patriarchy of Nick, but the way that she responds to his maltreatment is completely over the top and very extreme to the point that she becomes a murderer, which in turn is psychopathic. This dissertation will investigate the correlation between misogyny and psychopathy, and raise the question whether psychopathy is a reaction to the misogyny of the narrative, a product of circumstance or if the female protagonists are just inherently psychopathic. The first film I will be analysing is David Fincher’s Gone Girl. It is the story of a seemingly perfect marriage, that is shown to the outside world as flawless and ideal and how it suddenly comes crashing down when Amy disappears on the Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband, Nick becomes a suspect and police assume she has been murdered by him, the resulting pressure from the police builds and leads the audience to question who Nick and Amy really are. I will be discussing the mental instability and psychopathy of Amy, whilst also investigating the misogynistic and patriarchal views of the narrative, raising the question are Amy’s actions a product of circumstance, or of her psychopathy. I chose to analyse Gone Girl because of the effort it goes towards portraying Amy’s behaviour as a product of Nick’s misogyny – instilled to him by his father – and her misandry towards him, towards the end of the film we discover that this is not the case, and that Amy’s actions are calculated and completely psychopathic in nature, from her manipulativeness to committing first degree murder. Nick Dunne is one of two narrators of Gone Girl, the other being Amy. Nick is portrayed as intelligent and successful, writing for a men’s magazine in New York. He meets Amy and subsequently falls deeply in love with her, he admires her ingenuity and seems loyal to her and only her. However, Nick is an insecure and very reliant on both Amy and the other women in his life that he has forced relationships with. He compartmentalises his emotions and true feelings due to his abusive childhood with his father, meaning Nick is subservient to whomever shows him love and affection, in this case Amy. Nick over compensates and obeys due to his weak manhood, which leads to his affair, he struggles with a real sense of identity and masculinity, and whilst he is compliant, he is rarely truthful to the women in his life. Amy however, is the cool, popular girl that has everything from wealth to success. She is the inspiration for her parents’ line of children’s books about a perfect girl who can overcome any obstacle. The high standards set by Amy’s parents in the books made Amy yearn to be as perfect as her book twin, this forced Amy to manipulate her surrounding environments to become the faultless, Amazing Amy. Striving for such perfection led Amy to resent her parents, and they are the people that she wants to hurt most (along with Nick) with her disappearance. The relationship between these two characters is what carries and forms the narrative, they rely on each other but they have extremely reactive personalities with one another. Both Nick and Amy are seen to put up pretenses, and the volatility of their identities affect their interactions with each other, which consequently affects the other’s facade of a personality. For example, when Nick is playing the ‘cool guy’ that Amy describes in her diary, (and the one she initially fell in love with) Amy becomes the ‘cool girl’, a masquerade of her true self. But when she does become the true Amy, Nick responds by also becoming real; disinterested, apathetic, failure Nick. This creates a stalemate in their relationship, which neither of them are happy about, thus leading to the affair and the later disappearance of Amy. Fincher’s Gone Girl begins with a rather macabre monologue by Nick Dunne, revealing the genre of the film and his feelings towards Amy: “when I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: what are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” This opening speech alludes to the suggestion that Nick is the true enemy of this film. With Amy’s disappearance, us as the audience are already thinking that Nick is to blame, and to add to this inherent accusation we are shown Nick’s affair with a student as well as his derogatory comments about Amy whilst speaking to his sister. The narration of the film is continued by Amy, who paints a picture of a loyal and loving wife controlled by the misogynistic, hateful Nick. We are intricately and carefully led through the film via Amy’s narration, and through the scenes we are shown of Nick, as the audience we come to believe that Nick must have murdered his wife, we are told he did not enjoy his marriage, and we are shown he is not faithful, suggesting that his only way to escape and live how he wants to is via the death of Amy. Beginning with the insistence of Nick’s desire to leave Amy, his clear lowly view of women, and ranging to hard forensic evidence. This narrative gives the viewer a limited set of conclusions, all leading to the tragic murder of his perfect wife. The film continues as the media start to pick up on the case, Nick’s attitude and subservience changes, he becomes the happy, cool and flirty man that Amy had once described in her diary. This is a contrast of how the audience would assume a loving husband to act after the disappearance of his beloved wife. However, the twist of Gone Girl is where we learn what kind of character Amy really is. The narrative flips on its head and everything we have been told about Amy is a well constructed, perfectly orchestrated scheme by the manipulative Amy. Manipulability is one of the defining traits of psychopathy, especially when committed to the extent that Amy does. The real Amy is an antisocial, conniving mastermind whose life goal is to remain ahead of everybody else. She longs to be the Amazing Amy her parents had written about, and via her disappearance and the sensationalism surrounding it, she does just that. During Fincher’s Gone Girl “we get an incredible, realistic portrait of a devious, manipulative, and revengeful character.” During the description of Amy’s master plan, we are given an insight into her true self, an entry into the psychopathic, meticulous mind of Amy Dunne. Female psychopathy is widely regarded as under researched when comparing it to male psychopathy, and while there is a scarcity of research into the subject, studies have shown that there are key differences between genders. Further, the behavioural expression of the disorder is likely to differ across gender with females showing more emotional and verbal violence as well as relational manipulation, and, to a lesser degree than males, criminal behaviour and physical violence. Gone Girl captures the interpersonal elements of female psychopathy via Amy. As mentioned earlier, the viewer is inclined to believe that Nick is the enemy of the narrative, and that Amy is the victim. This is shown to us via Amy’s recounting of events and her life in her diary. One of the key moments of the film both for the narrative and the audience is where we find that the information in the diary is not only false, but has been completely and scrupulously fabricated by Amy. Interpersonality is a vital component of psychopathy, there are significant traits which include: glibness, superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulative behavior, shallowness and a lack of remorse or empathy. These traits coupled with Amy’s intelligence is what allowed her to create such a convincing web of lies, from the diary all the way up to her return to Nick, she is constantly a step ahead and has thought about every possible outcome. Female psychopaths tend to be less physically aggressive and are more likely to be emotionally aggressive or relationally aggressive which is a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status—and it’s different from the type of aggression (typically, physical) that males show each other. Relational aggression tends to be more subtle and manipulative. This is exactly how Amy acts towards Nick throughout the narrative, her goal is to make Nick the enemy, and to damage his relationships with his sister and society, and she achieves just that. Amy’s entrapment and incrimination of Nick is also inherently psychopathic. Research has been made into the diverseness of psychopathy by presenting primary and secondary variants. Primary psychopaths have been conceptualized as having callous, calculating, deceitful and manipulative behaviour, whereas secondary psychopaths tend to have a more neurotic base that makes the sufferer more impulsive and irresponsible. Amy exhibits more traits from the primary psychopath pool, we can see this through her plan. Her plan is detailed and instrumental and she has a multitude of moments during its design and during its process to react morally on its consequences, or to consider what will happen to Nick. Because of this lack of morality or remorse, she exhibits the formative symptomology of a primary psychopath. Robert Hare’s PCL-R also details that the lifestyle components of psychopathy include sexual promiscuity, impulsivity, irresponsibility and parasitic lifestyle. Amy exhibits many of these features as we begin to learn more about her through the narrative. For example, we are told that she has been involved in multiple sexual relationships which have all dissolved with her attempting to ruin the reputation and lives of her partners. She shows her parasitic side as the narrative progresses when she emotionally manipulates her ex-boyfriend to materially provide for her whilst in hiding. Amy displays the traits of a primary psychopath, she does not show signs of impulsivity or spontaneity, her behaviour is instrumental, attentive and intentional. We can see this attentiveness and planning taken to extremes towards the ending of the film, where Amy performs a series of unsettling actions climaxing with the murder of her materially supportive, infatuated ex-boyfriend. This area of the film is quite controversial in terms of female psychopathy, due to the violent behaviour that Amy shows, this would usually be seen on a male psychopath and it could be suggested that Amy is becoming an amalgamation of the male and female psychopaths. There is also the antisocial component of psychopathy. This tends to include violence displays, juvenile misconduct and criminal versatility. These traits are difficult to relate and establish with Amy as the only evidence of these are shown in a series of flashbacks, showing her former relationships. Meaning that juvenile misconduct cannot truly be evaluated due to no evidence of this being shown. However, it is clear that Amy has the potential of both criminal versatility and violence displays, ranging from things like fraud and as mentioned earlier, murder. Research suggests that the latter behaviour, and also extreme violence of this nature is rare in female psychopaths. For example female psychopaths displayed fewer acts of physical violence but tend to show a more relational form of aggression characterized by jealousy, self-harm, manipulation, and verbal aggression. However, other researchers have contended that instrumental violence (in response to relational violence) is an important feature of female psychopathy. Amy as a character manifests a lot of the key symptoms of psychopathy and offers the viewer a true illustration of the disorder.