While the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was released six years ago, the question of whether or not the movie depicts a proper and pessimistic portrayal of modern-day relationships is still up for debate. Gone Girl is misanthropic and representative, a chaos of contrasting narratives that highlight contentions from conforming to society’s standards, to healing from the wounds inflicted by bad parenting, to marriage taken to an absolute extreme. But most of all, it is an examination of romantic relationships through the media’s perspective, one which centers on the fundamental unknowability of the person you are dating.
Mass media, specifically social media, has made the world of relationships turn onto its back. Making connections in real life has proven much more difficult through the use of dating apps, and the ability to edit snippets of your life onto your Instagram feed pushes the narrative of never knowing who you are truly dating.
Why are we so drawn into dating and romance when we know most of it is malleable?
When Amy frames her cheating husband, Nick, for her murder, the two characters fight for the reader’s compassion, lying and manipulating each other through the media in order to survive. The Dunnes’ marital meltdown touches on a common problem in modern-day partnerships: we create a world that is entirely fictional and then spend our lives trying to live up to an unattainable ideal, specifically through the use of twisting media in your favour. So why are we so drawn into dating and romance when we know most of it is malleable?
For many, dating allows someone to imagine what their best self would look like. Dating is theatre; dating is putting on a show; dating is a game. We ask our best questions, tell our best stories, and present our best parts to declare we are worthy of attention.
One of the most famous lines from Gone Girl is Amy’s Cool Girl monologue, in which she describes the moral core of the novel. She discusses that in the beginning of her relationship she would make inauthentic attempts to earn validation from her boyfriend, putting in the utmost effort to conform to Nick’s tastes. And yet, he was still unfaithful.
“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way. Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your spouse, your soul mate, and having him not like you? We were happy pretending to be other people. We were the happiest couple we knew. But Nick got lazy. He became someone I didn’t agree to marry. He actually expected me to love him unconditionally.”
We were happy pretending to be other people.
A sliver of bona fide truth in Amy’s commentary shines through: romance is a projection. It is not a natural way of being, but rather a performance calculated to show those around you a false narrative. The majority of people have an image of what a happy relationship should look like, and where we inherit that image plays a large role in the nature of our relationships.
Assume your parents were a happy couple who shared good communication; your idea of what love looks like would most likely be healthy. If you grew up watching Adam Sandler movies, your idea of a girlfriend is one who often morphs herself into her husband’s dream man. Let’s take Grown Ups 2 as an example, where at the end of the movie, Adam’s wife puts her million-dollar fashion empire on hold for her husband to play around at a cottage with his buddies. And in There’s Something About Mary, Cameron Diaz is the It Girl and manages to only eat junk food while remaining a size 0, and just so happens to be into all of the same nerdy-comics and tropes her boyfriend is into.
Media alters our perception, unconscious or not; even if we aren’t happy, you pose for that photo and upload it to Facebook. Many are willing to go far to pretend they live the life they signed up for the day they agreed to be someone’s significant other—it all starts from the first few moments of meeting to the minute you post your first couple photo on Instagram. While our interest in romance and dating is not an unusual or modern concept, TV shows and movies like Gone Girl glorify staying in toxic relationships and hiding behind a mask to please those around you.
While social media claims to open the door for self-expression, in reality, it only boxes people in.
While romance is a source of motivation for most, in extreme cases, romance can become a source of terror. You never really know who you fall in love with, and regardless, social media can easily alter your perception of one another. If your spouse has a large number of followers, you realize that they are always interacting with people you barely know. These followers may have a completely different perception of your partner, and frankly, they may not even know you exist. It is no surprise then, as relationship guru Yasmin Elzomor notes, that young adults refrain now more than ever from getting into a serious entanglement. Elzomor thinks social media acts as a barricade to making real connections, claiming that realizing that what you see of a person online is not the whole truth may prevent someone from approaching a possible spouse, and can be a catalyst to some arguments.
While social media claims to open the door for self-expression, in reality, it only boxes people in. What someone wears and posts automatically ranks them into a specific category unconsciously. If they are the fraternity-type who only poses with a lot of girls, you immediately classify them as a player and not the settle-down type. If she rarely posts pictures, you might classify her as someone “too busy for social media,” therefore she’s stuck-up.
In Gone Girl, the media gives the characters an opportunity to take on and discard different personalities. In the beginning, Amy is seen as a frigid housewife, who refuses to mingle with her new neighbors. That is until the time of her disappearance, in which she paints herself as a victim of kidnapping and abuse. Nick, on the other hand, changes from cheating, play-boy husband to one overjoyed to find his wife happy and healthy. By the end of the film, both characters were so defined by their public image that there was no way for either of them to exit their relationship.
Gone Girl is an examination of marriage and relationships, the secrets we keep from each other as lovers, friends, and the power of the media to shape our perceptions. Social media and its influence make us question how well we know our closest relationships, and the truth is, we do not know them as well as we may think.