Library Dissertation Showcase

Who is The Cool Girl? An investigation into Amy Dunne and The Cool Girl trope

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

In this dissertation, I explore and evaluate who The Cool Girl is. The phrase “The Cool Girl” was coined in Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl (Fincher, 2012). The book rights were almost immediately acquired by Reese Witherspoon’s film production company (Pacific Standard) and 20th Century Fox bought the screen rights to Gone Girl, for US$1.5 million. Flynn adapted the novel for screen herself, with David Fincher as director. Both book and film caused much scholarly and critical debate. Was the protagonist, Amy Dunne, a misogynistic representation? Was she a feminist icon? My thesis is that The Cool Girl is a fantasy that proposes impossible expectations for young women.

On the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne goes missing. Nick Dunne, her husband, becomes the primary suspect. As the investigation continues, we are shown flashbacks of Amy and Nick’s relationship. This will be referred to as Diary Amy’s voice and narrative. Nick is revealed to be having an affair on Amy and committing other indiscretions. Amy is finally revealed to have been pregnant when she disappeared. Although all is not as it seems. Upon discovering the affair and feeling as if she has been used, Amy had concocted a plan to seek her revenge on Nick. The plan includes faking a pregnancy, with the final goal of Nick being put in jail for Amy’s murder and possibly getting the death sentence. Amy has runaway to a camp in the Ozarks while the media have caught hold of the story and now the investigation has become a national interest. When she is robbed of her remaining money, Amy calls her high school boyfriend Desi Collings to help her, though the situation is not much better with Desi. In the meanwhile, Nick goes on national tv to appeal and apologise to Amy. Amy sees this: kills Desi and returns to Nick. The film ends with Nick and Amy announcing they are expecting a child. For the first half of the narrative Amy is an unreliable narrator. The revelation that she is alive and exacting her revenge on her husband informs how Amy’s rage has originated from years of being the victim of patriarchal oppression, as I will show in my analysis.

I employed a methodology based on the analysis and interpretation of moving image texts. I use academic texts and textual analysis when discussing noir films and the femme fatale, to give an understanding of how they influence Gone Girl and Amy. Textual analysis is based on the use of semiotics and narrative. I use Hesmondhalgh’s approach to discourse and content analysis (2006) when investigating the femme fatale trope and noir films. My investigation uses notable case studies of Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944) and Basic Instinct (Verhoeven, 1992). This film-based research along with textual analysis is used in understanding and analysing Amy Dunne. This supports the academic writing which explores who The Cool Girl is. As Gripsrud discusses in Semiotics: signs, codes and cultures, “we identify the world, and then we link or associate this phenomenon with important events: global significance” (Gripsrud, 2006, p. 16). This supports the primary research used in chapter three of wider non-academic literature. These inform the general societal consciousness and social awareness of The Cool Girl character trope and its impact on everyday life. I concluded with a further case study of Jennifer Lawrence, in chapter three, to assess how The Cool Girl persona is viewed in celebrity culture.

My dissertation is organised in three main chapters and a conclusion section. Chapter one examines the history and evolution of the femme fatale: a female character typical of the noir genre, like Amy. Chapter two interrogates the character of Amy, paying particular attention to themes of expectation and self-creation, as well as her now infamous “Cool Girl” monologue. Chapter three explores The Cool Girl in a wider context, how she is depicted within other film genres and how she stands as a persona within in celebrity culture.

Concluding my dissertation examines the evolution in female character representation, and how Amy has originated from years of female character evolution. In my analysis, I adopt a feminist perspective to understand how patriarchal cultural consciousness is reflected in films being created. The Cool Girl monologue is the turning point in explaining Amy’s drive and motivations. I conclude that The Cool Girl is a male fantasy of women, a form of patriarchal oppression which lives on outside of the cinematic universes.

Please Note: Some images in Appendices removed due to copyright of film image stills.

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