The Mask of Femininity and David Fincher’s Gone Girl

Curator's Note

In “The Signification of the Phallus,” Jacques Lacan writes that: "Paradoxical as this formula might seem . . . it is in order to be the phallus— that is, the signifier of the Other’s desire—that a woman rejects an essential part of femininity, namely, all its attributes in the masquerade. It is for what she is not that she expects to be desired as well as loved . . . femininity finds refuge in this mask, by virtue of the verdrängung [repression] inherent in desire’s phallic mark." This fundamental principle of Lacanian psychoanalysis, which is derived from Joan Riviere’s 1929 essay, “Womanliness as a Masquerade,” is illustrated in David Fincher’s recent film, Gone Girl. Within the first and third section of the film, Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike) appears in the guise of the phallic masquerade of femininity. She is flawlessly coiffed, dressed, accessorized, and in ideal, physical shape. However, in the second section of the film in which the story follows Amy into hiding, her appearance alters significantly. Now, Amy, who is truly a gone girl, no longer fixes her hair or wears makeup. She dyes her hair a flat, mousy grey brown and binges on junk food—willful and purposeful signifiers of Amy’s rejection of the demands of the Phallo-Symbolic order for a feminine appearance. And although Amy ultimately appears again in the phallic appearance of feminine masquerade, she does so only as means to an end, in order to effectively seduce Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) whom she intends to murder and frame for her kidnapping. By playing fast and loose with her appearance throughout the narrative of Gone Girl— taking the mask of femininity off and putting it on as it suits her—the character of Amy Elliot Dunne suggests a liberative potential in femininity as a masquerade. She reminds us à la Judith Butler that gender is merely a construction, but at the same time, and as the film also emphasizes, it is a construction in which we still seem deeply invested even twenty-five years after the publication of Butler’s Gender Trouble. For Amy is only able to secure Desi’s help by appeasing his demands that she “start looking like herself again” i.e. dye her hair, lose weight, dress sexy and wear makeup.


Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.