(A fair warning, there are spoilers for Gone Girl and Midsommar, so if you’d rather be surprised, don’t read ahead!)
Not long ago, I read Gone Girl, devouring it in a couple of days and immediately watching the movie, which was just as good, and I can now admit that I am one of those people who support the character of Amy Dunne, psychotic as she might be. I was the same way when I watched Dani as she witnessed, with a smile on her face, I might add, her boyfriend burned alive in a cultish festival at the end of Midsommar. And I’m not the only one—countless people feel the same way about these films, the ones where despite some dubious (okay, insane) actions, the woman comes out on top. In fact, this trope is so popular it has been dubbed the “good for her cinematic universe”, with a number of other films being added to this growing list. So, what is it about this trope that is so appealing, and why is there such a market for it? Sure, who doesn’t like to see the underdog woman end up the hero, but why are we often willing to overlook their unfounded motives or blatantly wrong actions as long as they’re successful?
Gone Girl has been so wildly popular that I’m convinced half the population knows the “Cool Girl” monologue by heart. Anyone can recognize that Amy is an incredibly flawed character, she literally plots her husband’s death because of their failing marriage and his affair. By the end of the movie’s events, the audience is supposed to have completely turned against Amy, realizing what a monster she is especially because she is the one who ends up winning, keeping her marriage intact with the promise of a baby, a cruel trick on her husband Nick. And yet, so many of us, myself included, felt good about that ending, rooted for Amy, were glad that she ultimately “won” the game. Nick’s character also makes us feel like we owe it to Amy to hope he gets what he deserves—I found him insufferable, and the reality of his affair has the effect of turning us against him. Their character’s are brilliantly written; Amy appears so complex and victimized, and Nick appears completely thoughtless and uncaring. Put in that sort of situation, it’s almost guaranteed we would side with Amy. Amy could easily be described as the villain by the end of Gone Girl, but I’d go so far as to say that few really agree with that, even if it is the most likely answer. We might agree that she could have just filed for devorce, but where’s the fun in that? The sheer genius of her plan simply cannot be ignored, and audiences are left to feel a little sympathetic but ultimately satisfied with the ending.
In Midsommar, Dani’s story is much different than Amy’s—she’s actually experienced severe trauma, and it might be argued that her boyfriend’s death isn’t directly her fault and she was brainwashed. While this is true in some sense, it doesn’t take away from the fact that she goes from having no control to controlling the entirety of her narrative, a feat audiences applaud her for. Just like Nick, Christain is a really poor character, refusing to tell Dani the truth and break up with her just because he feels sorry for her, and in my opinion, feels sorry for himself. Also like Nick, he can be selfish and is unfaithful, which we see clearly as their group’s time at the festival progresses. Dani’s dependence on him fuels his ego just as much as it annoys him, so as Dani gains individuality and realizes what kind of person he is, we root for her growing strength and his destruction. As the audience, we can see things that Dani can’t in her current mental state, and this dramatic irony is what makes the film both so compelling and so satisfying when Christain meets his end and Dani is crowned May Queen. I think much of audiences’ positive reaction towards Dani is a result of the shock value of the film (this movie is crazy) but that’s part of her story. We’re convinced that Christain has gotten what was coming to him, which blurs out a lot of Dani’s own character flaws, and the simplicity of how her character treats trauma is actually what makes her so complicated. Subsequently, audiences are left to feel semi-conflicted and still commend Dani, similarly to the ending of Gone Girl. Which might be attributed to the fact that there’s no one left or that they’re simply so confused by this film that they don’t know what to think, but for the sake of this argument, that’s not nearly as relevant.
Maybe there’s an underlying feminist agenda in these movies and maybe we like to see the flawed men of these stories get what they deserve, but regardless of those facts, anyone can recognize the inherent cleverness of these filmmakers and writers in creating female characters who defy typical stereotypes. These women are far from normal, they’re the ultimate Cool Girls in control of their own narratives and audiences respond to that. Enjoying and rooting for these characters in no way means that their actions are okay, but their complexity makes them fascinating. It’s also worth mentioning that in these movies in particular, Amy and Dani are victims, and this complex has time and time again produced results in film, sympathy has a way of making people glossing over some pretty extreme character faults.This trope will remain one of my favorites, and I think that it’s refreshing to see films like these gain such following and support from their viewers. I love that the crazier and more extreme these women’s plots are, somehow we always just shake our heads and say “good for her.”