What Makes Amy Elliot Dunne Tick?
7 Clues

Amy Elliot Dunne is a seriously troubled young woman. Rosamund Pike’s nuanced and chilling performance, in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, does her troubles justice. Yet, can we merely write her off as an unredeemable sociopath? If we follow some clues to what drove her to do what she did – is it even remotely possible to find a bit of sympathy?

Clue 1: Traumatic Childhood

Trauma comes in many forms. Amy’s trauma is this: she’s never as good as Amazing Amy, her parent’s fictional daughter. “Never as good as.” That’s crushing to a child. Now, she watches for this everywhere. Expecting it. Hiding her fears beneath a beautiful, cool, veneer. Untouchable: because Amazing Amy is what Amy is supposed to be and, in her parent’s eyes, never really is.

Clue 2:  Can’t Complain: Can She?

How can she possibly complain?  They’ve given her everything money can buy, plus a trust fund. Let’s not mention that these self-absorbed parents blow their money and take hers back. She never shows her anger … in fact, she isn’t really in touch with it. She thinks she has it all under control. She was invisible to her parents. Now she makes her feelings invisible. Gone.

Clue 3:  Girl Already Gone

From childhood, she’s played her part well. Good loving daughter. Who takes a backseat to Amazing Amy. Does what’s asked of her. She banishes her neediness. And. she banishes her anger. Amy just smiles. She’s Cool Girl. That’s what she wants to be. Yes, that’s what she is.  That is … until she allows herself to fall in love.

Clue 4:  Meets Boy & Doesn’t Trust Love

My God I really like you, Amy gasps when she meets Nick, as if it’s a bad sign. And, it is – to someone who has no reason to believe she’ll be loved. To keep Nick (Ben Affleck), she now must become Cool Girl and Cool Wife. Yet, she’s always watching for signs that he doesn’t love her enough. And, of course, the signs are there to be found (or imagined) if Amy tries hard enough.

Clue 5: Builds Case Against Love

Amy finds plenty of evidence. He doesn’t get her anniversary clues. Or say what he’s supposed to when they lose their jobs. When he’s himself – not mirroring her – that’s when the trouble starts. In Missouri, she finds signs she’s not wanted: Nick’s happy to be home, but I don’t know if he’s happy I’m with him.  I’m something … disposable. I feel like I could disappear. Just like she felt as a child.

Clue 6:  Loses Love & Proves Her Case

But, Amy needs Nick. She goes to meet him at The Bar. He walks out with another woman. As she watches, he touches this woman’s lips before he kisses her, the same special way he touched hers on their first date. That thing she thought was theirs alone. She’s not special. That’s what sends her over the edge.

This time she disappears with malicious purpose. The anger she’s buried is now in full force. Nick Dunne took my pride from me – my hope, and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed. That’s murder. Let the punishment fit the crime. He’s become her parents.

Clue 7: Murder Controls Rejection

Jealousy rears its most extreme, pathological, and ugly head. She will destroy him (and her parents), just as they destroyed her faith in love and in herself. No one else will have what she can’t. It’s either desperation or murder. She won’t feel desperate, so murder wins. But, when Nick televises his profession of love –the hungry, desperate little girl inside her wants to believe him. When she comes home, though, she’s face to face with what she’s always most feared: he doesn’t really want her.

Is There Help For Someone Like Amy?

If I had Amy Elliot Dunne on my analytic couch, I’d help her with all the banished feelings underneath her sociopathic behavior: her need for love; her panic when she can’t get it; her anger at those who’ve betrayed her trust.

But, first, Amy would have to know she needs help. That’s what makes someone redeemable. Sadly, in her mind, it’s all Nick’s fault. And, right now, possessing him is her only alternative to the unbearable pain of being unwanted. She holds her husband hostage. They’ll live a fake life, as she always has – another form of murder.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at sandracohenphd@gmail.com to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.