2014: Cyborg vs. Psycho
Two major features of 2014 explore the tales of women escaping men told from opposite perspectives. Violence is utilised to combat the abusive relationships they are held in, while in the midst of “girlboss feminism” the women reject the heteronormative ideals of femininity thrust upon them. David Fincher’s Gone Girl tells the story of Amy Dunne who, upon discovering he is having an affair, frames her husband for her own murder and flees. Ex Machina follows Caleb who is hired to test a new artificial intelligence, named Ava. She (despite being a robot is gendered from the start, but that is another essay) manipulates Caleb and her creator using her learned charm and feminine power until she is able to kill them and escape. Starting out as victims, these women manipulate the men around them to seek justice for themselves.
Both characters comprise artificial parts which were influenced by men, Ava literally being built from scratch while Amy has taken on physical and mental traits to appear desirable. She is arguably less than human, or lacks humanity, in that she is calculating and even psychotic in her actions, her predictions and her conclusions. With this in mind, both “women” possess an uncanny quality, and are the technical embodiment of perfection, at a price to themselves and those around them. In order to survive, they establish their own rules separate from that of society, they know how to use emotion without feeling it but only as a result of being manipulated themselves. The violence is deemed necessary in order to escape a violent situation, which is softened by the viewpoints of both tales. Amy as protagonist and narrator explains her actions and motivations, giving a sense of satisfaction when she succeeds. Though Ava is not the main hero from the start, Caleb’s view, affection and even pity for her is a gateway to her taking over the narrative. Amy and Ava (it is hard not to point out the similarities in their names too) are examples of multifaceted womanhood, playing both protagonist and villain. What makes them more endearing is how little they care about their perceived image.
Ex Machina and Gone Girl also share similar colour scenes and style of mise-en-scène. The tones are unsaturated yet sharp, both depressed and charged, giving the impression of a dark world penetrated by violence and cyberspace, futuristic while grounded in a version of reality. Ava is literally caged in until the final scene, and Amy is shown mostly indoors before her runaway to the anonymous countryside. They are also both shown confronting their captors in wide shots, and seen on the left which connotes sin, or weakness with the right being the stronger side. Their presentation of femininity varies, however, with Amy utilising her hair as a valuable asset, cutting it off and dyeing it brown from her honey blonde in rebellion as well as in disguise. Ava is not seen with any hair at first but emerges by the end wearing a wig to blend into society, and possibly affirm her new identity to herself. Both films, therefore, do suggest hair to be vital in building femininity, and yet are removable or editable parts of a person.
The finales of these two films differ in that Ava kills her captors but Amy reels her husband back in, establishing herself as master. These offerings of two potential solutions for women in captivity (literal or otherwise) assert that you either die a victim or live to become the aggressor. These ends arrived at from alternative means may propose the futility of women aiming for revolution without damage, and the inevitability of gender conflict. Perhaps they would make an interesting team in some kind of alternative comic book franchise; Reddit users could surely debate for days on who would win in a chess match. These interesting contributions to cinema balance contemporary life with dystopia, answering common social worries, yet alone hold together as provocative stories of the experience of involuntary femininity.