Developing a suitable antagonist is a critical component of any great story, especially in the world of screenwriting. A film can’t be told without a proper antagonist. Whether it’s a fantasy antagonist in the Joker or Darth Vader, or a realistic antagonist such as a middle school bully, it is crucial to the story.
Thus, it becomes a great challenge for any screenwriter to develop an antagonist that audiences find interesting. That interest is what causes the success of any script, making it a heavy focus from writers across the board. Thankfully, there are plenty of great antagonists to examine, including the antagonists of the 2014 film Gone Girl.
Gone Girl follows the story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). With his wife's disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, Nick sees the spotlight turned on him when it's suspected that he may not be innocent. Led by David Fincher’s direction, Gone Girl is a masterful film that showcases the use of a hidden antagonist.
Still from 'Gone Girl'. Photo credit: The New York Times
The most significant advantage of a story like Gone Girl is it being a mystery. It becomes a constant wonder of who the antagonist is, where Amy had gone or what happened, and Nick’s involvement. As the story evolves, we see the initial interpretation of Amy being the victim is no longer the case.
Quickly recapping the story, Amy is the wife of Nick Dunne and disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, leaving Nick as the suspect. However, we eventually discover that Amy isn’t the innocent victim that she is believed to be. It becomes a slow mirage of thinking Nick, or someone else killed her, to us realizing she ran away, and eventually is a murderer herself.
Amy is a truly evil antagonist who is a total control freak with everything around her. Sure, Nick wasn’t a faithful husband, but no one deserves to be framed for a murder. Then, when Amy decides to return to her old life, she furthers the manipulation by framing the kidnapper as her ex-boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris).
The Use of a Hidden Antagonist
Also known as a hidden villain, a hidden antagonist is a character who isn’t revealed to be wrong until a certain point in the story. The big reveal, as screenwriters call it, otherwise known as a twist, leads to the drive of a hidden antagonist. Hidden antagonists are more challenging to create as a writer since it needs to be unpredictable for the most part.
It’s practically impossible to predict the true nature of Amy since Nick’s shortcomings, failures, and neglect are on display throughout the entire story. Rather than show an innocent, loving husband, the script goes the opposite route of having us think Nick is involved in Amy’s disappearance to a certain extent.
The misdirect can confuse the audience enough to think one thing, only for the big reveal to be significantly more impactful. It’s a fine line of having the audience go down one way, only for it to be the total opposite. In order for a proper hidden antagonist to work well, there needs to be a good misdirect to go along with it.
The Misdirection of Desi Collings
Given that Desi Collings shoes Nick away when he tries meeting with him, it becomes a wonder what he might have to do with Amy. Although we know of Amy’s original plan at this point, it’s still a great enough misdirect of wondering what Amy and Desi did to one another in the past.
Eventually, we learn that Desi is a wealthy former boyfriend who is obsessed with her. His wealth is a solution for Amy to live comfortably, with the knowledge that she staged her death because of Nick. However, the potential cover-up from Desi quickly turns out differently after Amy frames Desi as the one responsible for her disappearance.
What to Learn From The Antagonists Of Gone Girl
What Gone Girl does best is present an antagonist that you don’t know exists initially, feel empathy for, and eventually hate. The spectrum of emotions to the character is an example of an antagonist that every screenwriter can learn from. Regardless, below are a few key points you can learn from the antagonists of the film:
Characters Don’t Have to Be Likable
For whatever reason, there is an old film trope that characters need to be likable. No matter what you’re writing, if the audience doesn’t like the characters, they won’t like the story. Generally speaking, Gone Girl is an example of characters you do not like but is still a magnificent story. Not every script rule is correct.
Unpredictability is Key
The primary reason Gone Girl’s antagonist is such a success is because of its unpredictability. No one can predict the film’s ending, highlighting the success of misdirection, a great antagonist, and most importantly, the story at hand. It’s a constant mystery of wondering what’ll happen next.