Dir. David Fincher
“But I entered this world hollering—an electric, neon, pink.” —Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
“I’m so crazy stupid happy,” writes Amy (Rosamund Pike)’s pink feathered pen, the character’s first line in Gone Girl. When the pen appears, it’s one of the few warm elements in the film’s bleak color palate (and footage of dilapidated buildings), a small burst of color that’s immediately suspect. Especially after the film’s opening where there is a brief meditation on what it might mean to feel through Amy’s brain matter “unspooled.”
Here are some things that I’ve learned about this pen:
1. You can buy it for eight dollars, which seems like a high price for a pen, and a low price for how much I hate looking at it. I hate at least sixty-five dollars out of an eight-dollar pen.
2. It appears to be the same pen that Alicia Silverstone used in Clueless, which is also an adaptation of a book.
3. It is also used in Legally Blonde which is not.
4. If you are looking for a more expensive version of a fluffy pen, Etsy has options, which fills me with more uneasiness than the box cutter scene in Gone Girl.
5. The pen isn’t an embellishment by director David Fincher, or an irony-happy props person either, it’s in author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn’s screenplay, the first sentence.
And it’s not the only ridiculous novelty pen that Amy owns; there’s also a miniature-bride-and groom pen, an apple pen, stork pen, they all mark chapters of the life that she’s trying to evoke in her diary entries, which start as fun and quirky, then sad, then disturbing, as they work to establish Amy as a loving wife who was likely murdered by her husband.
But why would anyone, especially a criminal mastermind, need those pens? No one reading the diary, which no one is even aware of, other than Amy, will know they existed. And despite the appearances of the feather and the bride and groom, Amy informs us the diary hasn’t been written in real time. She’s written about five years worth of entries in less than a year, which makes me crazy stupid jealous.
In an interview with Kurt Andersen, director David Fincher (12:36 minute mark) discussed that one of reasons why he cast Pike in the film was that he realized that she had been in four films that he’d seen; there was/is an ethereal quality in her performance.
That’s because a key part of the book and the film is that there isn’t just one Amy. There’s the Amy who is married to Nick, there is the Amy who details events that haven’t happened to her neighbor and her diary, there’s Amazing Amy who her parents have written about in a series of Y/A books, and is trotted out to promote those books.
Her rage at this compartmentalization of her identity, at Nick’s infidelity, is the most real, distinct thing about her—and it’s also a complete secret.
So why is this secret authored by a novelty pen?
What’s funny about the Clueless feather pen in the context of the film (if not life, thank you Etsy) is that it aspires to be a quill, perhaps something Jane Austen might have used. That, and it seems like part of a feather boa that’s run away. Cher eventually discovers who she is, or at least who her Mr. Knightly is, through writing in her diary. Amy’s story, written with the same pen, is fiction, except she reveals that the earliest lines in the diary—including “I’m so crazy stupid happy”—are true. Like the demon in the Exorcist who will “mix truth with lies,” Amy depends on these truths to boost the credibility of what happens later in the diary.
Would there be any better way to method-act these lines than by using a writing instrument of a dizzy protagonist? Humbert Humbert, an equally fatalistic and manipulative diarist posits that “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style” if not a fancy pen itself. And when he writes that, it’s hard to think of the person writing that notorious line as clunking along with a boring ballpoint, even if the author of the book he’s in is filling out lines like this in a series of notecards with said ballpoint.
The other defining aspect of these pens is that they’re marked for death. Once unburdened by Nick, and enjoying her status as a missing person, Amy takes her novelty pens with her and flings them out the window one by one, in a deliberate fashion that seems neither spontaneous nor anguished (the same way she hits herself in the face with a hammer). By the time that Amy has put up her post-it dotted calendar with the monthly reminder “Kill Self?”, she’s using a plain red felt tip.
There’s always aspiration in novelties, the I♥︎NY t-shirts, the “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers, bridge-and-groom pens—these all mark accomplishments. Someone who notices them can share their memories or impressions of those events.
But these tchotchkes also show vulnerability: Citizen Kane‘s major revelation (spoiler: childhood is a precious thing) comes in the form of a snow globe, let slip from the powerful magnate’s hand. And novelties in themselves are an attempt to remember what that specific moment was. We can’t always be climbing Mt. Washington, in our car or otherwise, we don’t necessarily remember what it’s really like, and no one should ever even attempt to love all of New York City. But we think we remember what that felt like, or what it would feel like, if we have this one token.
Amy’s pens remind her how to structure the story she’s telling, to remind herself of who she was, before she throws herself away. And this is something that gets lost in the suspense and the tension: while her revenge is diabolical, it’s equally tragic. Her feather pen is a ghost: an apparition of something lost, someone wronged, that only Amy can see.
And so if the feather pen seems incongruous from its appearance in the film, it’s because Amy’s own happiness is equally out of place. It’s a memory. As she says herself, of her brilliant plan: “Nick and Amy will be gone, but they never really existed.”
Evan Johnston is a written designed illustration in Twitter (@evn_johnston) and Brooklyn.