We need to talk about the ‘Gone Girl’ cat

[Spoiler alert: This post contains some spoilers for the movie Gone Girl, but mostly it’s about cats.]

You already started reading so I’m gonna assume we’re in this together. I’m gonna talk a lot about cats and only a little bit ironically. Specifically, the way animals are treated on screen. Don’t look at me like that. My bangs are greasy and I just ate entirely too much chili. I need this right now.

In Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, the general premise reads thus:

I call it the “Save the Cat” scene. They don’t put it into movies anymore. And it’s basic. It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something — like saving a cat — that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him (XV).

Cats as a thematic device, as a prop that gets thrown away as soon as the writer forgets to include them, is the crux of my issue with animal representation in high-drama films. That was a long sentence but bare with me. They are an emotional ploy that the director uses in times of suspense. Cat-death pulls forth emotions in a way that human stress and death does not because cats have an innocence and vulnerability that a human character could never hope to achieve.

And this is what Gone Girl gets so very right. The cat in the film belongs to Nick and Amy Dunne, a married couple who  are pretty much competing for Psychopath of the Year, a competition officiated by no one.

Unlike most other movie cats, the cat in this movie doesn’t disappear within ten minutes of its introduction. The cat is a character and its screen time is consistent. But the emotional thrust of the film lies in the tension between the psychopaths and the people around them, allowing the cat to be just that: a cat. 

This isn’t to say the cat doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s just, for once, the purpose isn’t to die or knock crap over at inopportune moments. The cat, as John Powers writes in Vogue, is “an emotional marker.” Its placement in scenes is strategic, swaying sympathy towards either Nick or Amy.

When Nick is clutching the cat in the guest room the night of Amy’s return, he isn’t just protecting himself from Amy—he’s protecting the cat. When he wakes the next morning and goes down to the kitchen, however, the cat is sitting on the counter with Amy—almost exactly positioned as the pawn to her queen. 

He’s there until the very end, and repeatedly referenced throughout the film, regardless of screen time. From “That’s the cat’s room” to “Where is the cat food?” both director David Fincher and the book’s author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, make sure the cat never fades out of the script.

By successfully illustrating a relationship fraught with instability and mutual cruelty, Fincher allows for the character of the cat to exist independently of the action, but still provides a purpose for the lil’ guy in the hearts of the audience. If you haven’t seen the film yet, keep an eye out for this amazing creature. He knows all. 

A lover of knitting, cats, and hot baths, Kate Lindsay spent most of her childhood pretending to be British and watching and reading Harry Potter at the same time to see if she could finish reading first. Now she’s cool. You can find her talking to herself on twitter @kathrynfiona.

(Image via)