Seduction and Mutually Assured Destruction: The Modern “Femme Fatale” in “Gone Girl”

Seduction and Mutually Assured Destruction: The Modern “Femme Fatale” in “Gone Girl”

Ana Cabral Martins (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0525-9.ch005


In cinema, the most prevalent representation of the figure of the seductress has been the femme fatale or the “vamp”. This chapter will explore the femme fatale in various incarnations in American cinema throughout its history. This chapter will also overview several definitions of femme fatale, and its connection with sex, seduction and destruction, in cinema's history, principally the American silent film's “vamp”, personified by the actress Theda Bara; and the 1940s filmnoir's femme fatale, personified by actresses such as Rita Hayworth and Barbara Stanwyck. In an attempt to trace a connection between different embodiments of the femme fatale in American cinema, this chapter will focus, in particular, on David Fincher's cinematic adaptation of the pulp fiction novel Gone Girl (2012), by Gillian Flynn. Not only does Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014) offer one of the most recent interpretations of the traditional film noir trope, it also provides a modern update of the femme fatale.
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Reflections On The Cinematic Femme Fatale

I would like to start this examination by exploring different definitions of the femme fatale figure, including readings that align it with either with misogynistic or feminist interpretations, to determine the place that the femme fatale has had in American cinema, and in film noir in particular.

Generally speaking, the femme fatale is a “seductress” (a woman who seduces someone, usually one who entices a man into sexual activity), which can be a “temptress”, “enchantress”, “siren” or “vamp”, adding a deadly component to the formula. The femme fatale is the quintessential embodiment of lust and danger (or, at least, of the dangerous nature of lust). This expression denotes the employment of a woman’s sensuality, sexuality and intelligence to either further her own agenda or to advance her quest for power.

In the introduction to Femme Fatale: Cinema's Most Unforgettable Lethal Ladies (2009), Dominique Mainon1 describes the femme fatale as being a “quintessential part of our collective imagination” going back to the Judeo-Christian Bible, where Eve (the very first femme fatale?) lures Adam into committing a sin2. Dominique Mainon goes back to the etymology of the femme fatale moniker, which literally means “deadly woman”, a term that designates “the human embodiment of lust and peril, that intoxicating allure of sex and death”, a sensuous creature that differs from the “warrior woman”, or amazon, due to her elusiveness and to the employment of both her “intelligence and sexual prowess” instead of physical weapons (Mainon and Ursini, 2009, p. 8) — this designation also distinguishes the femme fatale from more action-oriented female characters.

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