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The ending of Gone Girl explained

Thrillers about missing wives and guilty husbands are nothing new, but in 2014, director David Fincher contributed his own take on this familiar story with Gone Girl, which quickly became the standard bearer for this super specific genre. Based on the hit novel by Gillian Flynn — who also adapted her own work for the screen — the film tells the story of a crumbling marriage between Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliott Dunne (Rosamund Pike), and the couple's fifth anniversary is interrupted by Amy's sudden and suspicious disappearance. 

Nick and Amy's story, which starts as a classic love story and ends in tragedy (complete with an astounding third-act twist), is one for the ages, and whether you just saw Gone Girl for the first time or you still don't quite understand the ending after dozens of rewatches, we're here to help. Here's the ending of Gone Girl explained, from Amy's absence and the tough truth to Nick's hapless struggle. This should go without saying, but spoilers for the entirety of Gone Girl are ahead!

Gone Girl starts off with Amy's disappearance

In North Carthage, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, Nick wakes up one morning and surveys the neighborhood before heading directly to The Bar, the watering hole he owns with his twin sister and best friend, Margo "Go" Dunne (Carrie Coon). He reminds Go that it's his five year anniversary with Amy, and they make jokes about Nick's lack of enthusiasm about his and Amy's special day. After a morning bourbon or two, they're interrupted by a call from one of Nick and Amy's neighbors, informing Nick that his cat has gotten outside.

So Nick heads home and finds his cat on the front lawn and his door ajar, and after a few minutes, he realizes something has gone horribly wrong. Amy is nowhere to be found, and the house is in a serious state of disarray. Before too long, the police arrive, and Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her partner, Officer James Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), start to ask Nick some serious questions as he grapples with his wife's mysterious disappearance.

Dear diary

As we watch Nick struggle in Amy's absence, we also see the beginning of their relationship through Amy's diary entries, which start with the story of the night she meets Nick. After a perfect meet-cute at a terrible party, the two strike up an immediate relationship, and in the second diary entry, Nick and Amy attend a book release party for her parents' latest effort. As it turns out, Amy is the inspiration for a series of children's books called Amazing Amy, written by her parents Rand and Marybeth Elliott (David Clennon and Lisa Banes), and she's spent her life falling short of the perfect, fictional Amy portrayed in the series.

Amy and Nick get engaged and married, but after a couple of idyllic years, things go south. As the country hits a major recession (a clear reference to the 2008 stock market crash), Amy's parents go into debt and reclaim her trust fund, leaving the couple jobless and penniless. Before long, Nick's mother gets sick, and they move back to Missouri to help her, but Amy already feels insecure, according to her diary, writing that she feels like "something to be jettisoned if necessary." Before long, things get worse, and her diary tells the story of something more than a garden variety troubled marriage, as she worries that Nick may kill her.

Nick Dunne becomes the lead suspect

Even without Amy's side of the story, the police start to suspect that hapless Nick, whose inappropriate behavior at vigils seems odd and whose story simply doesn't add up, might have something to do with Amy's disappearance. Things only get worse when the audience discovers that Nick, once a devoted husband, has been having an affair with Andie Fitzgerald (Emily Ratajkowski), a sweet but foolish student in his creative writing class at the local college.

Unfortunately for Nick, Boney and Gilpin find more reasons to suspect him as they search his house. After they conduct forensic analysis in his kitchen, they find evidence of an enormous amount of blood, as well as a garden shed full of items Nick supposedly purchased on overdrawn credit cards. To make matters worse, witnesses in town testify that Amy wanted to buy a gun to protect herself from her husband, and as the final nail in Nick's proverbial coffin, Amy's doctor confirms the worst case scenario — Amy was, apparently, newly pregnant.

Gone Girl's big twist

Of course, in a story like this, there's always a twist, and this one is extraordinarily shocking. Not only is Amy alive and well, but she orchestrated her entire disappearance just to frame Nick for her murder. After catching Nick and Andie together without him knowing, Amy decides that her only course of action is to get revenge, so she creates years of diary entries, fakes a pregnancy (using her pregnant neighbor's urine), strategically spills her blood all over their kitchen floor, and leaves behind a murder weapon, a new life insurance policy, and a shed full of secret purchases made in Nick's name. Amy's plan, ideally, would end with Nick on trial for murder and eligible for the death penalty ... and then with her own suicide, which would seal his fate.

This reveal, which has earned its place as one of the best twists in recent movie history, comes with its own legendary monologue, known as the "Cool Girl" speech. Lifted directly from the novel, the monologue sees Amy musing over how the ideal girl that most men want — a "cool girl" — doesn't actually exist, since most women spend their time imagining what men must want and mimicking that impossible image as much as they possibly can, always at their own expense. Even if you couldn't relate to Amy's crazy plan, it was easy to see why the "Cool Girl" speech became legendary.

Tanner Bolt arrives to save the day

Before long, Nick realizes that he needs to stop talking to the police and start talking to a lawyer, and he hires Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), a smooth-talking and ridiculously expensive New York attorney who typically stands behind guilt-ridden husbands. Tanner has definitely heard his share of tall tales from accused husbands, but now that Nick is certain that Amy knows about Andie and is framing him, he spills all of that to Tanner, who's shocked but determined to figure out how they can work together to bring Amy to justice and prove Nick's innocence.

As Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle), a sensationalist nighttime talk show host, continues to smear Nick's name and image to the entire country, Tanner and Nick dig up whatever dirt they can on Amy and try to rehabilitate Nick's public persona by booking him a high-profile interview with newswoman Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward). However, just as Nick sits down for the interview, Andie publicly confesses to their affair, leaving Nick and Tanner in a worse spot than they ever anticipated.

Amy's dark past

As it turns out, Nick isn't the first person to invoke Amy's wrath. As he and Tanner discover, one of her previous boyfriends, Tommy O'Hara (Scott McNairy), ended up facing charges. When he wronged Amy, she staged a sexual assault and had him registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Even while she's on the run, Amy is still exacting revenge on those that she feels deserve retribution.

At a rundown motel, Amy casually befriends Greta (Lola Kirke), who also seems to be on the run from something, and when the two of them settle in one night to watch Ellen Abbott's show, Amy's dark side emerges. When Greta says that the Amy depicted on television looks like a spoiled rich girl who had it coming, Amy quietly spits in her drink, but later, Greta unwittingly gets her revenge on Amy. In an act of karmic retribution, Greta and her cohort, Jeff (Boyd Holbrook), figure out that Amy has a money belt full of cash and rob her, leaving her penniless and out of options, until she remembers there's one more place where she can go.

Amy's first love returns

Amy makes one quick phone call, ditches her getaway car, and heads to a nearby casino to meet her first, still-devoted love Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), who's ready to whisk her away — especially when she tells him how horribly abusive Nick was throughout their marriage. Before long, he's set Amy up in his pool house with everything she needs, but it also becomes clear to Amy that Desi comes with problems of his own.

During the first phase of her plan, Amy dyed her glossy blonde hair a mousy shade of brown and gained weight so that nobody would recognize her, and though he's desperate to rescue her, Desi makes it perfectly clear that he needs Amy to turn back into the woman she was before, buying her hair dye and encouraging her to exercise. But one night, they see Nick's contrite interview with Sharon Scheiber, and Amy is filled with a new purpose — she must get back to Nick as quickly as possible. Ultimately, she figures out her way out, forming a plan to get away from Desi and safely home to Nick.

An incredibly brutal escape

One day, when Desi gets home from work, he finds a demure, impeccably dressed Amy, complete with a sharp blonde bob, ready with a drink. Clad in a white dress, Amy looks impossibly innocent, but the truth is that she's been preparing for this moment for weeks, using string to create ligature marks on her wrists, violating herself with wine bottles, and staging horrifying moments as a captive for Desi's many cameras.

After a few moments, she brings him into the bedroom to seduce him in one of the most awkward love scenes ever, but it's clear that Amy has one last trick up her sleeve — or rather, under a pillow. In one quick motion, Amy pulls a hidden box cutter out from underneath one of her pillows and deftly slits Desi's throat, straddling her victim as he quickly bleeds out. Covered in Desi's blood, Amy leaves his house, ready to stage a triumphant return to North Carthage.

Amy returns to Nick

By now, Amy has been missing for a full month, and Nick is facing arrest and the death penalty, but one morning, he experiences a sort of miracle. On the thirtieth day of the ordeal, Nick wakes up on his couch to the sounds of tires screeching outside. When he opens the door, Amy staggers out of Desi's car and directly into his arms, giving the reporters on their front lawn a public, dramatic show.

Nick immediately confronts Amy, telling her he knows what she did, but she drags him into the shower and forces him to undress, just so she can be sure that he's not wearing a wire. There, she tells him that he can't possibly leave his wife so soon after she's returned because his image will be forever ruined, especially now that she's painted him as an abusive, thoughtless husband who blew their money on golf clubs and animatronic dogs. Nick turns to Tanner and Boney — who's immediately suspicious of the odd inconsistencies in Amy's story — but without a taped confession, they can't help him, leaving Nick alone in his home with a vengeful murderer.

A 'fairytale' ending in Gone Girl

As Amy plays house and plots her transition back into Nick's life, Nick is plotting on his own, and as the two sit down for an exclusive interview with Ellen Abbott herself, he practices a speech about Amy's real nature in the mirror with the sink running to keep his wife from hearing (clearly, he's picked up some tricks from Amy herself). However, Amy has yet another surprise waiting. Years ago, when the two visited a fertility clinic, Nick provided a sample, but he was led to believe the clinic had thrown them all away. However, Amy got a hold of the samples and impregnated herself without Nick knowing, and the two of them are going to have a baby.

After an incredible tense showdown between the two, Nick realizes he has no choice. He must stay with Amy for the rest of their child's life, a fact that devastates his sister, Go. Ultimately, Amy wins the battle, and Nick lives out the rest of his life under her thumb, showing just how ruthless Amy Elliott Dunne can be when push comes to shove.