TRIGGER WARNING for this film. Really. This film contains explicit scenes of graphic sexual violence. I almost walked out, so please be careful. I am going to mention that it happened in this review, though not discuss any specific details.
A while back, Heroine Content reader -J- shared a trailer link in the comments and wondered what we would think of the main character Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor in Swedish, which means Men Who Hate Women). Since I am easily suggestible and it was playing up north at the art house theater, I set off one fine Sunday afternoon to relax with a little Swedish film entertainment. I had tried to avoid reading any reviews in much detail so as not to spoil the plot. What I knew: goth looking hacker girl investigates crime. So far, so good.
About halfway through the movie, I leaned over to my husband and whispered “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”
We both managed to stay in our seats, though it was touch and go. By the time we left, we both felt like we’d been kicked in the stomach repeatedly.
Remember back in my review of Kick-Ass when I was all “I don’t know if I can really get behind this character even though I thought I would want to?” Hit Girl, meet Lisbeth Salander. You two have a truckload in common.
Salander is one of two central characters in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Played by Noomi Rapace, Salander is a tattooed, pierced, bisexual hacker prodigy who is currently under the legal guardianship of the Swedish human services system. (I’m seeing comments online that in the book from which the film was adapted, she has Asperger syndrome, though this isn’t clear in the film. In the film it’s presented more as having a possible history of mental illness or possibly just being labeled as such due to a specific childhood incident. I don’t know enough about Asperger syndrome to speculate based on her behaviors on the movie.)
To give you a quick plot summary, Salander becomes involved in an investigation by a disgraced former reporter, Mikael Blomkvist. Salander was originally hired to investigate Blomkvist himself when he was on trial for libel. As she learns more about him, though, she can’t resist spying on his latest project and starts to offer him clues. They work together to solve the disappearance of a young girl 40 years ago. As they get closer to truth, someone is trying to stop them from revealing the dark secret, yada yada yada.
Figuring out how I feel about the film, separating that from how I feel about Salander as a character, and also how I feel about the choices she makes, has been really difficult. She is far more complex than 99% of the “heroines” I’ve reviewed on this blog. Of course, with my usual diet of shoot-em-up whizzbang action movies, that’s no surprise. This is a real movie, not a Hollywood action movie, though Salander rides a motorcycle and hits people over the head with the best of them. I really enjoyed watching her work. She’s obviously brilliant, magnetic, and she looks really cool. The film might be trying to place her as Blomkvist’s sidekick, but it totally does not work. He’s following her around as her mind puts pieces of the case together. Loved it.
But Salander is brutally raped in TWO extremely graphic and drawn-out scenes. She then recreates a similar scene to punish the rapist. I was appalled by all three scenes. I couldn’t figure out why the people who made the film felt like I needed to watch it. Or in my case, listen to it, as I was covering my face. (The soundtrack was bad enough, I don’t want to know what was actually shown on screen.) Was I really not going to understand how bad her situation was just from the beginning of an assault and the aftermath?
Other people’s mileage varies significantly. (And none of these have trigger warnings, by the way. ) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Why, oh why, is everything filled with rape? by Elizabeth of Kills Me Dead was really helpful to me in sorting out my thoughts for this review, but for other takes on the rape issue in this film:
- A Rose By Any Other Name… Looks Less Thorny To American Eyes at Thus Spake Zuska
- Elizabeth reminded me of this one which had slipped by me: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at Women & Hollywood
These assaults do give some context for one of Salander’s later decisions in the film, where she condemns a murderer to death. In both situations (and in a third which I will not reveal to avoid spoilers), she chooses to have grave bodily harm visited on the Men Who Hate Women of the film’s title. If that works for you, then so be it.
But showing in explicit detail all the bad things that Men Who Hate Women do to those women, before having a woman punish them for it, does not end up feeling female-friendly to me. A lot of screen time that could have been spent showing Salander’s coolness was instead used to show men beating the crap out of her. Whether or not I agree with Salander’s actions as an avenging vigilante, I can’t get past my disagreement with the filmmakers on whether it was necessary to go to these lengths to establish that violence against women is wrong. I’m pretty sure we can establish in a film that murder is wrong without showing a 5 minute scene of him bludgeoning someone to death with a baseball bat.
The other two films in the trilogy apparently will be released in the U.S. this summer. I have no idea whether I’m going to see them. But this one gets no stars from me.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.