Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler…can’t say you weren’t warned….
I haven’t yet read Steig Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (titled Men Who Hate Women in Larsson’s homeland of Sweden), but I did go see the Swedish film that was released this weekend (the American remake is already in the works). I had prepared myself to write a pretty begnin, complimentary review, as I did enjoy the story and the main character Lisbeth Salander (played perfectly by Noomi Rapace).
I can understand why Feministing.com called her a “feminist avenger,” and why any woman (myself included) would see her as such. She is unaffected by her beauty (which is sometimes covered up in black, Goth make-up), androgynous, bisexual, and – unlike the character in the book – she has muscles that would make Madonna jealous. Unlike many female characters we see, one of Lisbeth’s strongest assets is her tech-savvy research skills. We also see her rescue the hero of the story in what was truly a breath of fresh air. The girl wasn’t the one being strung up by her neck….she was the one heroically swinging the golf club at the very…last second. Lisbeth is on the whole a bad-ass, rockstar of a “sheroe.
What is really gnawing at me about this film is whether or not it is okay to portray a supposedly feminist character and tell a feminist story through the vein of violence against women. Because when you take away all the bells and whistles, all of the things about the Lisbeth character that cause our knee-jerk reaction to be “Feminist!” the story itself is just more media-created violence against women. For example, Lisbeth is physically assaulted in the subway within the first 30 minutes of the film. Then graphically assaulted by her legal guardian/parole officer TWICE in what could arguably be one of the worst rape scenes since Leaving Las Vegas. These two scenes (plus, the revenge rape scene where she attacks her attacker) truly test the boundary of rape fantasy; it is very unclear to me when it starts to become something that is used for titillation as opposed to activism, and that cannot be good. Furthermore, the main plot mystery is driven by a sadist, misogynist, serial killing, rapist Nazi who has been murdering women for the better part of 40 years. Pictures & flash-backs of those gratuitously violent murders are scattered throughout the entire film (and, from what I understand described in all-too-much detail in the novel).
Larsson – the book’s author – founded the Expo-foundation, “a group intended on exposing neo-Nazi activity in Sweden.” He was known for his “pre-occupation” with misogyny and racism, and spent his life fighting against these things, as well as capitalism. I wish that I could say with his beliefs he created a character and a series of stories & films that are worthy of feminist praise and accolades. But, I am afraid all that exists in this story is rape fantasy and the kinds of violence that the feminist community is fighting to rid the media and, possibly more importantly, society as a whole of. Additionally, Larsson wrote our feminist heroin as having a great amount of disdain for her body, and the sequel to Dragon Tattoobegins with Lisbeth getting breast implants. I’m not sure what kind of feminist heroin Larsson was trying to create, but we can thank Niels Arden Oplev, the films director, for ditching those crappy & oh-so-feminist story-lines.
To sum it up….Lisbeth is a great, strong female character. We need more characters like her. We need them to inspire the ferocious, feral spirit that lives in all women. But, what we don’t need are more morally ambiguous, violent stories that are held on their axis by the portrayal of a form of violence against women that borders on sexualizing it.