I never read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" or saw the Swedish film, nor do I plan to see the remake, which opened Tuesday. I have spoilers to thank for that. Stop now if you know nothing about the movie and want to keep it that way, or if reading about rape triggers PTSD.
I may see a movie in which viewers know that horrible violence has occurred off screen. But I'm not interested in extended scenes of men torturing and raping girls or women. The problem is, most movie critics are men, and the female critics often play by the same rules. They don't want to spoil the surprise for moviegoers by describing how stomach-turning the violence is. But that is a surprise I do not want.
Sometimes critics mention that a movie contains violence. But is it a guy getting shot and fake blood splattering everywhere or is it a sex crime? Some violence bothers me more than others. Sometimes critics use words like sex, explicit, sordid, lurid, etc. But does that mean two people have consensual sex in some way that others would frown upon? Or, is it rape?
I've written before about "Last Tango in Paris," which I always thought involved consensual sex until I read how the rape traumatized actress Maria Schneider. I've also discussed torture in movies before.
Sexual violence is a lurid thread running through “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and [director David] Fincher approaches it with queasy, teasing sensationalism. Lisbeth’s dealings with Bjurman include a vicious rape and a correspondingly brutal act of revenge, and there is something prurient and salacious about the way the initial assault is filmed. The vengeance, while graphic, is visually more circumspect.And when Mikael and Lisbeth interrupt their sleuthing for a bit of nonviolent sex, we see all of [Rooney] Mara and quite a bit less of [Daniel] Craig ... This disparity is perfectly conventional — the exploitation of female nudity is an axiom of modern cinema — but it also represents a failure of nerve and a betrayal of the sexual egalitarianism Lisbeth Salander argues for and represents.
We can always count on Andrew O'Hehir of Salon writing as if women never saw movies. He was the only critic I could find who seemed more disturbed by the revenge.
I've come to the conclusion that the graphic torture, rape and murder of women does not improve movies, even when acclaimed filmmakers swear the scenes are indispensable. Because hurting women has become such an enormous part of the billion-dollar porn industry, I have no desire to give money to anyone who adds to the repertoire.
Is the message of "Dragon Tattoo" so profound that it's worth sitting through torture porn? I don't think so, judging from Dana Stevens' review in Slate.
The moral outrage at the center of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—the systematic rape and slaughter of pretty young girls? We’re agin it!—feels facile and inessential.Like Maria Schneider in "Last Tango," Mara was a little-known actress before being cast by an acclaimed director, who wanted a woman who looked younger, weaker and more vulnerable than the one in the Swedish film. Like Schneider, Mara has described herself as looking like a child, and she starved herself to look anorexic. Like Schneider in her initial interviews, Mara hasn't indicated the rape scene bothered her in any way other than the physical. I hope she proves stronger than Schneider. She also may want to talk to Jodie Foster about what it's like to know that countless men are getting off to scenes of you being raped.
Mara says she doesn't identify as a feminist. From a Daily Beast interview with Mara and Fincher that I linked above:
She almost sputters when I ask her whether this is a feminist book.
“I think maybe the feminists see it that way,” she says. “I don’t know what Larsson’s intentions were. But I don’t think Salander does anything in the name of any group or cause or belief. She is certainly not a feminist. That’s like ... that’s just ... almost ...”
“Too easy,” Fincher offers.
“Yeah,” she agrees.
They seem unaware that feminists don't always work in covens. Some are solitary practitioners. Is imagining Lisbeth as a feminist too easy because feminists regularly take violent revenge on men?
Too bad Ellen Page didn't get the role.
Author Stieg Larsson, now deceased, considered himself a feminist and the book to be feminist. Its Swedish title translates into "Men Who Hate Women." Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime partner and, possibly, his uncredited coauthor, responded to Mara's statement on feminism.
“Does she know what film she has been in? Has she read the books?" ... Lisbeth doesn’t fit neatly into any category, “but she is still part of a movement,” Gabrielsson said. “Her entire being represents a resistance, an active resistance to the mechanisms that mean women don’t advance in this world and in worst case scenarios are abused like she was.”Larsson's friend Kurdo Baksi wrote a memoir on him, and explained why Larsson felt compelled to write his book:
Three of his friends assaulted a 15-year-old girl as Larsson, also 15, watched.The girl's name was Lisbeth. Afterward, Larsson called, but she wouldn't accept his apology. The rape haunted him, and Baksi said he's trying to find the identities of the rapists so that he can avenge his friend. (And get justice for the original Lisbeth, I hope.)
"Her screams were heartrending, but he didn't intervene," writes Baksi in his book. "His loyalty to his friends was too strong. He was too young, too insecure. It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape."
ETA: Mikael, the investigative journalist in the book and movies, is assumed to be based on Larsson. Mikael ends up having a sexual relationship with the character Lisbeth. Mental-health professionals, start your engines.