When Steig Larsson was 15 he witnessed the gang rape of a girl named Lisbeth, and it inspired him to make a trilogy of books about violence against women. Many people consider Salander to be a feminist icon, and I was really curious if Fincher could pull off a feminist film. His films tends to focus on male characters. After I saw his version I had some pretty strong feelings that have only increased since I saw the film a couple weeks ago (I’m going to be discussing spoilers from this point forward).
At first glance, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo appears to be a feminist film. It reverses some typical Hollywood gender conventions in some interesting ways. For example there is a scene were Lisbeth and Mikael have sex and it’s all about her pleasure. This hardly ever happens in Hollywood films. Sex scenes always end with a male climaxing. However, in this film Lisbeth orgasms and he does not. Also, Mikael is kidnapped and has to be saved by Lisbeth. Again, this reverses our expectations. But the question is, do moments like this make Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a feminist film? I don’t think so… These examples are merely on the surface of the film. When you did deeper you begin to discover ways Fincher intentionally or unintentionally subverts Lisbeth’s power (it’s kind of hard for me to believe it’s unintentional since Fincher is insanely meticulous). In my opinion The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a “feminist” film made by someone who isn’t a feminist.
Fincher is more concerned with Mikael’s character than Lisbeth. The film reveals him before her. This may seem like nitpicking but I’m serious. This is a very important detail (made more obvious by the fact that the Swedish versions introduced Lisbeth first). From the beginning we’re seeing the film through Mikael’s eyes while the entire film should be told from Lisbeth’s, not just portions. More importantly, Lisbeth falling head over heels in love with Mikael is out of character and plays into a male fantasy that you’re the person who can change who a woman is, and once you tame her you’ll be rewarded with amazing sex. By the end of the film Lisabeth has become a woman who buys her man expensive gifts and is heartbroken when she sees him with another woman, a far more typical Hollywood female character. Monika Bartyzel knows a lot more about Lisbeth Salander than I do and she wrote a great articles explaining:
“Lisbeth commands her sexual encounters because she can’t bring herself to be vulnerable. She has learned to always have control, yet Fincher has Blomkvist quickly flip her over during sex and take command, as if Lisbeth is ready for a father figure, partner, and savior. When they later have sweet sex in grand romantic tradition, she becomes a romantic figure who softens as she takes on an older man of guidance.”
One scene that frustrated me to no end was after Lisbeth saves Mikael from the killer, she asks Mikael for his permission to chase the killer. This is not in the novel or the swedish version of the film. This is a very specific choice in a film where every single decision means something. A decision that had to be considered over and over again. Ultimately, Fincher gave Mikael the power in the siutation even though Lisbeth just saved his life! It’s as if Fincher is saying, “Yeah, she saves him in the book. Obviously we couldn’t change that, there’d be an out cry from the fans, but we can’t give her all the power.”
The rapes scenes aren’t even really shown from Lisbeth’s point of view. They concentrate on her rapist. The point of the rape scenes in this film is to disgust you. These scenes lack any of any of the emotional weightt similar scenes in films like Martha Marcy May Marlene have. In Martha the scene is entirely from a woman’s perspective and is emotionally devastating. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the scenes are so extreme all we think about it how messed up it is. There’s isn’t a connection with Lisbeth. These scenes are followed by Lisbeth getting her revenge, but revenge does not equal feminism. Worse, this revenge implies rape is justifiable under some circumstances, and this doesn’t even take into account how arbitrary Lisbeth’s rape is. What’s the point? It just happens basically out of no where and then has no effect on her the rest of the film. Some people may say, “Look how strong she is. She can overcome anything.” I say, “This completely disregards how rape affects real people.’ Monika Bartyz makes another extremely important point about this subject that I could never have made because she knows the material way better than I ever will:”
“Fincher removes the suffocating, repetitive sense that Lisbeth is prey…Violence against women infuses every part of her life; it defines her existence as well as the world that revolves around her.”