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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) ~ Part Two

Lisbeth & Victimization

Like most members of this film’s audience, I found the character of Lisbeth to be the most interesting aspect of the film. I don’t want to get into a debate as to which actor’s portrayal of this fierce creature is better. Both Rooney Mara in Fincher’s film and Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Swedish adaptation are excellent and both performances reveal Lisbeth in a unique light. I was thoroughly interested in this character in both films and found both actors to be fabulous. Ms. Mara’s take is admittedly softer than Ms. Rapace’s; this allows for the motivation for her actions in the film’s coda (which is much longer in Fincher’s version than in the Swedish version) to be understandable. I got the sense that Lisbeth was acting out not from her sense of right and wrong, but from her feelings for Blomkvist and it shows the lengths to which her loyalty stretch. The very ending of the film, however, collapses the newly emerged structure of security which she has built from her feelings for Blomkvist and Lisbeth is left, once again, betrayed, taken advantage of, and abandoned by an adult male/pseudo-father figure.

Lisbeth is capable, resourceful, technologically hyper-proficient, physical, and she expresses violence (all predominantly male traits). Lisbeth is also a victim, and as such, she engenders our sympathy. At the surface, Lisbeth is familiar, a bad-ass female hacker/assassin – see, Nikita in La Femme Nikita (1990), Mathilda in Leon (1994), Trinity in The Matrix (1999), The Bride in Kill Bill (2003), or, more recently, Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass (2010) and Hanna in Hanna (2011) — and yet she feels rare. Perhaps it is because of this rarity that I feel that the character (not the person who embodies the character) should be nurtured away from narrative victimization. That is, I don’t want this character to be trapped in the narrative desire of making women beholden to men, and I resisted all the moments and devices in this film that put Lisbeth in that box. My main problem is with the relationship between Lisbeth and Blomkvist. As partners (colleagues) their relationship is formidable; as friends, I see the trust and acknowledgement and equality. As lovers, however, things fall apart for me. My concern certainly doesn’t come from the idea of Lisbeth seducing Blomkvist and using him physically. Her motivation is, to my mind, perfectly valid. What I have to question is first the authorial motivation and then how Fincher’s film ensnares Lisbeth in a scenario in which, having gained trust and companionship, she is once again victimized. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the Blomkvist character is partially a stand in for the male author, and subsequently the male reader or viewer. If so, then the character of Lisbeth has no choice; she becomes victim of the desire to express the appeal of her character sexually. Once subjugated to the fantasy she is then, at the end, victimized by Blomkvist’s abandonment of her as companion, sex partner, lover, and colleague. This abandonment is not in the Swedish film adaptation (though it is apparently in the novel).

The passivity of the viewer is mirrored in Fincher’s film by Blomkvist’s disinterestedness in sex. The first mention of his sexual nature comes from Lisbeth when giving the briefing on her investigation of him in which she offers the conjecture of him being a distant or uncaring lover (not enough oral sex, in her opinion) in the sexual relationship with his publishing partner at Millennium (Robin Wright’s character). Later in the film when this character shows up at Blomkvist’s cottage on the Vanger estate, Blomkvist is practically ordered to provide sexual services; he is passive and indifferent towards sex. Again, later in the film, while Lisbeth is having sex with Blomkvist, he is so disengaged that she must order him to stop reading and speaking so that she can climax. On one level this is to enable Lisbeth as the sexual aggressor (I might be wrong, but she does come across as more forward toward the girl she sleeps with from the club, though that encounter is more equal with this character offering to remain as a protective presence when Blomkvist shows up unexpectedly the next morning), but it could also show Lisbeth as needy. In the just mentioned scene, Lisbeth is seemingly in control (she’s on top, her orgasm is of primary importance), but Blomkvist is so impassive that once she rolls off him he just continues with his reading and his vocal thought… who’s in control? In each scene of sex, it is Lisbeth who is depicted as naked, in need, and vulnerable. This works as a reflection of her vulnerability in the rape scene, which is shot with close-up similar to sex scenes later with Blomkvist, and it works as the female lead character pandering to the screen fantasy of female nudity, even if frontal, below the waist nudity is a rarity in mainstream American cinema.

There is certainly a lot going on with the character of Lisbeth Salander in both films of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is too much to gather from a single viewing of each film and my thoughts will become more coherent as the films I process and reflect on them in the weeks and months to come, but it seems clear to me, as always, not to take any film at just the surface level. A film that intends to be about the violent victimization of women should be able to bear such scrutiny. Having seen all of Fincher’s films, I trust that he has made deliberate and purposeful choices in his depiction of Lisbeth.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) ~ Part One

Director: David Fincher

Main cast: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright

I went to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last Thursday morning (January 12th) with my wife at Lotte Cinema here in Wonju. We weren’t quite the only people in the theatre, which isn’t surprising for a weekday morning matinée, and I prefer to have as few strangers around as possible when watching a movie.  I’m a bit of a fan of David Fincher’s movies; The Social Network (2010) was my favourite film of last year and his 2011 offering was one of my most anticipated film’s of 2011. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a bad movie, and I do recommend seeing it. That being said, I didn’t like it tremendously, and this reflection is likely to highlight the negatives more than the positives because it’s the negatives that have stayed with me since viewing the film.

The lights dimmed, I cleaned my glasses, and the movie started, and I had problems with it almost immediately. The sound mix in the opening scenes (before and after the title sequence) seemed terrible. Perhaps this was a problem with the theatre’s audio system, but I didn’t notice any problems for the rest of the film. Perhaps it took me a while to become accustomed to the accents of mostly non-Swedish actors sounding Scandinavian or perhaps it was just my brain trying to figure out what was going on. The opening of a mystery should pose a lot of questions, but this film’s opening was disjointed and baffling to me. The scenes immediately before and after the title sequence are thermally cool and slow. That’s fine, but in-between is an eye-catching, pulsating title sequence that is, to my mind, at odds with the tone of the film so far and the film to come. Done in shades of black and punctuated by oily malevolence and a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, the title sequence plays both as homage to and perversion of James Bond. Audio references to Vikings and  lands of ice and snow aside,  it also sets up fetishistic and pace expectations that are not part of the film at all. The song works perfectly well in this trailer, but not in the film itself. One trailer for The Social Network made brilliant use of a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”, but that song was nowhere to be found in the finished film; Fincher should have followed the same practice here. Fincher is well-known for captivating title sequences (Panic Room, Fight Club, and most notably, Se7en), and while the title sequence is memorable and beautiful, it doesn’t have the level of effectiveness as, for example, the muted and tonally relevant title sequence from the aforementioned  The Social Network.

This leads me to another aspect of the film that didn’t sit well: comparison to Fincher’s other work. Now, I believe that every film should be looked at on its own, but I like directors and am a fan of Fincher’s previous work. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I don’t think Fincher has added anything new to content he has already excellently covered in Se7en and Zodiac. It could be that the story of Stieg Larsson’s novel owes a lot to the grisly, religiously themed serial murders depicted in Se7en, but that only adds to the lack of necessity for Fincher, in particular, to make this film. Zodiac is a film of completely different tone, pacing, and conclusion. Both Se7en and Zodiac frustrate the viewer by the end in completely different and completely effective, purposeful ways. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feels like an imitation. I think my biggest problem here could be with the source material and with Fincher’s inability to rise above it.

The mystery central to the plot of the film was not very compelling. One problem was the casting of Stellan Skarsgard; it was a dead give-away as to who the killer was. And, the mystery of Harriet was either tipped off too easily or I was too keyed in to the conventions of this kind of plot. Either way, I was not invested in the crime or the investigation. Credit here, though, to Fincher for keeping me interested with his pacing of the film and his camerawork. The film is never boring and it is beautiful in composition.

Like I stated before, I do think people should seek out this film. It is well-crafted, well-shot, and well –performed; it is thematically interesting and doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. It is a grown up film for grown-ups and the type of movie that should be supported. Even if it is perhaps an unnecessary film from Fincher, a weak Fincher movie is still better than most Hollywood fare.

I have not, so far, talked about the most interesting aspects of the film: Lisbeth Salander and the depiction of sexual violence. I will cover these topics in an upcoming post.

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