Tag Archives: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Go Rewatch The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

If you’ve heard of this series (in either its film or book form), there’s a good chance it’s because David Fincher of Fight Club/Se7en/The Social Network fame directed the American remake. Even if you’ve heard of it, there’s a also a good chance you haven’t seen it- Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did only so-so at the box-office, not quite tanking, but also not becoming as popular as many were speculating it would be. And that’s a real tragedy, because the story, in spite of its flaws, is a really good one- you’re just going to have to make a few adjustments in how you see it.

I. Watch the Swedish Version Instead

In my post about the differences between British and American television, I pointed out that American film typically physically glamorizes each and every character- no matter how minor- while the Brits are comfortable with their protagonists actually looking like people you’d meet on the street. While not quite to on the level of the British (from what little I have seen of Swedish film), the Swedes do seem to lean more towards the Brits when it comes to this, and while it doesn’t like it’s all that important, “humanizing” the characters a bit more by making them look like people you’d actually know gives all that more grittiness and clout to the issues the story grapples with.

Beyond that, there’s the issue of casting for Lisbeth Salander. Now I’m not going to knock either Noomi Rapace or Rooney Mara, partly because they’re both terrifying…

But I do nevertheless have to address the eyebrows.

More specifically, the fact that Mara’s Lisbeth doesn’t have any.

Ok, that’s not entirely fair- Mara’s version does have eyebrows- they’re just wispy blonde and really hard to see. And that’s something that’s pretty dang unsettling- heck, it’s downright terrifying.

I know it’s probably petty, but Rapace’s Salander, having eyebrows we can actually see, makes it that much easier to watch an already tough movie.

II. Watch the Second Movie First (Then the First, Then the Third)

Not having had any background knowledge of the series, I accidentally wound up watching the second part of the trilogy (The Girl Who Played With Fire) instead of the first segment (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). As confusing as it was, I think that this is the best way to do it. While it’s a good movie, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo really is something of a stand-alone piece, often accused of being pretty linear and slow. The subsequent stories, filled with high stakes of human trafficking and political intrigue, are a lot faster and more action-packed, but really depart from the general style of the first segment. By starting with The Girl Who Played With Fire, you get to be dropped right into the action and have a relaxing “flashback” with TGWTDT that fills in all the blanks and builds up tension and momentum for the final film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Give it a shot- I promise it’ll pay off.

IV. Cut Steig Larsson Some Slack

A lot of critics of both the film and the books have pointed out that the male protagonist in the stories, Mikael Blomkvist, is essentially author Steig Larsson’s literary avatar. As a result, plenty of people blow off the films and books as just being Larsson’s own little fantasy in which he, the last honest journalist teams up with a goth-punk hacker to solve mysteries together. The fact that Fincher chose Daniel Craig (a.k.a. James ****ing Bond) to play Blomkvist probably didn’t do anything to assuage those accusations.

But here’s the thing- Larsson can’t be accused of writing a fantasized version himself into his books because the real Steig Larsson is way more badass!

As a boy, Larsson witnessed the rape of a woman, and so wracked with guilt at not having been able to do anything, wound up dedicating the rest of his life to fighting for justice and equality. In the 70s, he traveled to Eritrea to train an all-female squad in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. He returned to Sweden to found a watchdog journalist group and investigate and combat neo-nazism and white supremacy, despite continually receiving death-threats.

Yeah, that’s not so much a biography as it is a superhero origin story. That’s enough right there to make Jack London and Ernest Hemingway look like pansies. If anything, Blomkvist is a version of Larsson nerfed for the sake of believability. Let’s cut the guy some slack.

IV. Understand a Bit About What’s Being Addressed

Part of the issue with the series is that it’s a commentary in no small part on Swedish social and political issues. I only recall it being hinted at in the American version, but the Swedish version of the film spent a bit more time touching on the Wennerstrom family’s (and the entire country’s) shameful flirtation with Nazism in the 30s and 40s, as well as the ongoing issues of xenophobia and racism in contemporary Sweden. Beyond that the series tries to address issues of corruption within the state, as well as the ugly reality of human trafficking (which despite growing awareness, might not quite strike home with American audiences). You don’t need to have a detailed understanding of the intricacies of State-Capitalist governance and Scandinavian history, but knowing a bit about the very real issues of fascism and racism in Europe does add a whole lot.

So what are you waiting for? Go watch ’em!

“Rape”: A Continuation

The second post I ever wrote on this blog was about the word “rape,” and since then it has not ceased to be an issue. A number of events have occurred in the past couple of months, and re-reading many of them this week has reminded me what a big deal it can be.

About a month ago stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh was doing a show when an audience member commented on the bit he was doing. He had been going on about how hilarious rape jokes were [his position: always], when the woman interrupted him by yelling “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” She reports that Tosh responded with the words: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now?”

John Seavey, one of the writers on Mightygodking, wrote a response to what happened, titled “From the “How To Be A Decent Human Being” File….” In it he decried Tosh’s response to the woman, and basically lay down that freedom of speech or not, threatening someone sexually is not something you ever do.

I talked to Gordon about this yesterday, and not to turn this into another “Evan and Gordon Talk” post, but I had to add just a little of our conclusion to this one:

[after agreeing that probably no one in the audience actually took Tosh’s words “seriously.”]

EVAN: I mean, I guess we can both be on the level that to at least one member involved, Tosh, it was not a threat.

GORDON: Agreed. You also promised to crap in my bed. [I will not deny this -E.]

EVAN: Valid, but 1/5 of all Gordons don’t have their beds crapped in.

Similar to my first post on the word, there are those out there who believe that this is all a matter of sensitivity. Comedians like Louis C.K. have defended Tosh‘s right to free speech. Others on the internet have taken more creative avenues to back up the “rape joke” that was made [warning for language and content]:

The video, for those who don’t feel like or want to watch it, is a press conference with the character “F-ck Bot 5000.” He answers that rape jokes are off limits, while jokes about “9/11,” “dead babies,” and “making fun of autistic children” are perfectly acceptable. The point being, from what I can tell, that people are being overly sensitive about a particular buzzword, but letting these other topics slide completely.

Then, of course, there’s the whole “legitimate rape” thing. On August 19th Todd Akin, Republican nominee for the state of Missouri Todd, told KTVI-TV that “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now I’m no Biology major, but I have friends who are, and none of them can back up his claims. His words have, of course, created quite the uproar on the internet. Jezebel compiled a very thorough “Official Guide to Legitimate Rape,” which compiles the ways in which the word and act have been portrayed in past years. I strongly recommend checking it out.

Finally, game designer James Desborough wrote a post this past June entitled “In Defence of Rape.” After admitting that the title is instigative at best, he, and this is a direct quote, states “Rape or attempted rape is a f-cking awesome plot element, one of many.”

Gordon and I talked about this one as well, and the issue is, at the heart of his argument, not wrong. The gist of what he’s saying is [and I quote Gordon] “Look, rape can be an effective and powerful storytelling element, so long as it isn’t trivialized.” And that’s not something I can disagree with.

What I can disagree with is his statement that “I’m not prepared to take spurious claims about ‘rape culture’ etc at face value without something substantive to back them up.” It’s one that he uses to defend his argument, lumping “rape culture” in with the “‘all men are bastards’ argument.” I don’t see what can be more substantive than the gigabytes of rape porn on the internet. I mean, it’s not like it’s hiding or anything. If some weirdo gets off on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo then that’s one instance, but the people creating rape porn for a very large audience is not.

Rape is, as ever, a hotly debated issue. While we can always say that people are being too sensitive, the fact is that it is a very real, legitimate act that happens more than once a minute. It’s not something to be made light of, and especially not something to “jokingly threaten” someone with. It is also not something that can simply be thrown around in speech without strong knowledge of what’s being talked about.

Lisbeth, the Sexualized Autist: What The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo says about American Culture

Let’s just be clear: I know that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Swedish. My comment is on its popularity in American culture: its best-seller status in the NYT for 18 months, triggering a Hollywood remake of the original Swedish film. The heroine, Lisbeth, is whom I’m most interested in.

Rooney Mara in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth in the 2009 Swedish film and Rooney Mara in the 2011 American version

Lisbeth is the poster child of counter-culture: mowhawk, dyed hair, androgenous, facial piercings – what attracts people to her is that she manages to pull all of these things off (the reason being she is astoundingly beautiful) and references to her terrible experiences conveniently switch her label from “irresponsible” to “misunderstood”. Lisbeth, I think, represents two key memes in contemporary culture, the subtle prevalance of which interest me: the sexualized autist and the competent social outcast.

The Autist

Rooney Mara in Girl with the Dragon TattooLet me be clear: I’m not talking about a classified DSM-IV disorder when I talk about Lisbeth’s autistic traits – I’m just talking about the word autist as it derives from the root autos (self), which refers to a lack of empathetic sensitivity. Classic autists in fiction include: Spock, Data, Sherlock Holmes, C3PO, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, Monk, and (often) children. Autists serve the purpose of deconstructing society: they often involve humorous responses to or dissections of modes of relating that come natural to most humans. Here is Sheldon’s deconstruction of the social idea of dating:

I present to you the Relationship Agreement. A binding covenant that in its 31 pages enumerates, illuminates and codifies the responsibilities of Sheldon Lee Cooper (hereinafter referred to as the “Boyfriend”) and Amy Farrah Fowler (hereinafter referred to as the “Girlfriend”)

In TGWTDT, Lisbeth interacts autistically: one of the first things said about her report is that though it is thorough, it lacks her personal opinion. She, stonefacedly, refuses to acknowledge that she understands any reason why her opinion would be useful. Throughout the movie, Lisbeth is expertly and unthinkingly wholly dedicated to performing her obsessive tasks with excellence: autists almost always are (Monk, River Tam).

The Competent Social Outcast

Rooney Mara in Girl with the Dragon TattooLisbeth’s upbringing and fringe placement in society should, according to social evolution, render her unable to support herself. On the contrary, she achieves competency without the support of society, and spends much of her time defending herself from the flaws of the establishment (every scene with the social worker, his eventual blackmail). She joins Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the woman from The 5th Element, and Jane Eyre as the neglected gamines who nonetheless flourish and become experts at fending for themselves.


The essence of Lisbeth’s character is a common one that seems to be increasingly attractive to American audiences: the sexualized, independent autist. This is River Tam from Firefly, the woman from The 5th Element, and is echoed in Edward Cullen from Twilight, Dexter, and Dr. House. These characters reveal society’s increasing fetish of self-efficacy – they exude strength, independence, and provide an expression of rage at the more subtle social injustices and inhibitions of social norms. They do not respond to social patterns and expectations, like Sheldon Cooper or or C3PO, but unlike those humorous characters, the sexualized competent autist provides a violent and hypersexual (almost gnostically sexual – oftentimes, like with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Lisbeth, the characters detach themselves from their sexuality and use it as a tool) successful escape. They offer a character who does not succumb to illogical non-verbal communication and oppressive social codes: they interact logically, not heatedly (Lisbeth asking Mikael for permission to kill a serial killer), and ultimately succeed, and achieve a sexualized, center-character status at that, as opposed to the comic relief status of the typical autist.

What does this say about American culture? I’d say that it indicates a reaction against the stress of social niceties. These movies could be called counter-culture, but a very thinly veiled counter-culture – no, sexualized autistic characters are not appearing in chick flicks with Owen Wilson, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was by no means an obscure movie. The characters precede what I think is going to become a more prevalent theme in American culture: a fetish of successful social rejection.

Rooney Mara in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo