Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Problems with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I'll begin by saying that the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was quite watchable and, at times, even enjoyable. However, the story is ultimately hollow due to one giant problem: female trouble (or, rather, men having problems with powerful women). Here are my top 5 issues with the film:

1. Marketing. We all know that marketing has the ability to make or break a movie, and the edgy trailers and promo stills of this film certainly drummed up some hype. The problem here is that the marketing screamed, "Look at this sexy girl! She wants to fuck you and be your girlfriend!" Case in point: this image from a promotional spread in W Magazine features a fragile, topless Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander) against a frigid Swedish backdrop:

Many more promotional images depicted Salander as a sexual object in various states of undress: straddling a motorcycle without wearing pants, getting a tattoo on her ass, standing topless (with exposed nipple ring) while being embraced by a fully clothed Mikael Blomkvist, and so on. The marketing message is clear: sex. This completely undermines the updated detective story in favor of the less significant romantic/sexual aspects.

2. Salander's submissive role. From the beginning of the film, Salander is visually coded as being tough: she has tattoos (obviously), multiple piercings, defensive body posturing, oversized clothing, and a guardedly blank facial expression. These act as her armor, and her motorcycle is her horse. She is fiercely independent and goes to great lengths to protect herself -- except that this protection is completely undermined by the camera. Shots linger on the curves of her rear and her breasts, but they fly past the violent bruises and cuts of her rape. Ironically, chronically shirtless Daniel Craig remains mostly bundled against the Swedish chill.

Indeed, it is Salander's relationship with Blomkvist that softens her to the point of submission. This is evidenced by their first romantic tryst: Salander initiates the sexual act, but Blomkvist quickly flips her over and assumes the dominant position. The next morning, he awakens to her watching him, gazing with admiration and intimate submission. Further (and this is a big spoiler), when Salander saves Blomkvist from serial killer Martin Vanger, she does not simply chase Vanger or declare that she will kill him -- she asks permission from Blomkvist. Why would any hero ask permission to protect countless women from torture, sexual assault, and brutal murder? This particular point ruffled my feathers, so I decided to search the original text. Unsurprisingly, the textual Salander doesn't ask permission of anyone -- ever.

3. Feminism. Actress Mara is quoted as saying, "I never thought of [Salander] as a feminist; I don't think she would characterize herself as that either." Director David Fincher agreed that Salander was not a feminist. Whether or not Salander considers herself one, she does view women as being equal to men -- the very definition of feminism. Why else would she protect other women from being preyed upon by not one but two rapists? This misconception of feminism by two key players caused the film to miss out on the large potential for female empowerment. Instead of fighting for women, Salander simply fights (with permission).

4. Lack of female power. Aside from Salander, there are two important adult women: Blomkvist's lover, Erika Berger, and the missing girl at the center of the mystery, Harriet Vanger. Berger is the editor of an important independent magazine, but Blomkvist's scandal threatens to take down her career with it. In the novel, her relationship with Blomkvist is portrayed as solid and permanent, while in the film she is relegated to a much more minor role. Harriet, too, does not rise to her ultimate potential. In the novel, she is ultimately offered the CEO position of her family's company. On film, her return is little more than a hug and a smile.

5. David Fincher. The director has a reputation for being meticulous, difficult, and moody. He worked his actors particularly hard for this film, and it definitely showed. His relationship with Mara, a relative newcomer, is definitely troubling. In Vogue's interview with the pair, Jonathan van Meter writes, "[Fincher] says with quiet seriousness, 'You can eat.' I look up to see her reaction. [... Mara] orders a piece of fish and barely touches it." It is this possessiveness over her appearance, her body that makes me uncomfortable. In a way, she has sunken into the same submissive role as her Salander, looking to her Blomkvist for guidance and approval.

Admittedly, I'm approaching this from a very pro-feminist perspective. I'd like to reiterate that I didn't dislike the film; it's just that I didn't particularly like it either. This entire trilogy had huge potential to promote the female hero, and so far Salander is just playing second fiddle. Time will tell if she comes into her own.

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