I just saw the movie and was horrified by the rape scene. And, sadly, on the empowerment issue, while we see her full-frontal for her consensual sex scenes with Blomkvist, all we see of him is a brief moment of butt-crack. I find the excuse that her rape scene is essential to her character to be a grossly disturbing one that comes out of rape culture. If a man is violently assaulted, is that essential to his character development? Lisbeth is amazing, but I too was saddened when I read that aspect of why the writer chose to include so much sexual violence in his books. I think your commentary on it sums up why it’s so problematic.
Last night I went to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and to say I didn’t enjoy it would be an understatement. I’d planned to see another movie (the anime racing movie Redline) but unfortunately the showing I wanted to attend was closed for a private event. So we went over to the megaplex to see if there was anything there we might want to see. The only option of any interest to the three of us was Girl although I did raise a flag beforehand that I’d heard it was pretty violent and not so great to women. Admittedly, that was exactly what I’d heard, which in my opinion does not cover what happens in the story at all. I’ve never read the books at all, obviously. Ultimately, rather than see some of the other shit there, I agreed to see Girl.
Before I continue, I want to point out the obvious - there will be spoilers. And some anger.
Without someone outright saying “there is a brutal rape scene” I don’t think I would’ve been prepared for what awaited me. Not that I’d choose to go see a movie with a brutal rape scene, prepared or no, but still. “Not so great to women” doesn’t begin to cover it. The already damaged title character is coerced into a blow job and then later brutally raped by the same guy. The rape scene has to last at least 10 minutes, as you see him knock her out, cuff her to the bed, rip off her clothes, and mount her. As he puts on the condom he asks “Do you like anal?” and then you see her screaming and writhing in pain as he rapes her. Afterwards, they show her in the shower, covered in bruises with blood flowing out of her (which I’ve been told is not in the book, adding an extra element of nasty torture porn to the movie).
But luckily, she ultimately finds acceptance in the arms of Daniel Craig, and is briefly okay with him and even saves him, until he walks off with someone else, ending the movie with a shot of her looking like a defeated, kicked puppy. This is a woman that we’re supposed to believe is strong, because she revenged herself on her attacker and survived her rape, yet rather than showing her be strong on her own, she leans on a man who then leaves her alone and dejected again. Why couldn’t she stand there defiant, at the end? She survived her rape and revenged herself on her attacker, saved her lover, and took care of herself - why end on the note of her needing him? I’m not saying being strong doesn’t mean you can’t need someone, but the director had the opportunity to have her take that perceived rejection in a few different ways and he chose the one that left her looking vulnerable.
The mystery storyline, wherein a father and son team brutally rape and kill a series of women, bothered me way less than the rape scene and general treatment of Lisbeth. I watch a lot of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I read the news. These awful things happen. Within the movie you hear a description of each crime and then see crime scene photos, but it’s never shown in moving images. And I’m not opposed to books about violence against women anymore than I’m against books about violence against men - it’s a thing that happens and it’s a thing people write about. I am opposed to misogyny hidden under a pretense of writing about a “strong” woman that then people defend.
And here’s the kicker - it was not a good film. If I’d walked away thinking, this said something really new and brilliant about rape and about being a woman, there could be a reason for that kind of scene. Even if it was just that it was not a messy story chock full of plot holes, maybe there would’ve been some redemption for it. Instead, it’s a not very good movie with a brutal rape scene that didn’t need to be included.
Someone on Twitter said to me that it was necessary to develop her as a character. Tell me, what’s the last book you read or movie you saw in which a male character was raped? I mean, if it’s in the name of character development, it must happen to both genders, right? But the fact is, while there are stories where men get raped, it’s not going to be in the movie you check out at the local cineplex, and you’re certainly not going to be surrounded by mansplainers telling you how essential the rape is to the story. The thing is, most men never have to face the possibility of being raped, yet it’s a worry if not a reality most women live with. If Lisbeth were a real person, would you tell her that her rape is okay because it helped her develop as a person?
It was also pointed out to me that, according to Wikipedia, “Larsson witnessed the gang rape of a young girl when he was 15. He never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth – like the young main character of his books, herself a rape victim, which inspired the theme of sexual violence against women in his books.” Now, this is almost most offensive of all, in my mind. This man was too weak to help someone in trouble, so instead he wrote a book where he exploits that experience in the name of creativity or profit or whatever reason he wrote it. Maybe he thought he was redeeming the woman he saw get raped by making his fictional Lisbeth strong enough to fight back, but in a way that almost makes it worse for me because it’s sort of like “I couldn’t save this woman so I made one that I think is strong enough to save herself.” It doesn’t help the woman who was raped - what would have helped her is if he had stood up and done something.
I’ve been told, too, that the books are quite good. I’ve also been told they contain all of the scenes that I most object to and all of the plot holes that annoy me. You couldn’t pay me to read them now. I will happily go back to a life without such awfulness.
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