Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Girl Who Reviewed the Film

Truth in advertising: the girl does, in fact, have a dragon tattoo, but even more so, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) is full of Men Who Hate Women (a more literal translation of the actual Swedish title). 

Random thoughts:

Swedish is a very strange and alien-sounding language to me, and it's odd to think that my great-grandparents would have spoken it. (Another set spoke the closely related Norwegian). I have no twinge of connection at all. A couple of generations, and it has nothing more to do with me than any randomly selected language in the world.

While they were at it, the characters seamlessly dropped the occasional English word and phrase into their Swedish, making me wonder if people call that "Swenglish."

There were also the subtitle oddities, like when the guy says he thinks his niece was murdered, and the protagonist says "Murdered?" The vowel sound was slightly different, but the word was clearly "murder." It's not like this is an unusual phraseology: it's a perfectly rational conversation. But someone typing up those subtitles said to themselves, "Hmmm, I don't like the word 'murdered.' Let's say 'killed' instead." I mean, it's not inaccurate. The words are basically synonymous. But I still wonder what they're thinking when they clearly say one thing and the subtitles say another.

But about the actual movie (and I doubt I need to tell anyone that there'll be spoilers): I had some of the same reaction as I did when flipping through the book. There's a pretty horrible level of violence against women -- probably the closest I want to get to a Hostel film -- and that's particularly off-putting in something that gets talked about for its "feminist" slant. Although it was interesting to see so many respectable grandmotherly types packing the theater for a film full of brutal rape and murder. But they must have known what they were getting into, since every respectable grandmotherly type in my Obscure Midwestern Town has read the book.

Anyway -- the thing about the level of violence, and the fact that the film almost seems to revel in the abuse heaped on poor Lisbeth Salander (who I find myself wanting to call Lisander), albeit so it can revel in her turning the tables on her abusers: it occurred to me that this a story about violence against women, as explored by men, for men. I think it annoyed me that Lisbeth, despite being the Girl of the title, was more of an object in the narrative, acted upon, than the subject or point of view character I'd have preferred.

But that may be part of the strategy. There's a lot of material about rape and misogyny that's already directed at female audiences. Here, Mikael is the identification character for the audience, and he comes to understand how bad the situation is for some women via the literal mystery (in mystery novel terms) of what happened to Harriet, and the mystery (in more psychological terms) of what happened to Lisbeth.

I was reminded of those days in the '80s-'90s when there was a lot of academic furor over misogyny, with women reading Andrea Dworkin, and arguing that all men are rapists. Well, all men aren't rapists; all sex isn't rape. But rape and violence do exist, and in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the protagonists are decent men who aren't rapists or killers themselves, but are forced to confront the evil committed by other men. The two prominent women in the story have faced it directly (and it's probably on purpose that those women are so different, one being a social outcast, the other growing up rich and privileged). The two men (the sympathetic friend/lover Lisbeth finds, and the kind, nurturing relative who couldn't imagine the abuse suffered by his beloved niece) have to learn about it, and align themselves with the women against evil.

If misogyny and violence against women are part of a society, it's because the society tolerates it in some ways, to some extent. There's almost certainly some symbolic value in the fact that here, the killer didn't flounder into this out of alienation or general psychological traumas. He was literally taught that women were his to abuse and kill. So the metaphors are about the responsibility of men within the society.

Also, sadly, most people aren't motivated so much by abstractions. They almost always care more about things that affect them directly, or could. Which is why women are generally more aware of violence against women, and for men, a good motivational starting point for their concern is the fact that it could happen to women they care about.

Obviously, with this kind of discourse, this wasn't a feel-good film that I'll be re-watching for entertainment value. If you're up for a grim, well-crafted movie with Swedish subtitles, then go for it. I'll add that star Noomi Rapace was really great in the title role, and none of the American actresses whose names are being thrown around for an American remake seem in any way up to her level. We'll see...


bollyviewer said...

I was just reading this when I came across your spoiler warning. Since I am the one person in this world who has neither read the book not watched the film, and want to do at least one of them, I am going away until I do so. But I am glad to know that the girl does have a dragon tattoo, though not so happy about all the men hating women...

Anarchivist said...

Men Hating Women is not a good thing...

bollyviewer said...

So, I've finally read the book and can safely say that I'll neither watch the film nor read the sequels.

"this is a story about violence against women, as explored by men, for men." Granted it is not as bad as what I've seen on Law And Order SVU, but WHY is it that violent rapes of women and minors form such a big part of popular entertainment these days? Is that the new "sex" in media? If so, what does it say about a humankind that derives entertainment (and vicarious pleasure) from this?

UGGGHHHH!!! I am going back to Agatha Christie to cleanse my palette - even old-fashioned sexism and racism are better than these tales of today's "empowered" women!