Thus Spake Zuska

I recently got the chance to view “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. This is the best film I have ever seen in my life. It is not an easy film to watch. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and want to see it, you may want to watch it with a trusted friend or two, with planned time afterward to help you process what you have seen. Terrible things do happen to the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, but the vengeance she exacts upon the evil-doers in the film is so perfect and so delicious and so right that you may be okay. Indeed, if men who so casually perpetrate violence against women had to worry about blowback like this, there’d be a helluva lot less of that shit going down. Which makes me sorta wish that this film would be required viewing for young women as a sort of training film: How To Deal With The Patriarchy 101. Ah, a girl can dream.

As you may well be aware, the Swedish title of the book that inspired the film – and of the film itself – translates literally as “Men Who Hate Women”. Now, that’s a perfectly good title, and in many ways far more apt for the film’s subject matter than GWTDT. But I suppose the powers-that-be decided that such a title just wouldn’t fly with American viewing audiences, even in the little arthouse theaters where this film is mostly showing. Why would that be?

The movie includes as central, important characters, several men who are sympathetic, helpful, and clearly do not hate women. But even if the original title had been “This Book is about One Bad Man Who, It Seems, Hated Women”, I suspect the marketing powers-that-be in the U.S. feared it would be seen and heard as “This Is A Feminist Screed About Women Who Think That All Men, Who Really Are Fabulous, Are Hateful Creatures Who Hate Women, So Don’t Bother Buying A Ticket, Even Though This Was Written By A Man “. In this light, we can read “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” as “Hey! This Is An Interesting Film About A Girl (Not A Woman, Don’t Be Scared) Who Has A Nifty Tattoo, And Tattoos Are So Cool, And I Bet You Would Like This, Because Girls With Tats Are Hot!”

Without revealing much about the plot, it should be noted that Lisbeth is the complete and total heroine of the tale. She is physically strong, courageous, fierce, drives the cool vehicle and handles it with total control in the crucial chase scene, rescues her lover, is the planner and executor of vengeance, is the computer whiz, is the one who cracks the code and the case, is the mysterious aloof stranger who leaves her lover wanting to know more about her, and handily crafts a resolution for the problems in her partner/lover’s life after dealing with all the main plot issues. There is nothing that she is not crucial to doing, figuring out, making happen. Her partner, who has been assigned the task of working on a 40-year-old cold case, is making little or no headway until Lisbeth joins forces with him, and at the end, verbally concedes that she was responsible for solving the mystery. Her computer skills, her technological savvy, her photographic memory, her savant mind are all as necessary as her fearlessness, strength, and ability to wield a golf club in making their way through the thicket.

How then, do you explain this from a review by John Timpane in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer?

Where Salander works by slashing, unguessed strokes, often stoked by vicious vengefulness and disregard for law (as long as the right people are punished), Blomkvist relies on skills, on dogged, hard-earned know-how. Between the two, a snarled, sick skein of international intrigue, involving ancient corruption at the highest levels, untangles.

I’m sorry, but this is complete, utter bullshit. Salander knows how to work her way through an archive just as well as Blomkvist does. To paint him as the partner with skills and her as some slashing, blind vengeance-driven creature of instinct and not of know-how is just wrong, and an insult to everything this is about.

About that “vicious vengefulness” – I guess it depends upon your point of view. When I saw “Inglorious Basterds” and saw the near final scenes in the theater, I thought “wow! this is fabulous! you just can’t kill Hitler hard enough!” The vengeance in GWTDT – or, more properly, Men Who Hate Women – against the kinds of men who truly do hate women is fabulous in the same way, in both senses of the word. Vicious, I think, is the word I would save for the violence against women those men have perpetrated that called down the vengeance upon their heads.

Comments

  1. #1 Delphyne
    May 24, 2010

    I have this book and have yet to read it. I will for sure now – and will definitely go see the movie. Thanks!

  2. #2 ctenotrish
    May 24, 2010

    Am reading the books out of order, accidentally. I started with “The Girl Who Plays With Fire”, and loved it. Now am reading “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo”, and will be happy to get my hands on the third book, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. Hope the third lives up to the first two. Had *no* idea there was a movie. But it is officially on my must-see list!

  3. #3 Murfomurf
    May 24, 2010

    There’s not just ONE man who hates women in this series…

  4. #4 Pen
    May 24, 2010

    I haven’t read these books, but my husband is reading them right now, and his comment was that the author must be a sadist with a secret desire to perpetrate violence on women because of the amount of violence described. Not sure what that says about men who read those books till 3am. Anyway it kind of put me off, no matter how smart the heroine is. Still, the books and the film may differ.

  5. #5 MsEithne
    May 25, 2010

    It isn’t too surprising that the books feature a strong, capable woman because they were most likely co-authored by a very strong, capable woman. Eva Gabrielsson was Stieg Larsson’s long term partner; they were unable to marry for security reasons due to his previous work as a journalist. She is a noted translator and said to be a fine writer, whereas Larsson’s previous journalistic work was pretty plodding.

    The whole story is mind boggling and has not yet been resolved.

  6. #6 Thomas
    May 25, 2010

    The movie cuts away so much of the book that it is somewhat disjoint, especially the subplot about Wennerström, but I suspect the rape and revenge scenes are done in a lot more ugly and realistic way than the future Hollywood version will dare. (Actually I have only seen the somewhat longer TV-version that I’m not even sure is available outside Sweden)

    In addition to being a superhero, Salander is also deeply psychologically disturbed and unable to form any lasting relations, but you have to read the second and third book (or movies) to find out the reason for this. What you see in the first movie is just a pale shadow of what she has endured before.

  7. #7 Zuska
    May 25, 2010

    I confess I was exceedingly depressed to discover, shortly after viewing the film, that there were plans afoot for a Hollywood version. I can only imagine what a wan imitative travesty Hollywood will make of this. They’ll get someone like Katherine Heigl to play Salander “for broader appeal” and, most definitely, they’ll water down the rape and revenge scenes, because rape should only be portrayed in American cinema in a sort of we-know-it’s-wrong-but-isn’t-it-really-sort-of-titillating-and-hot, because every d00d would love to do it if he could and every woman would secretly love to have some strong man sweep her away a la Rhett Butler. Revenge? Women don’t get to take revenge. They’ll reassign the cleverness with computers and technology to the reporter, because that will just seem more normal and believable, and because they Hollywood writers just won’t understand what to do with his role while she’s doing all the figuring out. It is difficult for me to imagine how it can not come out awful.

  8. #8 Zuska
    May 25, 2010

    And Pen, that’s an…interesting perspective your husband has expressed. From my perspective, we are fed a steady daily diet of sadistic violence against women in normal Hollywood fare disguised as entertainment – one after another lovingly staged and filmed rape scenes, where we see how much the rapist is enjoying what he is doing, and we the audience get to share in the enjoyment. The dozens of horror films where beautiful young women are killed in ever more creative and violent means for our enjoyment over a tub of popcorn. In films or tv, when you encounter teh sadist who locks up people (usually women) in his basement to torture and kill them – aren’t those scenes usually drawn out and erotically charged? How many times have you watched a movie or tv scene where a woman was resisting the sexual pressure of a man – maybe he was even pretty rough and aggressive with her – and then, oh, it turns out, she really was just resisting herself, because, yeah, she really wanted him, and finally gave in and they made passionate love. Count for me, if you will, the number of times in an American film you have seen a sex scene focused entirely on the woman’s physical gratification, not the man’s.

    If you really have watched a number of American films and paid much attention, and you watch this film, the absolute stark difference is astonishing. There is explicit violence portrayed but it is not portrayed to titillate or amuse. This film was most definitely not made with the male gaze in mind and I cannot imagine that the book it was drawn from was written by a sadist, but rather by someone intent on exposing the institutional-wide, society-wide, pervasive evils of patriarchy. Sadists enjoy violence and none of the violence in this film was portrayed in any way that was the least bit titillating or enjoyable. With one exception: the vengeance, which is experienced as a relief and form of justice in a world where the ordinary forms of justice cannot be relied upon.

  9. #9 Gray Falcon
    May 25, 2010

    I just noticed, that review seems to be based on the stereotype, possibly subconsciously, of the “logical male, emotional female.” There are, of course, some who insist that this stereotype is grounded in reality. The fact that the ideal is completely absent in some cultures suggests otherwise. Perhaps we need more intellectual heroines.

  10. #10 Thomas
    May 25, 2010

    Zuska, I can’t remember how it was shown in the movie, but at least based on the book you are wrong in claiming Salander did all the significant work in finding the killer. She added some pieces and Blomkvist some. Both were necessary, but I think Blomkvist was the more important.

    But you certainly have the right idea about the book being written “by someone intent on exposing the institutional-wide, society-wide, pervasive evils of patriarchy” rather than by some sadist. Just because you write about violence you don’t have to like it.

  11. #11 Zuska
    May 25, 2010

    Thomas, I haven’t read the book, but in the movie she absolutely on her own cracks the code that Blomkvist is making no headway whatsoever with. She is the one with the computer and technology skills necessary to save them both in the end from the killer. Blomkvist tells the retired police dude “if it is of any consolation to you, it wasn’t me who solved it [the 40 year old cold case] either”.

  12. #12 Gregory Frost
    May 25, 2010

    Film and book don’t match one to one, which is how it should be anyway. The three books seem to have been written with a single story arc to them (so says the NY Times article about Larsson, which also mentions that the English translations were so mucked about with by editorial “help” that the translator asked to have his name removed, so God knows what it might have read like once upon a time). But Lisbeth is the character with the depth, the growth and development in the trilogy; so I don’t think any final pronouncements about her can be made without seeing that complete arc. Timpane’s review is, at best, ridiculously simplistic.

    Film: It is, to me, a superb film, and as you say, Zuska, not easy to watch in parts, which is as it should be, whereas for me “Inglorious Basterds” was a kind of anti-Nazi wet dream at the end (yes, you just can’t kill Hitler enough, thank you), and thus tapped nothing like the same emotions of revulsion that TDWTDT does.

    I shake my head in doubt about the American version of the same that’s in the works, as Hollywood’s history of dealing with such subject matter has me anticipating that a major work of torture-porn is in the offing.

  13. #13 skeptifem
    May 25, 2010

    The amount of violence described might be to provoke disgust.

    I remember reading things like The Hot Zone a long time ago, it had horrific and graphic descriptions of what happens when people contract the ebola virus. No one suggested that there was some pornographic aspect to that. But when I read American Psycho a few years later, many people suggested to me that the graphic descriptions were meant to be erotic (the whole point imo was that a blank slate of a man with privilege like bateman is bound to turn into such a horrible creature, not to turn anyone on). The cultural context of violence against women is what makes graphic descriptions into potential pornography- if there weren’t so many people who get off on that crap it wouldn’t cross anyones mind. When it is meant to elicit disgust I don’t mind reading about violence aimed at women. This is part of why I gave up on the idea of writing some great fiction piece to reveal some kind of social truth- people don’t get it and you get the creepiest kind of fans who like your work for the exact wrong reasons. On TV tropes there is an endless list of examples in the ‘misaimed fandom’ entry. I guess skinheads are into American History X even though it is a blatantly anti racist in message. Woah.

  14. #14 Thomas
    May 25, 2010

    Zuska, it is correct that Salander cracked the Bible code, but that was only one part of the puzzle. The movie simplified a lot. And sure, Salander did save Blomkvist’s life in the end, but later on he saves her life when she has been shot and is bleeding to death and proves she is innocent when she is accused of multiple murders and risk either jail or being locked up in a mental institution for life. (hope that was more of a teaser than a spoiler)

    It’s sad to hear from Gregory that the books were messed up in translation to English. Come to think of it, I have no idea how much the Swedish version was edited either, and with the author dead editing could have changed his vision of the books a lot.

  15. #15 Brandon
    May 25, 2010

    From my perspective, we are fed a steady daily diet of sadistic violence against women in normal Hollywood fare disguised as entertainment – one after another lovingly staged and filmed rape scenes, where we see how much the rapist is enjoying what he is doing, and we the audience get to share in the enjoyment.

    Is this really still a problem? I’m not disagreeing with you, I just haven’t seen it myself. Then again, I really only watch sci-fis and comedies. Any specific movies you can mention that feature this kind of crap? I’m kind of surprised people can get away with this nowadays.

  16. #16 Zuska
    May 26, 2010

    Are you seriously asking this question, Brandon? The whole popularity of slasher films just passed you by? You missed the sub-genre of those films known by its oh-so-obfuscating category name of torture porn? Just seeing a still from the movie Hostel in my local paper was enough to give me nightmares – I can’t imagine what it did for thousands of survivors of rape and torture. Right now my tv is playing a rerun of Law and Order SVU – I’ll need to change the channel, because I find that show disturbing for the way in which it often lingers lovingly over the abuse. If you haven’t “seen it for yourself” it may be because we are so tutored to think of this stuff as normal and acceptable – as entertaining, not disturbing.

  17. #17 Brandon
    May 26, 2010

    Or it could be that I don’t see a whole lot of movies and TV and really don’t keep up with that kind of stuff. Or that I tend to avoid especially violent and gory media so I wouldn’t know too much about it. Nah, it must be because I was tutored to find rape entertaining. Thanks for clarifying, Zuska.

  18. #18 jc
    May 26, 2010

    shorter Brandon:
    “I haven’t seen it myself”
    “I don’t see a whole lot”
    “really don’t keep up”
    “tend to avoid”
    “wouldn’t know too much about it”

    Thanks for clarifying.
    yeah, we know.

  19. #19 Brandon
    May 26, 2010

    Yeah, because God forbid I genuinely want to learn about something I am ignorant about. I’m done here.

  20. #20 who cares
    May 26, 2010

    It’s actually the whole english speaking world that calls it the girl with the dragon tattoo- so not just an American problem. Most of the other european languages I can recongise enough of to roughly translate have kept what looks like the orginal literal translation from Swedish.

    Haven’t seen the movie but I have read all the books in English. The whole series is one story arc. The first book makes more sense after the third one is finished.

  21. #21 Thomas
    May 26, 2010

    I heard the French translate the first book as “Men who don’t love women”, which is a considerably understatement.

  22. #22 SargassoSea
    May 26, 2010

    @skeptifem -
    Agreeing with your take on American Psycho. Interesting that *many* thought it a direct attack on feminism, though.

    @Brandon, aka Mr.”I’m done here.” -
    Yay! Don’t let the door hit ya in the ass.

  23. #23 Jess
    May 26, 2010

    Re American Psycho: I used to find the movie tolerable to watch in terms of rapey-killyness, but, not so much lately. The book – well, I still have actual nightmares from skimming through it when i was 15 yrs old

    Does TGWTDT pass the Bechdel Test?

  24. #24 anonymoose
    May 26, 2010

    I read the book, and the female character is deeply flawed as a result of her experiences (trying to be non-spoilery!, hence the vagueness). So its irritating to hear that in the movie she becomes the perfect superwoman, because that’s an irritating trope hollywood puts on women too – be gorgeous, skinny, brilliant AND kickass. That’s a woman! Perfect in every single way, except with one adorable flaw that makes her ‘human’. Like, maybe she doesn’t do dishes.

    The book is one long ode to rape and torture as an enjoyable entertainment for men – clearly the point is, it makes ‘better’ women, women who turn out to be these great action heroines, so obviously its a good idea, because its what propels women to greatness. Not a great read.

  25. #25 Thomas
    May 26, 2010

    Jess, yes the movie pass the Bechdel Test. I had to think a while to come up with a scene where two women talk to each other, though, since the number of women in the first movie is limited.

  26. #26 SargassoSea
    May 26, 2010

    Jess –

    I was actually referring to the book which is heavy stuff to be sure. I haven’t seen the movie in a while but I always appreciated what Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner were trying to do with it.

    Y’all may find this interview with Mary, Brent and Christian interesting: http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/3750

  27. #27 Look at me Look at me Look at me
    May 26, 2010

    against the kinds of men who truly do hate women

    You may want to correct this, as it implies that you might possibly think that there are men who do not hate women. As we all know, all men are woman-hating patriarchal “d00ds” (and likely serial rapists). Wouldn’t want your street cred to get hurt. Love your work! Have a nice day.

  28. #28 Hel
    May 27, 2010

    In Spain is translated “Men that don’t love women”.

  29. #29 Lab Rat
    May 28, 2010

    @Brandon: I know you’ve long gone but…

    You said you knew of no examples of films which glorify woman-pain. Zuska reacted slightly disbelieving and gave you lots of examples finishing with the fact that it may be that people (hint: PEOPLE, NOT JUST *YOU*!) are socially programmed not too see them as it’s so endemic in the culture.

    You responded by throwing a hissy fit and saying that actually the real reason was because you didn’t watch films. And you were leaving because you take general social comments personally and find them offensive.

    If you’d thought of that when asking your original question, and realised maybe the reason you didn’t see stuff in films was because you didn’t actually watch them, woud have saved us all a bit of time, effort, and stupidity.

  30. #30 Heather
    May 29, 2010

    “Count for me, if you will, the number of times in an American film you have seen a sex scene focused entirely on the woman’s physical gratification, not the man’s.”

    They actually covered Zuska’s above point in “This Movie Is Not Yet Rated.”: The filmmakers, I think, succeeded in making the case that the ratings board tends to give NC-17 ratings to movies where women’s sexual pleasure is graphically portrayed (the ratings board has a problem with sex in general, particularly non-heterosexual sex– and much less of a problem with violence, it seems).

    Kimberly Pierce was told that her movie, “Boys Don’t Cry”, was being given an NC-17 rating partly for an extended shot focusing on Lana’s face as she has an orgasm. It may be worth mentioning that another part of the reason she was given an NC-17 rating was for a scene depicting the violent rape of Brandon Teena, but it was also, I think (from my dim memory of it) not an eroticized scene– just about the pain and violence.

    They also showed a clip of an interview with Maria Bello about “The Cooler” where the ratings board got upset about a shot that lasted a fraction of a second where they saw her pubic hair after William Macy’s character went down on her. She was upset because she’d just seen an R-rated flick (Scary Movie) in which Carmen Electra got stabbed in the breast in the first scene. She didn’t understand why that was somehow more acceptable than a post-orgasm glimpse of her pubic hair.

    The movie “But I’m A Cheerleader” was also apparently cited by the board and given an NC-17 rating partly for a scene of the female lead character masturbating though her nightgown, even though she’s fully clothed.

    It’s pretty depressing. They’ll give PG-13 ratings to movies where a guy is clearly making his girlfriend fellate him (2002′s “Big Trouble”) to “comedic effect”, but heavens, they can’t show people that women might just enjoy having orgasms. Or that, you know, women have pubic hair.

  31. #31 red pepper
    May 31, 2010

    You responded by throwing a hissy fit and saying that actually the real reason was because you didn’t watch films. And you were leaving because you take general social comments personally and find them offensive.

  32. #32 Yvonne
    June 4, 2010

    Just finished the book last night (bought #2 today from the local indie bookstore); will see the movie if and when I find out how the animal violence is handled (that’s a trigger.)

    Anyway, about the name. I ended up liking the name change. I love the word girl when used the way it is in the title. For me, it’s subversive. (I hear it as a variant of “grrl”.) But I also like knowing what the original title is. It made me much more aware that the very pro-feminist lens of the story was a conscious act on the part of the male writer. That was nice.

    And about the reviewer characterizing Salander as operating on “unguessed strokes”… WTF? There’s no guessing in Salander’s strokes.

  33. #33 Christophe Thill
    June 7, 2010

    I liked this movie a lot.

    I think the rape scenes are very interesting. They’re different, with the first one focusing on the aspect of threats, coercion and humiliation, and the second one on physical violence and pain. Taken together, I think they do a good job of having any viewer (male or female) understand what it must feel like to be a rape victim. Both are painful to watch. And the revenge is cathartic and liberating.

    Also, another thing is interesting. It’s not only that all the work is done by a woman. Lisbeth Salander is not just a woman, she’s a crazy woman. I like the fact that it shows a mentally unbalanced person doing something complicated and useful, pulling the plot forward almost by herself, and also being a good friend and lover (though rather special and fragile, of course). In many movies, mentally troubled characters tend to fall into a small number of stereotypes (primarily, of course, the psychopathic criminal), and they’re dysfunctional 100% of the time, which is not too realistic.

  34. #34 Ewa C
    June 8, 2010

    Christophe, what makes you think that Salander is a “crazy woman”? I did not get that impression.

    To “anonymoose” – see the movie before you give your verdict, with which I perhaps would not agree anyway, as I don’t agree with your statement that “The book is one long ode to rape and torture as an enjoyable entertainment for men” etc. You’ve missed the point, methinks. What I like about the book(s) is that people are human, all have their flaws, both men and women (depending what each one of us think is a flaw). I do not take the book as a condemnation of men and glorification of women. I would say that Larsson is trying to point out that women are also people, and can be as strong and intelligent as men. And what he criticizes is the society that makes putting down and abusing women because they are women something natural and acceptable, makes them “legitimate” targets.

  35. #35 Yvonne
    June 8, 2010

    @Christophe: I haven’t seen the movie so I will include the caveat that Salander’s sanity may not be as evident as it is in the book. But in the book, Larsson is very careful to show that Salander is not only completely sane, but is the moral center of the story. She is a character that is completely free of rape apologism and shows how different that is.

  36. #36 Comrade Svilova
    July 19, 2010

    Just saw the movie — can’t wait to read the books! — and I was absolutely blown away by how well the movie handled the rape scenes and the overall psychology of all the rapists (definitely “men” who hate women, with Mikael and Henrik as welcome reliefs). I couldn’t watch the rape scenes in full, but it seemed to me that the message of the film is that rape is NOT about sex, but is about hatred of women combined with a need to assert oneself, inflict pain, and seize authority. I’m just repeating what Zuska said above; this film is leagues ahead of anything else I’ve seen in depicting the true nature of rape and violent misogyny.

    I do not want to see the Hollywood version.