Feminism / Films

Why I’m Not Excited to See Hollywood’s ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

Studio execs worry if women will go see Hollywood’s remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Some speculate it’s because of the graphic trailer or the holiday release. I’ll be seeing it tonight. But count me in as one of the women who’s NOT excited to watch.

I absolutely loved the three books by Stieg Larsson and enjoyed the three original Swedish films. Lisbeth Salander is the ultimate badass feminist hero. Why wouldn’t I want to see director David Fincher’s take on the female protagonist and the global phenomenon of The Millennium Trilogy? Two words. Sexist marketing.

Melissa Silverstein was one of the first (if not the first) to point out this infuriating poster of Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist with his arms around Rooney Mara as researcher/hacker Lisbeth. Not only does this picture evoke a message that Lisbeth needs a dude to protect her (trust me, she doesn’t). But that once again, a woman is reduced to her looks. She’s nothing more than a subversive sex symbol. Why the fuck doesn’t Craig have his clothes off too?! Oh right, because we only care about seeing boobs.

Beyond objectification, in her brilliant post “The Pornification of Lisbeth Salander,” Silverstein writes:

“It just doesn’t seem to me to be in keeping with her character. Lisbeth is deeply private. She’s been assaulted, she’s been treated like crap by everyone who was supposed to take care of her. If she were a real person I would think she would kick the ass of the photographer who asked her to take her shirt off in public for a photo shoot…Lisbeth is not supposed to be hot. That’s one of the reasons why we love her so much. She doesn’t play by the rules and now we have a poster that puts her right back into the girl box.”

Joanne Bamberger at Pundit Mom also disdained the salacious poster and discussed why Lisbeth is NOT a sex symbol:

“If you know even the littlest bit about the theme of this book-turned-movie, you know that this isn’t a film about sex. It’s not a movie about a hot chick and her dude. The book and the main character of Lisbeth Salander are about so much more on some serious topics, including violence against women. But I can only conclude from this poster that Hollywood wants us to think this is a sexy, smoldering story about a man and his woman, rather than one about political intrigue and extreme violence against women, out of fear that they otherwise wouldn’t sell tickets.”

The posters for the original Swedish films put Lisbeth front and center…with clothes on. While other posters don’t display Lisbeth’s boobs, the marketing doesn’t seem to understand Lisbeth or Stieg Larsson’s riveting and compelling plot condemning misogyny and violence against women.

Female dismemberment in movie posters is all too common. Visually chopping women’s body parts (boobs, butt, torso, lips) in marketing commodifies and objectifies women. One of the so-called “artistic” posters for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo depicts a full on shot of Daniel Craig as Mikael with Lisbeth’s invisible profile outlined in his face. It’s as if she’s invisible without Mikael, her silhouette only made visible through him. The poster I’ve seen the most frequently is a shot of Mara as Lisbeth with Craig inside the image. Again as if her world revolves around him or she’s nothing inside without him. While magazine covers haven’t dismembered Lisbeth, they’ve depicted the two leads with Lisbeth kneeling in front of a standing Mikael (diminishing her stature) or holding onto him from behind as if she’s afraid and needs his protection.

All of these images taken as a collective objectify Lisbeth and imply she’s too frail, too fragile, too diminutive, too delicate – that she’s a victim who needs a man to save her. And that is the complete antithesis to the books and original films. A gender-bending character with a fluid sexuality, Lisbeth is strong and self-sufficient. She possesses a razor-sharp intellect and fierce survivor instincts. Lisbeth is no shrinking violet. Full of rage, she exacts her own brand of vigilante justice. She refuses to be a victim.

Even the trailers I’ve seen in the theatre and on TV also put superstar Craig front and center. But in the trailer for the original Swedish film, despite Michael Nyqvist, who played Mikael Blomvist, being an acclaimed actor in Sweden and Noomi Rapace, playing Lisbeth, a relative unknown, astutely knew that Lisbeth is the soul of the series.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The original Swedish title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (both the book and the film) is Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, which translates to “Men Who Hate Women.” American publishers changed the title which smartly focuses on Lisbeth yet sadly infantilizes her.

On top of all the sexist marketing, director Fincher doesn’t seem to understand Lisbeth’s strength. And none come stronger or more powerful than Lisbeth. In Empire magazine, Fincher had this to say about the iconic character:

“There were discussions early on where people were like, ‘She’s a superhero!’ And you go, ‘No, she’s not. Superheroes live in a world of good and evil, and she’s far more complex than a superhero. She’s been compromised. She’s been subjugated. She’s been marginalised. She’s been swept into the gutter and she’s had a part in it. She dresses like trash because she’s someone who has been betrayed and hurt so badly, by forces beyond her control, that she’s just decided to be refuse. She can sit anywhere she wants on the bus, because nobody wants to deal with her.”

Sigh. He just doesn’t seem to get her character at all. Yes, she is complex. And yes, she has most definitely been subjugated. But she is a superhero. Calling her otherwise dismisses her talents and all she accomplishes. If she was a male character, I’m sure Fincher would describe the role differently. Lisbeth hasn’t “just decided to be refuse.” Her appearance is her armor. It’s a warning for people to stay away. Make no mistake. Despite the shit she endures, Lisbeth is in control. It seems that because she’s a woman, Fincher would rather focus on her vulnerability.

I hope I’m wrong. But with all of the bullshit marketing and misguided characterization, I’m scared shitless Hollywood has wrecked Lisbeth.

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3 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Excited to See Hollywood’s ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

  1. I would argue that she was always (at least in the first film, which is the point of discussion for the moment) a glorified sidekick/love interest for the relatively dull male hero. I think it’s just a case of we (feminists, proponents of richer female characters, etc) were so desperate for any female leading role that was remotely outside the box that we crowned Lisbeth Salander as a new feminist icon purely because she was just a little different than the standard female supporting character. She dressed ‘weird’, she had a very dark back story, and she had a few moments of righteous retribution, which in less overrated films might have merely been written off as the token ‘you go, girl!’ empowerment moment (“Yay, Ashley Judd sure showed that serial rapist what’s what! Now let’s get back to Alex Cross!”). I have not read the books, so it’s probable that much of the kudos for the character comes from theoretically richer source material, but the film version of Salander always struck me as a case of ‘so desperate for water that we drink the sand’.

    I am also seeing the new version tonight and I think like you it’s somewhat out of obligation than any real desire to see it (gotta see it to partake in the conversation, right?).

  2. I haven’t read the books, nor seen the original films, but i have read & discussed this
    character, with the opinioness, herself.
    From what i have learned, i feel like the EW cover shot completely weakens the character.
    She struck me as being a tough, independent, somewhat angry & edgey loner type.
    Why do they have her playing “piggyback” on the guy’s shoulders, or baring her breasts,
    while the “manly” arms offer protection.
    These are horrible representations of this character.
    If the author were still living, i think he’d be offended by such a portrayal.

  3. god, you’re right, these are horrible. I liked the actual poster shown on the neighborhood movie wall… her in ‘the thinker” pose, looking pensive, him larger — it doesn’t sexualize them nearly at all.

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