The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fails to live up to feminist roots

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is David Fincher’s second film featuring computer wizards emotionally remote, and both narratives leave one feeling similarly disconnected when the credits roll.

An American re-make of a popular Swedish film trilogy (itself based on a best-selling book series), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is part mystery, part techno-thriller, with a smattering of sex and violence.  Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an elderly gent who gives Blomkvist the task of investigating the disappearance of his niece Harriet, now forty years gone.  Vanger gives Blomkvist a tour of the neighborhood, pointing to nearby houses that accommodate the occasional Nazi family member.  Vanger’s distaste for his family is made clear, but in a whodunnit, just because a guy decries his Nazi family members doesn’t mean he’s not a suspect…

As Blomkvist dives into photo archives and has the perfunctory “Aha!” moments, his investigation intersects with the hacker-for-hire Lisbeth Salandar (Rooney Mara).  Pierced, tattooed, and decked out in grubby shades of black, she’s not a part of the respected world of Vanger and Blomkvist’s European sophistication.  The pair make an unlikely partnership, connected by their desire to catch a serial killer of women.

Unfortunately, though, there’s too much plot and not enough connective tissue to keep this story sailing.  The first half maintains segregated storylines for Salandar and Blomkvist, leaving Salandar’s story prior to investigating Harriet superfluous.  The bisexual hacker’s motivation for helping the straight-laced journalist seems to stem from her own experiences, but Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian don’t seem to grasp that a woman doesn’t need to be raped by a fat asshole to want to catch a killer who rapes and mutilates other women.

Closing the picture without the emotional pitch of Fight Club or the sober thoughtfulness of Se7en, Fincher feels too removed from the volatile material he’s working with, which leaves the representation of Salandar particularly suspect.  The vicious, gag-inducing rape scene (followed by an equally repulsive act of revenge) fails to play a central role in the film’s plot, which makes you wonder why it was put there in the first place.  Was it filmed merely to shock, and thereby titillate, during a slow patch in the film?  Similarly, Salandar randomly mounts Blomkvist in an act that you think holds some strategic purpose, but a motive never materializes.  Is it just an excuse to get Rooney Mara naked again, this time allowing us to take pleasure in her nudity, as opposed to our disgust during the rape scene?

The whole thing calls back to the 1903 Thomas Edison film wherein he infamously electrocuted Topsy the elephant in a campaign to show the alleged “dangers” of alternating current.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo taps into this same sense of macabre curiosity, allowing (or subjecting?) the audience to lurid events with little artistic pretense.

When you talk about a director you like, you almost speak about them like a dear friend, giving them the benefit of the doubt should people question their actions.  If Fincher were removed from the credits, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would stand as an irresponsible narrative, allowing the audience to take varying forms of pleasure in types violence that our protagonists are investigating.  Had Fincher invested more of himself in the film, offered some meditation on sexual violence, and gotten a better screenwriter to connect scenes that feel marooned from the overall narrative it wouldn’t prove so problematic and stale.

Want a happy meal with your forced fellatio?  Because icing on the cake is the flagrant product placement throughout the film.  Do these brands think the association with such problematic depictions of sex and violence will help sell more goods?  The displays of such crass advertising in such a dark film speak to the careless exploitation present in other areas.

Films like Machete don’t have to justify their violence since the whole point is exaggerated machismo, and Fincher’s depiction of bare-knuckle brawls in Fight Club spoke to the emotional disconnect the men feel from others, themselves, and the world.  People shouldn’t automatically shy away from sexuality and violence since it’s a part of the human experience.  The sex and violence in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, however, feels too prurient and emotionally disconnected to be worth your time.

-Remington Smith

4 responses to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fails to live up to feminist roots

  1. I’m not sure it failed to do so any more than the Swedish Version. I think the two movies are very close, both change certain things from the book and those things are a bit different in each movie. I like both.

  2. Saw it today, and thought Fincher did a lot to elevate a narrative from the book that isn’t all that interesting to begin with.

    While I agree that Zaillian could’ve left the rape scenes out of his script, most fans of the book would probably argue they are key scenes and would be angry if they were left out, so I’d hardly blame Fincher/Zaillian for their inclusion, just as I won’t blame either of them for the general story arc of the film. In my opinion, they both did quite a bit to elevate what is essentially a by-the-numbers whodunit and give it some style so that it’s at least fun to watch most of the time.

    I think there’s a 120 minute version of the same film that hums along quite nicely and would consider pretty great, but there’s about 20 minutes or so that could be shaved from the film’s odd 4th act, as well as just some general trimming along the way that would’ve been welcome. As it stands, I along with the rest of the audience was patiently waiting for the credits to roll for the last half hour, constantly thinking “how is this not over yet?” Which is a shame, because I really did like the final moments.

    Basically, this film is a mixed bag for me. There were some parts I really liked, but ultimately the parts I didn’t like kept this from becoming anything special to me. I would’ve preferred that Zaillian and Fincher take more creative license with the material and craft a better, tighter story than what we see here. This is still leaps and bounds better than the Swedish movie though.

  3. Does everyone miss lisbeth salander as a post punk neo feminist heroine – who as Steig Larrson imagines her, never frames her choices from anyone’s point of view or influence. She acts on her experiences and knowledge. She lets Martin Vanger die – which is culturally unacceptable, but her character cannot imagine sharing a world with such a monster and she does not feel he is worth saving – Fincher’s film doesn’t have the complexity to capture this idea. It seems so many people miss the the keypoint of the book – which is how facist societies/religion with male white dominated power structures destroy so much, and very few people aka. Blumquist can see this and report on it. He is move by lisbeth because he can see her suffering and the fact that she is alive is her own personal triumph. David Fincher’s movie hollows out and guts lisbeth’s character – it was a pretty film with a hollow, and mysogynistic core.

  4. HI, REMINGTON. …DALE HERE. WED., 11 JAN., 2012: 1953/ 7:53 Pm, PST





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