A Rose By Any Other Name…Looks Less Thorny To American Eyes
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.