Disclaimer: This review contains a spoiler of a key event that happened to the female protagonist in the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It does not, however, contain information about the overall plot or outcome of the movie.
All week long I have had an endless debate with friends over our views about the new U.S. version of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of hype from friends about the book, the original Swedish movie and other books in the crime trilogy written by Stieg Larsson. I eventually caved in and went to see the movie last weekend when my girlfriends convinced me that I would love the smart, strong, and badass female protagonist, Lizbeth Salander.
I have to admit that I feel duped after watching it. I don’t feel duped with the story line, which I found to be highly engaging and mysterious-minus a slow beginning and end. Which feminist wouldn’t enjoy a good old “who-done-it” type of movie with a female character solving atrocious crimes that have been committed against women? But after watching it I feel that I have been duped into believing that a movie might actually feature a strong female lead. Instead, it’s just another movie where the “strong” female character is victimized and hypersexualized.
When the movie started, I was intrigued with the female character, Lizbeth Salander. She is an edgy investigator with a mohawk, face piercings, and tattoos. She has been classified as a ward of the state and lives an unconventional, underground type of life. She rides a motorcycle, hacks computers and is one of the best investigators out there. For twenty minutes I was in heaven thinking that I was going to watch her kick ass and take names throughout the movie.
And then came the sexual assault scenes. The first episode featured her social worker forcing her to give him a blow job if she wanted money. The next scene vividly featured a brutal rape scene where she was forced into her social worker’s bedroom, tied face down on the bed and forcibly raped by him. We all have to sit and watch a woman who is tied up, gagged, and is screaming and trying to break loose while a man is raping her from behind. We even get to watch the rapist’s face as he is pleasured.
During the forced blow job scene, I literally waited in anticipation for her to bite his penis off, but it never happened. Instead, she washed her mouth out, threw up, went to his apartment to get more money and was brutally raped. Her entire rape was videotaped by a secret camera that she had on her bag. She later returned to beat him up, raped him with some type of instrument and tattooed on his chest that he is a filthy rapist.
Immediately after watching the movie, I made a comment on twitter about my disappointment with the rape scenes. I received countless tweets from men about how they thought that it was “so hot and sexy” that she retaliated and “got back at him” in such a way. Most men expressed that they were not bothered by the original rape scene. I asked the men if they would like to watch a video of a rapist crawling in their mother’s window and brutally raping their mother. And then suddenly many of the men began to change their tune.
For days I have been debating with a friend about the rape scenes and other scenes where they feature the main character as naked and having passionate sex with a co-worker. I argue that even the strongest female characters always wind up being hypersexualized or victimized in movies-which to me in a strange way results in the weakening of strong female characters. In contrast, there is an abundance of male characters who manage to run around and solve crimes while not being super-sexified. When do women ever have the chance to watch a strong female character without also watching her nakedly rolling around in bed with someone or being raped or abused?
My friend argues that the movie is based on reality-a reality where women are victimized, but rise above the atrocities that are committed against us. She claims that she feels enlightened and proud that the main character didn’t let the sexual assaults break her spirit. “Men victimize women,” she believes, “but the Lizbeth character shows us that we can still rise above hardship”.
I understand and partly agree with my friend’s perspective, but I think that the larger issue of how women are portrayed in media is much more complex. It’s true-women are victimized and placed in subservient positions in society. We can’t control being the victim of rape. However, a life of constant images of women being victimized and brutalized by men ensures that the cycle of other forms of victimization continue. Over the years we are taught that abuse against women is inevitable and natural.
Imagine a world where young women are given constant messages that they should speak up and protect themselves against their abusers. Imagine a world where it’s unacceptable to show constant images of brutality against women in movies and music. Imagine a world where we would be able to watch a strong, smart, genius female character in a movie whose body is not on display for the pleasure and entertainment of men.
Perhaps I (and many other women) would have saved ourselves a hell of a lot of grief if we were taught to punch and report little boys the minute they started snapping our bras or grabbing our butts at an early age. Perhaps men would be much more respectful toward women if they weren’t desensitized by constant images of degradation and abuse towards women. Perhaps one day the story of female strength will not revolve around men.
Have you seen the 2011 version of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? What are your thoughts about it?