The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Kicking Ass Instead

I went into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (henceforth known as TGWTDT because I have lazy sloth fingers) having no concept of the story or the characters. My mother, who has read all of the books and saw the movie last week, assured me that the movie was very true to the book and that I would enjoy myself. I trust her opinion, and I also trust David Fincher, so making the decision to go see the movie was a no-brainer.

The opening credit sequence is absolutely inexplicable. Everything looks like it’s made of tar and things keep exploding and absorbing into each other. This is underscored by the rabid and epic cover of “The Immigrant Song” by Karen O. and Trent Reznor, which accompanied all of the film’s theatrical trailers. It is abstract and loud and a perfect beginning to this movie. I found that the opening credits did a very good job of pushing any extraneous, nagging thoughts out of my head and pumping me up for what was to come.

TGWTDT starts at a running pace, and I found myself worried that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up. You see, Swedish is a very sexy accent, but it’s hard to follow sometimes.

Bibi Andersson: Sexy, Swedish Chef: Confusing

About twenty minutes into the film, any difficulty with comprehension disappears. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most gripping and complex characters I have ever come across and Rooney Mara did an amazing job of taking Stieg Larsson’s character and turning her into a living, breathing badass.

Lisbeth is a young woman who has been betrayed, time and time again, by the world around her. She has been a ward of the state since she was twelve years old, and most have tossed her off as a dangerous and non-productive member of Swedish society. The abuse that she has endured throughout her life propels her to accept a murder case that Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is trying to solve for the extremely wealthy Vanger family.

One of these horrific abuses is portrayed in the film, so I would like to send out a trigger warning to those who may need it. While it is a painful scene to watch, the revenge that Lisbeth exacts on her abuser is brutal and deeply satisfying.

Even though the film runs about two hours and forty minutes, I never found myself bored. The mystery of the Vanger family as well as the back-stories of both Lisbeth and Mikael kept the plot fresh and the pace clipping along. The storylines of Lisbeth and Mikael run parallel for the first chunk of the movie, and by the time the two characters first meet, their personalities and convictions are so fleshed out that it is a joy to see how they could possibly interact with each other.

TGWTDT is a fast-paced, character-driven mystery aided all the more by David Fincher’s well-articulated vision and Stieg Larsson’s intricate portrayal of the dark side of Sweden.



22 replies on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Kicking Ass Instead”

I really felt that it was the dehumanizing aspect of both scenes that was important. You can’t be entirely human and visit that kind of trauma on another person. You just can’t. And Salander, for all that I like her, isn’t really..normal. She’s not aspirational.

Thank you Slay Belle for expressing what I could not… I find that I am unable to articulate my thoughts on these scenes in relation to rape porn and the discourse that surrounds it. I only know how I felt sitting in the theater.

Both the rape and the revenge were absolutely brutal and made me anxious and nauseated. Even though I  feel like no human should ever exact any sort of physical and/or mental abuse on another human being, I felt myself sickly satisfied by the revenge that Lisbeth placed on the man that raped her. I don’t know what that says about me.

I stayed away from going too in depth in the review, because although those scenes were very difficult to watch, they were, I believe, a catalyst for Lisbeth the propelled her character through the movie. Now, I haven’t read the book, and I don’t know if that’s what Fincher wanted to do, but I know that’s how I felt.

Thank you Meghan for bringing this up. It has made me think back and try to express my deeper feelings on this part of the movie.

Its a really difficult knot to untangle. Because of the culture we live in, there’s always the chance that rape will either be exploitative, lazy, or exploitative and lazy (in so much that it’s supposed to be short hand motivation for women to do anything). But I do think its possible to include it in a narrative where it doesn’t function in that way, it just has to be handled delicately.

How did you feel about it in the movie? Did you think that it ultimately came off exploitative or necessary?

I, personally, did not find it exploitative. Up until that point, for me as an audience, I had been told of Lisbeth’s past and how she was “dangerous”. I think that both how she had been treated in the past as well as her “dangerousness” (pre-timeline of the film) had been mentioned very vaguely. I felt like I didn’t quite know what world she had been living in or what she was capable of until her abuse and subsequent revenge. That did not make it any easier to watch, however, it definitely shifted my feelings about Lisbeth and made me that much more in tune with her actions and personality throughout the rest of the film.

TW for frank discussion of rape:

So… I have a question. And I promise I don’t mean this antagonistically. The big rape scene is pretty well known (I’ve not read the books or seen any film adaptations, and I know it’s a major plot point.) Why doesn’t it seem to bother people that the writer and directors feel the need to portray a rape in such graphic detail? I’m kind of at the point where, while I will concede that I might just be missing some things about the scene that make the level of detail necessary since I haven’t read/seen the story, I am a little sick of just hearing, “Well, she gets really good revenge, so it’s okay, because it’s not pro-rape.” I don’t know that I get that any use of rape scenes in popular culture films are “pro-rape,” and indeed this isn’t the first time to portray revenge against a rapist. But we still call it rape porn when others do this.

So I’m asking sincerely: what makes this different? I really want to know.

I can’t speak to this version, but I ddn’t the revenge sequence in either the book or the Swedish movie wer was really — hmm, how do I phrase this? I don’t think the revenge sequence is there to justify the rape p[art or vice versa. I know a lot of people hinge on the ‘revenge’ aspect, of Salander getting back at someone who harmed her, but to me, all the scenes really spoke to how inhumane this level of violence makes us. They are brutal. Just some of the most upsetting things I’ve seen in a movie — I almost left and I am never moved to walk out of movies for that reason.  I thought I was going to throw up. But with all of that, I didn’t find it exploitative.

I really felt that it was the dehumanizing aspect of both scenes that was important. You can’t be entirely human and visit that kind of trauma on another person. You just can’t. And Salander, for all that I like her, isn’t really..normal. She’s not aspirational.




I didn’t find the scenes upsetting in the books. I know a lot of people did, but I find that the way they’re written makes me feel very removed from the actual action that’s going on. (I think its a translation issue.) YMMV, of course.

I do, btw, think that the accusations that Larsen hated women are grossly off base. That’s not the impression I walked away with at all.

From what I’ve read, Larsen had all-around pretty good politics, especially with regards to women. I’ve read several reviews of the series that say he was scarred by witnessing a gang rape as a 15-year-old, and wanted to bring the problem of violence against women in Sweden to light.

Despite this understanding of why Larsen included these scenes, when I watched the Swedish version of the movie on Netflix, I fast-forwarded through it. I suspect I’ll do the same thing if I watch the American adaptation. I read the description in the book, though, because reading about violence doesn’t affect me quite so strongly.


Thanks for asking this question.  I have refrained from the books and movies because I wasn’t sure about how I’d handle the graphic parts.  I may go ahead and pick up the first book to see how I fare.

I’m fairly certain that this isn’t the sort of movie I can go see.  It’s something I need to be able to mute when I need to.  Or ffwd.

I’m not judging the merits of this motive, but I wonder if it’s graphic portrayal is meant to invest viewers more intensely in the story and the characters. Truthfully, the story is a bit disgusting and not the kind that I normally sit through, but I will admit that seeing that scene solidified my hate for Saladar’s ward and deeply committed me to seeing her take revenge–which was equally brutal but strangely satisfying. There is so much rape shame in our culture and so few victims ever see justice. I think there is something good about it being brutal, honest, and to the point about how the forceful possession of another’s body is one of the cruelest tortures known to mankind. It’s not pleasant to see but it’s in-your-face approach may make people think more about how important it is to seek justice for victims. People hear “rape” and they have a concept of what that involves but I think this scene really shows them that even their most horrific ideas of what rape is are not even close to the actual horror. The scene left me visibly and mentally uncomfortable for days (many parts of the movie did) but my sympathy for victims grew infinitely. That being said, I wouldn’t say everyone should watch it and I would certainly caution people still recovering from rape to steer clear.

I haven’t had a chance to see the Fincher version of this yet, but I found the revenge scene almost more unbearable than the attack scene in the Swedish film. Just some of the most brutal scenes I’d ever seen on screen.

I’d be curious to hear what you think of Noomi Rapace’s performance since you’ve seen Mara’s first — so many other people are coming at if from the other direction.

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