The Millenium Series, written by the late Stieg Larsson, follows Lisbeth Salander—the edgy, introverted, and technologically savvy protagonist—through the trilogy. In the second installment, The Girl who Played with Fire, Lisbeth figuratively plays with fire—a symbol for the all-engulfing, dominating, intricate, and at times invisible, system of patriarchy. ‘Fire,’ although a different plot, is a continuation of this greater theme from Larsson’s first installment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (The audience also learns that she has literally played with fire before, as well—the reason that sent her into the psychiatric institution).
First, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that ‘Dragon Tattoo’ is an English adaptation of Larsson’s original title for the story: Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men who Hate Women. The story—and in fact, the entire trilogy—chronicles numerous violent acts against women. “Larsson’s point in showing so much violence against women is to underscore how ubiquitous the violence really is” (Halberstam). Halberstam also points out that “if you want a good conspiracy theory, just start with a radical feminist take on patriarchy,” and perhaps the English translated title is a homage to just how entrenched the patriarchy is within our culture and society. The release of the US film was a preface to the 2012 American political storm of misogynistic comments (e.g. “legitimate rape,” “God intended [pregnancy from rape] to happen,” etc.), just in time for Lisbeth—and, in essence, all feminists—to take them on.
Halberstalm also says that the pervasiveness of the patriarchy is evident with not only “the larger system of political and economic violence,” but also “partly with the character of Salander”—which now brings me to discussing the way in which both films portray her. I would first like to address the opening sequence to the American film that we viewed in class. After reviewing it, I believe even more now that there is a clear difference between the way the Swedish film portrays the character of Lisbeth in contrast to her American counterpart. The American opener is highly sexualized; it is slick and sensual. That being said, I don’t mean that the Swedish film doesn’t portray an element of sensuality—in fact, The Girl who Played with Fire lit ablaze during the Lisbeth-Miriam sex scene, when the camera pans across Lisbeth’s sculpted body.
But, where I find the two films to diverge traverses the silver screen. The hyper-sexuality found in the US film was a sentiment carried through the promotional efforts for the film, as well. One poster for the film portrays Rooney Mara, the American actress playing Lisbeth, half-naked with her nipples exposed. The original film, on the other hand, portrays Lisbeth sitting on the floor staring down the camera. The gaze she maintains with the audience is surely intriguing; however, isn’t one that is enticing, but rather one that is intimidating.
Lastly, despite his critique, I believe Halberstalm is no exception to the system. I found it surprising to read his comparison of Noomi Rapace, the Swedish actress playing Lisbeth, to Angelina Jolie. He as calls Rapace “slender,” but Jolie “anorexic” and “starving”—something that felt so out of place. Rapace and Jolie’s characters are very different. Lisbeth, taking on the patriarchy, is a character that should inspire and empower women to leave the theatre and continue the fight; Jolie’s character in Salt is stereotypically beautiful for entertainment purposes. After reading his criticism about body size, I find Halberstam to be a tad discredited. It’s problematic to criticize any woman’s body, especially within the entertainment industry—a realm that is so prone to view women through a confining lens. It is surely indicative of the misogyny inherent to the Hollywood film world—and our society at large.
Flickan som lekte med elden. Dir. Daniel Alfredson (2009).
Halberstam, Jack. “The Girl Who Played with Queer Utopia.” Bully Bloggers. Web. 23 March 2013. <http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/the-girl-who-played-with-queer-utopia/>>.
Män som hatar kvinnor . Dir. Niels Arden Oplev (2009).