The Girl Who Played With Fire

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.

Works Cited

Flickan som lekte med elden. Dir. Daniel Alfredson (2009).

Halberstam, Jack. “The Girl Who Played with Queer Utopia.” Bully Bloggers. Web. 23 March 2013. <>.

Män som hatar kvinnor . Dir. Niels Arden Oplev (2009).


2 thoughts on “The Girl Who Played With Fire

  1. channabach

    The connection you draw to the 2012 discourse surrounding rape is really interesting, and I’d be curious to see how or if the discourse surrounding them film was revived in the 2012 context (I don’t think it was, but that in and of itself is curious, no?). It seems like there are the same conversations about sexual violence happening over and over again in reaction to the newest “event,” but most mainstream outlets don’t make connections or actually learn from historical precedents.

    And good point about Halberstam’s rendering of Jolie’s body—it does seem to be rather problematic. I wonder how Halberstam might have better made the critique of patriarchal norms without falling into the trap of gendered body shaming?

    This post falls short of the required word count for this assignment. For future assignments, make sure to follow all directions and complete all requirements to avoid losing points.

    Nice job.

  2. juliersanchez

    Your discussion of the divergence between the American and Swedish adaptations raises some interesting questions about national cinema. Clearly, the difference between the two films would seem to be suggestive of a more general cultural gap in how American and Swedish cinema portray and/or manipulate sex. I haven’t seen enough Swedish films (besides the Millennium trilogy) to make generalizations, but your critiques of sexualization in the American version certainly feel familiar. This is a common feminist refrain. American media, of which American cinema is obviously a part, hypersexualizes everything. Especially advertising. Jean Kilbourne certainly harps on this point every ten years in her Killing Us Softly videos (

    So, the question is, why? If there is indeed a fundamental difference in the way American and Swedish cinema treat or sell sex, where does it originate? Is it a result of a true culture gap in the way American and Swedish moviegoers perceive sex, or is it more directly related to institutionalized and entrenched learning practices in Hollywood? While there’s probably truth in both, I’m more interested in the latter question. Certainly the imagined audience of American moviegoers wants the hypersexualized, glossy, rock version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but what about actual American moviegoers? Advertisers appear to believe they wouldn’t be satisfied without the veneer of sex, but is there any truth to that? I don’t know the statistics on how the American and Swedish versions did in the US—and I’m too lazy to look them up—but I know the Swedish versions performed decently in the US while Fincher’s version performed somewhat worse than accepted. So I guess that gap between imagined and actual audiences is rather telling.

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