The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best representations of what the feminist movement stands for. An interesting way the film tackles this is in how the character of Mikael Blomkvist is placed in positions that mirror how other films have traditionally portrayed women. He is introduced to us through a lawsuit (which he has lost) over supposed slander. He is harassed by reporters, publicly shamed, and blamed for doing something that he wasn’t wrong about. This mirrors the way many women are treated after being raped.
“He [has] to accept like the rest of us, actions have consequences.”
In another scene, Blomkvist is put in a position where he isn’t consulted about the future of his paper by his partner. Here again, Blomkvist is playing a role you might have been more likely to have seen played by a woman pre-feminism. One of the more comical scenes involves Blomkvist absent mindedly having sex with Lisbeth, his mind wandering off to another matter entirely, which is a bit that has been done time and time again with the genders reversed. The big one though, is when Blomkvist is in Martin’s rape dungeon. He is put in the same position as the many female victims before him. This scenario is so strange to Martin he even makes a remark about it. Placing Blomkvist in roles more traditionally played by females is important because it goes towards a broader theme, that these issues of rape and violence against women are not exclusively women’s issues. They are something that affects everyone.
“You know, I’ve never had a man in here. I’ve never touched a man as a matter of fact.”
Another theme present in the film regards how these horrible incidents ripple through time and leave permanent marks on the world around us. The use of photographs and video are used as metaphors constantly throughout the film. Lisbeth films her rape, Martin films his rapes, photographs are the primary source of clues used to track down Martin etc. Lisbeth also uses Tattoos to drive this metaphor home. She gets tattoos as a cathartic method of handling the violence that has been done to her, and uses them to mark her attacker so that all will know what he has done.
The film also portrays a parallel between Lisbeth and Harriet, linking them through time. Besides the point that I think Fincher wanted them to look similar, they are both rape victims. More specifically, they have both been raped by their father and someone else, at the least. Harriet killed her father by bashing him over the head with a paddle, and Lisbeth attempted to kill her father with fire. Later, as if combining these two incidents, Lisbeth bashes Martin over the head with a golf club and he ends up dying in an explosion (read: fire) after a chase with Lisbeth. As an aside, I find it fitting that Lisbeth’s two brushes with murder involved fire; Dragon Tattoo indeed. Lisbeth is able to get revenge for both Harriet and herself and free them both from their current fears of these men. I say current, because the film makes a point of letting the audience know that this is not isolated. These crimes happened across the country, and when these women were each able to fight off their initial attackers they were replaced with other evil men.
“All I’d accomplished was substitute one rapist for another.”
The most obvious themes in this film regard power, sex, and the horrible ways in which they can intertwine. The way Lisbeth’s warden treats her is a direct example of this. He uses his power and control over her to get sex, and in many ways the power is the sex. There’s an interesting turn when Lisbeth returns. In a cry for empowerment Lisbeth turns the table and uses sex to regain her power that was taken from her by recording the rape and then blackmailing her rapist.
“That’s how normal people are.”
A more subtle scene comes later when she first has sex with Mikael. She takes the initiative and takes the dominant position. Mikael then flips her and assumes the dominant position. This is important because it shows what she likes about him. They view each other as equals. They have mutual respect for each other and share the power.
Martin and his father exemplify this theme further. Martin’s father was a Nazi who raped women and killed them in manners laid out in the Bible. In this way he became God. Martin sees this and emulates it. Martin assumes the power hungry role of CEO of the company and is a hunter. These are characters with severe desires for power.
“When I see the hope draining from their face like it is from yours right now — well, I feel myself getting hard just watching it.”
This is not a film of hope, but a cry for help. I am only able to enjoy it in its masterful way of making me think about these issues. When Lisbeth is about to be raped for the second time, Fincher sets the camera in the hallway as the door closes. He pulls back slowly and fades to black. You could almost hear the collective sigh of the audience, relieved that they weren’t going to have to watch this terrible incident. However, Fincher doesn’t let the audience have that relief. They don’t deserve it. This is not a film that’s trying to hide these issues, but put them at the forefront. Many have had problems with the anal rape scene, but it was integral to the whole point of the film. If Fincher had given into our desires to look the other way and not acknowledge these horrors, he would have done a disservice to this film, the audience, but most importantly the real victims of sexual assault.