Got a really sweet email asking me if I’d seen The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy again this week. I get these emails semi-regularly because in Cunt I talk about how detrimental it is to view rape scenes in movies. So folks read that part and then naturally wonder how Lisbeth Salander would fit in there. I wrote this piece not long after reading all three books and watching all three films. Seems like a good time to Re-Post it.
*Note to folks who haven’t seen/read any of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy: this will absolutely ruin it for you. Right off the bat. Don’t even read past the first paragraph.*
Riz watched The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and calls me, says, “I’m amazed that you liked that movie.” We share a deep aversion to witnessing violence in movies, Riz and I, so a whisper of bafflement-laced betrayal tailgated his voice. Uh, being’s how I was the one who recommended this brutally violent film to him and all.
“I probably should have warned you about that, huh.”
Further badness: “I guess I also forgot to mention that I’d read the book before watching it, so I knew when not to look.”
“Well I didn’t, did I?”
“No. No, you didn’t.”
I owe you something magical and sparkling for that one, Riz.
It was hard to watch, but the context made it delicious in conjunction with nauseating, like eating a Grandma-packed picnic lunch starring blackberry cobbler while driving on a windy, curvy mountain road.
They sicken us all—some of us physically. I haven’t viewed a rape scene in a movie since Last Exit to Brooklyn came out in 1990-whatever. I wrote about this extensively in Cunt. Rape scenes are generally in movies to give us a reason why our hero is so angry at the people he is going to end up killing. Filmmakers often find ways to make rape scenes erotic and thus, grossing out otherwise healthy-hearted folks with the experience of being sexually turned on while watching someone be horribly brutalized.
I can’t say I was sexually turned on when Lisbeth ass-raped Bjurman, but I definitely had a similar experience where the rare, shining satisfaction of someone being actually punished for raping a woman churned inside me like a hurricane, as I cringed at her violence and brutality. Towards the end of the movie, you see that same ruthlessness when she allows the serial killer rapist, Martin Vanger, to burn to death after he overturns his car as she chased him on her motorcycle. She walks down to the ravine where he crashed and casually smokes a cigarette as he begs for his life.
Martin Vanger, you see, is a man with a cellar. You’re probably familiar with the type. You’ve read about him when he gets caught, if he gets caught. He is a man who spends thousands and thousands of dollars sound-proofing and customizing his cellar (storage space, garage, attic, whatever) so he can indulge his penchant for torturing and killing other people, often children.
Lisbeth let him burn, not a qualm in her heart.
I would have too.
One less cellar man on the planet, can you say amen.
Happens to me constantly.
If I had seen the movie without first reading all three books, I am sure I would have walked out. No amount of delicious vengeance can justify depicting a rape scene.
But see, my sister highly recommended the books, and she used to see me sob when some mom or baby or dad got killed during Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, so even as I read the rape scene in bed at night, I trusted her on this one.
And so, I went into the movie already knowing the deeply complex story of Lisbeth Salander. I knew that Bjurman raping her was a major arcana of the plot and resonated with many other things that happen in this and the next two films—as well as marching in step with the over-arching plot of Harriet’s Vanger’s past. Lisbeth HAS to be raped by Bjurman in order for the story to unfold as it does. And since she secretly films Bjurman’s hideous crime—an artifact that comes into play in the next two films—there’s really no getting around the film makers having to depict the rape scene in some detail. It is the only movie I’ve seen where a graphic rape is, indeed, needed to carry the story. This entire series of films/books is, after all, a brilliant study and critique on sexual violence towards women. In the second film, The Girl Who Played With Fire, a greasy reporter named Per Sandstrom is just grossly fucking an Eastern Eurpoean woman who is tied to the bed in the exact same manner that Bjurman tied up Lisbeth. This is not viewed as a “rape,” but it is actually, in a way, even more brutal that what happened to Lisbeth. This unnamed woman is forced to endure sex with anyone who wants to have sex with/rape her, and in anyway he wants to do so. She is kept, trafficked and has no rights. For her, there’s no end in sight.
Later, when Lisbeth strings Per Sandstrom up (a maneuver she evidently learned from Martin Vanger’s technique in the first film), and interrogates him, she asks why he wanted to have what he thinks of as “sex” with this woman. He says, “Because she was beautiful.” So being beautiful and kept against your will is really all it takes for some greasy, sweaty pig to rape/fuck you with absolutely no misgivings, pangs of compassion in his heart or consequences.
If you look around the news and see the cops, white college boys, star athletes and every other entitled jackass thinking like Per Sandstrom, this shit kinda resonates deeply. Me n’ Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older than Words and many other genius works, once had a disagreement about violence. He believes that the present power structure cannot be overthrown without violence. I believe that violence only begets more violence. Peace and love have never sprouted on the banks of rivers of blood. I also believe that there are occasions when violence is the only possible way to safety. So the question Derrick Jensen asks becomes how do you define “the only possible way to safety” when you are a salmon, polar bear, honey bee, old growth tree? When you are a mountain in coal country and you kinda want to keep your top? When you are, like Lisbeth Salander, a child growing up in a violent, misogynist, racist rape culture? When you are an ocean and oil drilling corporations have dibs on you? How then do you define “the only possible way to safety?” Or is safety, in fact, a fucking pipe dream for you?
And this is where things get tricky.
For safety, I have learned, is something very difficult to live without. I wrote a poem about safety and it appears in the same-titled chapter of Rose. It goes like this:
I remember feeling safe.
I remember crafty safety.
You don’t miss it til it’s
long, long gone.Feeling safe and
clean drinking water
have that in common
you know.It was okay at the time
everyday I would say,
Sometimes I would be crying
when I said this,
but it was still important to say,
like praying is for Muslims n’ Christians,
and like chanting is for
Speaking in tongues, maybe.
Maybe a capella.
I could never tell.
Lord how I missed
about just the light of it
and not the darkness it
until it was long long gone.
Then I remembered
sly ol’ safety.
Crafty, crafty one.
Water, food, air, love,
these are all so obvious.
Safety laughs at
their lack of subtlety.
It is tricky.
Don’t let it fool you.
Hold onto it real real tight.
That is, if you got it in your sights.
Lisbeth Salander videoed Bjurman raping her. Later, she played the video for him as he lay hog-tied on the floor with a (coulda-been-bigger) dildo jammed up his ass. After the two hour video was over, she went back into the room and tattooed his torso up for him. She let him know the video would be released if he ever hassled her in any way again. The tattoo served to warn other women who came into intimate contact with him. Due to past experience, Lisbeth—quite rightfully, as we come to understand in the later films—does not trust the police to help her in any way. Her scheme is an elaborate one, for certain. And it is very violent. It’s also what Lisbeth needed to do in order to feel safe again. In the final movie, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, this video becomes the lynchpin of her bid for freedom and justice. The rape scene that takes place in the first film becomes a striking piece of evidence against corruption and abuse of power reflected in the entire state.Riz says, “You know, it’s not that I want to avoid all the horrible things happening in the world right now. I don’t. And I know what’s going on. But I find myself actively seeking out Pretty right now, you know? I look for Pretty Things, and Inga, that movie’s not Pretty.”
We’re getting our asses kicked here. I know it, you know it, Riz knows it. If the context of their crimes meet certain criteria, rapists, pedophiles and murderers are free as birds. Corporations rule the planet. Tea Party bitches have waged a well-funded war on unions, public education and health care. I can’t even think about the wolves and wild horses right now.
So I look at someone like Lisbeth Salander and I think, “Maybe there’s some hope here. Maybe someone like her will walk on the scene and really fuck shit up for these earth-killing rapist pieces of shit.” She gave me an image, a hero, a point of reference, an insight into possible ways people in our society might wish to conduct themselves. Not so much literally as spiritually.
There is a Pretty in these movies.
It’s a rare, complicated Pretty, but dang, I’ll take it.