The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film adaptation to open April 2: UPDATED

March 16, 2010 by · 7 Comments 

Received a press release today from Penguin Canada stating that Niels Arden Oplev’s film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s wildly successful thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will open in Canada on April 2. Alliance Films will distribute the film domestically.

From the press release:

Larsson, a Swedish journalist and social activist, died under mysterious circumstances shortly after submitting three manuscripts to his editor. The posthumously published series, comprising the novels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, was met with great enthusiasm in the author’s homeland and throughout Europe.

This is as good a time as any to highlight the controversy surrounding Larsson’s novel, which yr. humble correspondent wrote about earlier this week on Quillblog. In effect, Larsson’s novel has polarized readers: on one hand, there are those who feel that Lisbeth Salander, the goth hero of the novel, is a feminist avenger, while on the other, there are those who feel that the descriptions of violence toward women in the novel are examples of authorial misogyny.

Writing on The F Word blog, Melanie Newman advances the latter viewpoint, in what appear to be persuasive terms (at least to someone who hasn’t read the book himself):

We’re told how one girl was tied up and left to die with her face in smouldering embers. Another victim is stoned to death, another choked with a sanitary towel, one has her hands held over fire until they are charred and then has her head sawn off, yet another is raped, murdered and left with a parakeet shoved up her vagina. A torture basement is uncovered, complete with cage and video equipment for recording the women’s last moments.

Newman points out that Lisbeth, who is anally raped by her legal guardian, has body image issues: she “is convinced that her ‘skinny body’ is ‘repulsive’ and that her small breasts are ‘pathetic.'” The second book in the series apparently opens with the revelation that Lisbeth has received breast implants that “had improved the quality of her life.”

You may remember yr. humble correspondent expressing sympathy with Jessica Mann, who last year swore off reviewing crime novels that trafficked in what she termed “sadistic misogyny”:

“Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims’ sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit, as young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, strung up or tied down, raped, sliced, burned, blinded, beaten, eaten, starved, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive,” she said.

“Authors must be free to write and publishers to publish. But critics must be free to say they have had enough. So however many more outpourings of sadistic misogyny are crammed on to the bandwagon, no more of them will be reviewed by me,” said Mann, who has written her own bestselling series of crime novels and a non-fiction book about female crime writers.

A bare-bones synopsis of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to indicate that it represents exactly the kind of book Mann was referring to. In any event, Viv Groskop states in the Guardian that the film is less divisive:

It has been universally panned as anti-women. In her review in Harper’s Bazaar this month, Mariella Frostrup writes: “A potentially good mystery is lost in scenes – such as a violent rape – that dwell too much on what feels to me like Larsson’s misogynistic fantasies.” On the Arts Desk blog, Graham Fuller judges the film “scarcely feminist.” He writes: “In frankly depicting Lisbeth’s rapes and presenting an obscene array of photographs of murdered women in a killer’s lair, it comes across as glibly indulgent of those visual horrors.”

All of this is, of course, second-hand where yr. humble correspondent is concerned. I wonder whether it’s too late to give Larsson’s book a go; I almost feel as though the hype and the controversy have tainted any kind of objective response I might have been able to give the novel. Or, perhaps they provide a framework by which to assess the characters and their situations. I’m torn.

UPDATE: Not everyone hates the film adaptation. Roger Ebert is firmly on the side of those who think that the story is a feminist fable:

There are scenes involving rape, bondage and assault that are stronger than most of what serves in the movies for sexual violence, but these scenes are not exploitation. They have a ferocious feminist orientation, and although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems a splendid title, the original Swedish title was the stark Men Who Hate Women.


7 Responses to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film adaptation to open April 2: UPDATED”
  1. Kate S. says:

    I’m an avowed feminist and an avid reader of crime fiction who also has considerable sympathy for Jessica Mann’s position, and I thought “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was brilliant. There is certainly a lot of violence in it, more than I can generally take. But to my mind none of it was gratuitous; it all served a point. The source of the violence and the reasons why the victims were vulnerable to it (particularly Lisbeth herself) were clear throughout. Remember that the original title in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women.” Indeed, no doubt there are critics who fault the book for having too strident a feminist agenda. I don’t expect you to take my word for it, of course. But I’m surprised that you would highlight a decontextualized description of the violent scenes as persuasive without reading the book for yourself.

  2. Steven W. Beattie says:

    That’s kind of my point, Kate. I’m not sure that I can read the book now without my opinion being tainted by everything I’ve read surrounding it. I have sympathy for Mann’s position, but at the same time, I can watch a film like The Silence of the Lambs, in which horrible things are done to women, and understand its underlying feminist context (the female hero, devoid of a love interest, who enters the labyrinth and saves the damsel, etc.). I will read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and try to give it an objective chance. I’m just worried that it’s too late for me to read it without being influenced by all the hype/discussion swirling around it.

  3. Alex says:

    Think I’m going to pass, despite all the hoopla:

    “Lightning speed of a tarantula”? I’ve always thought of tarantulas as plush, lethargic creatures. And comparing a person to a spider just doesn’t work on any level. Spiders have too many legs.

    P.s. Have you seen Silence of the Lambs recently? Talk about a movie that hasn’t held up well.

  4. Steven W. Beattie says:

    Metcalf and Ondaatje liked it? Okay, now I have to read it.

    And, Alex: I watched The Silence of the Lambs a couple of weeks ago. Thought it held up just fine.

  5. Alex says:

    Oh, I don’t think Metcalf liked it. Seems to me he just wanted to take a poke at Ondaatje.

    I remember Silence as being quite thrilling when it came out. Back in the day when you went to see movies in a theatre with lots of other people. Then when I saw it a year or so ago on TV . . . meh. Maybe the genre got played out. I liked the scenes with Foster and Hopkins together, but that’s . . . what? Five or ten minutes of screen time? The rest of it just seemed like an old episode of CSI.

  6. Kerry Clare says:

    (I didn’t understand Metcalf’s piece at all. I am glad I’m not the only one.)

  7. fizbin says:

    The bigger point is being missed, systematically.

    Now, to qualify as a feminist, the definition is changed yet again. No longer does a woman have to be a living superhero, sex predator, and supermommy.

    She has to be systematically brutalized, powerless, anally raped, a maths genius, a tiny little goth sprout, etc., etc., etc., the very model of a modern PC victim-waif.

    THEN she gets to claim her REAL power in the eyes of those who like torture porn, but redefine it as “gender justice.”

    Can we put all this bipolar gender politics shit back in Pandora’s Box and go back to being human beings again?