Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Violence Against Women
Gender Roles - Women: 4.5 Stars
Lizbeth Salander is smart and fiercely independent, but she's also reclusive and socially awkward. In many ways, she mimics the male heroes of similar movies. She comes across as odd and troubled, but we're still able to admire her for all her incredible talents. Lizbeth isn't restrained by stereotypes about vulnerable or fragile women, but she is subject to the same unrealistic expectations placed on male heroes. She is never weak. She is never emotional. And she will never fully heal from her scarred past.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 4 Stars
Against all odds, Lizbeth seems to have a fairly healthy sense of self-esteem. She’s been raped, tortured and declared mentally incompetent by the state, but in spite of the way she’s been treated she strongly believes in her own self-worth. She knows that she doesn’t deserve the cruel treatment she’s received, and takes extreme steps to put an end to it.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo never sets out to make Lizbeth an iconic beauty. To the contrary, she has a tough, gothic exterior that is generally expected to put men off. Lizbeth is the one that initiates the sexual relationship with Mikael, and it’s clear that he’s initially resistive and uninterested in her as a sexual partner. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo flips traditional sexual tension on its head by creating a female lead that is first and foremost a keen and invaluable mind. Lizbeth doesn’t have to fight to prove her intellectual prowess, but she does have to fight to establish her femininity and desirability.
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Gender Roles - Men: 2.5 Stars
Mikael Blomquist is exactly the sort of male lead we expect to find in a crime thriller. He is strong and attractive, an unfaithful lover and an inadequate father. But he’s also dedicated to his work and unafraid of taking on villains much larger and more powerful than himself. He immediately recognizes and respects Lizbeth’s talents and doesn’t hesitate to cede pieces of his investigation, and the spotlight, to her. As a result, audiences can still find ample reasons to like him, despite some of his more selfish personal choices.
Love: 3 Stars (Spoilers)
It would be a bit of an overstatement to consider Lizbeth's relationship with Mikael anything akin to love. They have a satisfying sexual intimacy and a unique trust of one another, but they don't share enough of their personal lives to create a permanent or lasting connection.
Lizbeth ultimately develops stronger feelings for Mikael than he has for her, and her unfortunate misinterpretation of their relationship is likely due to her inexperience with love and personal intimacy. Most of the men in her life have abused her. Mikael may be the first to teach her that sex isn't always cruel. That it can be gratifying and pleasurable. But he also teaches her that men have many methods of hurting women. Although, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo puts Lizbeth in the role of the unshakable hero for most of the film, she still can't escape the clichéd ending of the handsome womanizer walking away triumphant, and the foolish girl left alone and broken-hearted.
Plot: 4.5 Stars (Spoilers)
In the beginning, Lizbeth is a victim of some particularly cruel and violent sexual exploitation. But it doesn’t take long for her to turn the tables on her rapist, establishing that she’s not as weak or submissive as she may have seemed. She isn’t strong enough to overpower her attacker in the moment, but she is smart and resilient enough to get her revenge and take back control of her life. From there, Lizbeth is able to put her intelligence and hacking skills to work in tracking down Harriet Vanger’s killer - and solve the mystery just in time to save Mikael from a brutal and agonizing death.
Character Development: 4 Stars
We know a good deal more about Lizbeth than we do about male heroes in similar films, even if most of her backstory consists of episodes of revenge against men who have savagely abused her. Her cool response to the violence she encounters makes her just the sort of intimidating presence that the film calls for, but at the same time, we never see the lasting impacts to her psyche. In one scene, Lizbeth takes home another female from the bar, but the film doesn’t explain whether she is drawn to this woman because she is bi-sexual, or if the trauma she’s experienced has made her a bit leery and untrusting of men. She later opens herself up to Mikael with very little prompting, however, which only further complicates her character. She never shares her pain with anyone, and we can only guess at whether or not she has a healthy relationship with sex.
Language and Sexual Content: 4 Stars
The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo stays away from perverted or shocking language towards women, but it also includes a significant amount of female nudity. Much of this comes from the film's hero, Lizbeth Salander. It's difficult to say why the director chose to include so many scenes with a topless or fully exposed Lizbeth Salander, particularly when these scenes could have been avoided. Perhaps he felt it necessary to establish her femininity or felt that it somehow added something to her character. As someone who's been violated multiple times and who is also sexually active by choice, she may be a bit less protective of her modesty - she lost that innocence long ago. Overall, Lizbeth's character is too strong for a few nude scenes to overcome her ferocity and courage. But they certainly may be enough to turn off female viewers who legitimately wonder why women can't be cast in the role of hero without being overly sexualized.
Violence Against Women: 5 Stars
The entire plotline of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo revolves around violence against women. Not only are Harriet and the other victims subjected to rape and torture at the hands of a brutal killer, but Lizbeth herself has suffered from similarly violent abuses. The film does, however, portray a female who recovers quickly and strikes back, protecting herself against future attacks. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo vividly shows us the full depravity of Lizbeth’s attacker, and doesn’t shy away from visiting the same level of violence upon him in retribution. If audiences have become too comfortable witnessing scenes of violence against women, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deftly shakes them out of their comfort zones.