By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood December 20, 2011 at 10:32AM
Watching the bleak, intense, colorless, vibrant, taut thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made me elated and sad at the same time. Elated because FINALLY here is a movie with an amazing female lead and a great male lead who are equals as people, and sad because these types of films hardly EVER come along.
David Fincher, a man who is best known for dark, boy oriented thrillers, takes a beloved feminist book (and yes, I think it is a feminist book) and creates this woman onscreen who is one of the most truly original characters I have ever seen. And Rooney Mara. Seriously. That girl hit it out of the park. Her work is at Meryl Streep level in this film. She just disappears into Lisbeth and owns her. And I give David Fincher credit for fighting for Mara because he was right. She's beyond great.
Now she has a lot to work with because Lisbeth Salander has to go down as one of the great female characters of my lifetime. She's has the potential to become as iconic as both Thelma and Louise because this film, like that one, has the ability to change the conversation. The problem is that while feminists embrace Thelma and Louise, and now on its 20th anniversary we still talk about what those characters meant, that film, not matter how much it touched a cultural nerve, did not unleash a torrent of kick ass female characters. In fact things regressed for women onscreen. That's why here we are 20 years later embracing a female character who seems so new and different because there have been two decades of missed opportunities to create unique and interesting women onscreen.
No matter how turned off you are to the violence (and yes, the rape scene is brutal but let's remember that the book was called in Swedish Men Who Hate Women) this is a film about a woman who is handed the shit of life and takes that shit and makes herself into something unique and awesome. She is no shrinking violet looking for pity and she doesn't play the girl game. She is who she is and she is smarter and tougher than most any women we have seen onscreen except maybe for Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 and Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Aliens.
What makes her so great is that she bucks every cultural convention. People dismiss her because of the whole goth look and the piercings but that is just her way of saying I'm not conforming, I don't care, I will survive.
I found the relationship between Blomkvist and Salander in this film to be very fascinating. It's like the genders were switched. She's the man, she's on top. Once the two of them get together to work that's when the movie really takes off. They have a great energy but I give Daniel Craig credit for knowing that Mikael needs to take a back seat to Lisbeth. It is her energy in their scenes that drive him. And it is his trust in her that gives her that courage to be seen, to actually be seen by another man. She lets him in which is a big deal because she has been let down and abused by men her whole life. As they work together you see her soften and awaken as a person like when she makes him breakfast or how she does her hair (for a woman with very little hair she had many different hairstyles).
This is a wildly fierce feminist film where the woman who society has dismissed and said does not matter saves the day. This new age heroine is just the type of character we need in an time where girls and women are still told to conform and fit in and be quiet and be good. Lisbeth says no way, fuck you. We need more women to do that on a daily basis.