Monday, May 3, 2010

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' offers more crumbs to the queer community

My book group recently relented to the hype and read Stieg Larsson's enormously successful thriller, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which features a troubled but gifted queer woman as its title character. As a result, Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with a photographic memory and her own code of justice, is being celebrated in some circles (AfterEllen) as a queer heroine and decried in others as just another example of misogyny (Guardian.)

While I confess to being sucked into the book, and while I concede that Salander is, indeed, refreshing in that her very presence does represent queers who are so often absent in the mainstream, I do have a few serious concerns:


1. Salander is brutally and sexually tortured in a scene that goes on far too long and in far more detail than necessary. (And I would further argue that in fact the torture was in no way needed to advance the plot.) In the words of one of the women in my group: "It makes you wonder who's getting off on this."

2. Salander's bisexuality is so minor in the book that one of the women in my group missed it. Salander spends a lot more time in bed with the male protagonist, whose character is so self-indulgently and obviously a fantasy of the male sexual conquerer that I am embarrassed for the deceased Larsson. (Apparently the second book in the trilogy offers Salander in a more developed lesbian relationship.)

3. Salander is a deviant who is victimized, lives on the fringe, and is unwelcome and disinterested in civic and social institutions. This is a very unfortunate throwback to 1950s-era representations of tragic and dysfunctional gay and lesbian life.

Okay, onward. The film version in theaters now is a Swedish-made movie starring Noomi Rapace (above) as Lisbeth Salander. I'm hearing that this film is excellent, and, on first glance, I'm at least pleased that they did not "straighten up" Salander. Rapace looks to me like an authentic queer woman. Cheers for that.

In the meantime, the American film version will be directed by David Fincher, whose work includes Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room. His style is too violent for my taste, but he is a master of edgy mood. And he's not afraid to let lesbians and tomboys be themselves on screen, as was evident with Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart in Panic Room, in which, some have said, Stewart played "Jodie Foster's son." By the way, Fincher also seems to like working with repeat actors (e.g. Brad Pitt.) Might he also like to work again with tomboy Stewart, who is reportedly interested in the Salander role? (And so is gamine cutie Carey Mulligan.) Or might he like working again with Jodie Foster? If she weren't a complete failure at creating sexual chemistry with her male counterparts (e.g. Sommersby, Contact, Anna and the King, etc., etc.), she would make a fabulous Erika Berger. Therefore, she gets my vote for playing Harriet Vanger...

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