The better part of valor: Should David Fincher have skipped the Dragon Tattoo rape scene?

I was one of the women wondering how David Fincher would handle the brutal, graphic, prolonged rape of the title character in his new film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We’re talking about the man who glamorized and stylized violence in Fight Club here, the music-video director who presented blood and bodily damage as the crucible that made Edward Norton into a more alive human being.

So I was surprised to walk out of the theater last week with no strong feelings about the rape scene at all. It was graphic, certainly, but I was neither impressed nor offended. (It was funny to watch the critics decisively pick one or the other of those options — A.O. Scott of The New York Times found “something prurient and salacious about the way the initial assault is filmed,” while Stephanie Zacharek of Movieline concluded, “The movie’s central rape scene is candid and horrifyingly intimate, without stepping over the line into sick prurience.”)

O.K. then! Yes, Fincher sexualized and fetishized the rape scene – but only to a point, and not to the point I was expecting. Yes, he gave in to his “undies-and-butt” fixation.  But he otherwise tread faithfully – even gingerly – in the footsteps of the book’s description, and of the previous film adaption. Ultimately that scene, like the rest of Fincher’s adaptation, was safe, boring and predictable.

So did we really need to see it at all?

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How not to write a takedown

 (This was kind of my face after reading the latest attempted Dragon Tattoo takedown.)

The New York Review of Books has a strange and muddled critique of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. (Otherwise known as the “Men Who Hate Women” books about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)

"Strange and muddled" because the article, by British novelist Tim Parks, raises a number of interesting and valid problems with the books but tries to weld them together in a very awkward and unconvincing fashion. I completely lost the thread in the last two paragraphs, when Parks somehow argues that the flaws in Larsson’s books are a direct result of his failure to write a will and of his experience training guerrillas in Eritrea — “women guerrillas, of course.”  Wait, what?

It’s ironic and unfortunate that Parks spends most of his review trying to unpack Larsson’s complicated depictions of sexuality and sexual violence, but ends up distracted by his own sense of disenfranchisement:

Notably, all sexual encounters in which men take the initiative are violent and pathological; all encounters in which women run the relationship (avoiding commitment) are okay. There is nothing in between and no space for the conventional, assertive male libido.

That poor, underrepresented “conventional, assertive male libido.” Dear Straight White Men: Please look beyond this objection on the rare occasion that a commercially successful piece of fiction, film or television does not focus on the experience of Straight White Men. It’s predictable and boring, and nobody else cares. 

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