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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