The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Can You Stomach Onscreen Rape and Torture?

Categories: Film and TV

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It isn't necessary to have read or watched the versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo already in existence to be aware of their reputation for extreme violence. The latest American interpretation of the bestselling book hit theaters last week, and the abuse in this feminist revenge saga has in turn been called "graphic," "sadistic and twisted" and "unwatchable."

My fellow Art Attack blogger Pete Vonder Haar explored the topic of rape violence in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the other day. I thought I'd take my shot at it.

The original Swedish title of the book translates to Men Who Hate Women, and I never saw the European film because there really was never a moment when I was in the mood to be traumatized. I'd rather turn on the latest Parks and Recreation, thanks.

If people don't want to see it, then why is it being depicted in films? The question isn't whether the story of rape victims should be told, but rather how graphically. Does rape in film have a moral purpose (assuming art and entertainment are required to have one)? And if the intention is there for us to learn something, do we need to be that sad?

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Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen in Derailed.
The answer to that is the same as it is for any sort of violence in films -- sometimes it intends to serve a purpose (more on this in a moment), other times it's pointless, or worse, it's cheap.

In 2005, Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen starred in Derailed, in which a criminal rapes Aniston's character while Owen is beaten and tied to a chair to watch. During the scene, Aniston's character cries and struggles and it is very difficult to watch. By the end of the movie, however, [SPOILER] the viewer learns that Aniston and her supposed rapist are actually in cahoots -- the rapist character is actually her boyfriend and they acted out the rape as part of a complex scheme to extort money from Owen. Both the characters and the producers of the film trivialize rape and use it as a means to a selfish end.

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Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
The abuse in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is not like this. Lisbeth Salander is a victim of horrifying violence, but also performs violence on others and the film illustrates how power is given and taken between people on a basic physical level and beyond. Rape is the story, but also serves a greater one. Just as war movies draw an experience nearer and make it relatable, so might Dragon Tattoo. But if art is to create empathy, I feel empathetic enough on this particular issue.

Clearly, the success of the book points to a large audience not afraid to confront plotlines with rape and torture, but seeing it on screen is an entirely separate undertaking. It's not one I'm willing to commit to. It's not a puritanical refusal to acknowledge these acts exist, it's just that if I don't need a movie to inform me, then why bother?

Commenters, anything you'd like to say? Do you plan to see the movie?


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25 comments
Lnckline
Lnckline

Absolutely unnecessary! They could have told the story well with pictures and dear ails of such with our such a horrific rape scene. I feel they need to rate movies better! More specific! Never would I of watched if I'd known how Terrible! Also the killing of the cat, also unnecessary! Thought everything else in the story was good but I recommend people not to watch! Totally turndown in my opinion!!!

Ajamormio
Ajamormio

I believe it is necessary to have actually watched the movies and read the books to give a valid opinion!

Jeff
Jeff

The original film version was far more brutal in virtually every way than the American version and it still wasn't all that disturbing to me and I really, really don't like movies with tons of over-the-top violence. In this case, it helped to illustrate a really important element of Lisbeth's development as a person and, as such, was necessary. I've seen scenes far more disturbing than her rape scene, particularly when they weren't germaine to the plot.

JamesB
JamesB

I agree with the authors comments.  I could do without the graphic nature of the scenes.  The 'fantasy' revenge is highly entertaining but ultimately, I can still do without graphic rape scenes in any film justified or not. It's not something I want to watch or find entertainment value in.  

Achildofgaia
Achildofgaia

the rape scene and the twisted forced to give oral sex scene are unstomachable. i left the theaqtre for fear of more. it almost seems to glorify the act as much as condone it.

Klytus
Klytus

FOR ADULTS ONLY!  I saw the movie on Christmas day.  Rooney Mara's "Lisabeth" is my new HERO! To see someone overcome painful travails in such a winning manner is poetry in itself.  The audience will feel violated watching the rape scene meaning it was shot perfectly. Rape is rape. But the experience also makes Lisabeth's "solution" all the more exquisite.  I became impatient waiting for Lisabeth and Mikael to finally meet.  The initial pace owing itself in part to Mikael's character flaws.  I recommend the movie because of the plot and especially Rooney Mara's Oscar Worthy performance.  Don't expect to see talking chipmunks or geezers jumping out of windows.  Pay a bit of attention, the ride is worth it.

Fatman985
Fatman985

I didn't actually see the movie but I read the book. Does that qualify me to criticize the movie? 

Klytus
Klytus

Some people have not read the book or seen any of the movies and feel qualified to criticize the movie.  Only you can answer that question.

Laksdjf
Laksdjf

maybe some people don't know much about the author of the book, the original title, or why he focuses on the subject. look it up.

Elizabeast359
Elizabeast359

If you are going to write an article criticizing whatever you are reviewing, at least make the effort to watch whatever it may be. Watch the film first. 

Jessica
Jessica

I am a 26 years old girl, down to earth and cute but still single ... I  wanna find my lover who can give me a real love,so I joined in the seekcasual.COM,it's the best club for  man and woman finding their intimate encounters. Well, you do not have to be lonely , you  can meet the Mr. or Miss. Right there.

Bktemp2020
Bktemp2020

Thank you for stating what should be the obvious choice - to avoid subjecting oneself to such vile scenarios portrayed in this film.I can't imagine any one wishing to purposefully view such a savage act for "entertainment."

Klytus
Klytus

Yes, the rape scene is painful.  And it's all do to Rooney Mara's performance in the scene.  She makes you feel violated right along with her.  She being the very sympathetic victim.

rhunt
rhunt

Dude, I thopught you were going to review the movie, not bore us with a review of your psychology...

Wyatt
Wyatt

"a review of your psychology"

What does this even mean?

KatherineM
KatherineM

The violence in the movie was not as intense as I expected, having read the books. It is a very good mystery movie, and adults should not be avoiding it just because of a couple scenes that are far less intense and graphic than watching men blow up other men (and civilizations), in PG-13 action movies. This movie does not use violence to create intense emotional reactions, but instead to explain the background of what has gone on.

I guess I am more bothered by the idea here that rape should be 'hidden' in movies, or avoided by movie-goers, due to 'sensitivities'--especially when it is somehow ok in American movies to graphically portray murder and meyhem in even PG-13 movies. Showing machine gun violence is ok, but we must not portray the secret violence that happens to women, because it is 'disturbing'. That sounds an awful lot like an attitude that rape is less a "crime" to fight against than a "source of secret shame" to me. Sad. The GWDT series of books are strongly pro-woman, all about how women and the powerless should fight back against the secret and powerful, and how one victimized woman does.  

Marleyj
Marleyj

It has nothing to do with "secret shame" or that rape and torture should be "hidden" due to "sensitivies." Don't turn this into something that it is not. I do not need to see a woman brutally, graphically raped on film to know that rape is graphic and brutal crime. I do not need to see a person being cinematically disemboweled or any other graphic violent act, including incest against a child, to know that is is horrific. 

Boourns
Boourns

You may already know that rape is a brutal and horrible crime, but there are others who don't. Did you see Twitter last week? Someone started "#itaintrapeif" -- and if you took a look at some of the things people posted, they really didn't understand.

whitney44
whitney44

If you read the books, then you know the rape scene is quite long. It's several pages and lasts forever. It was difficult to watch, but also part of the story. They couldn't have not shown it. Maybe they could have done it differently, but the book is graphic, and they were holding true to that. The movie was fabulous, and I hope they make the other 2. It's a complicated story, and they wove all the tiny details perfectly.

H_e_x
H_e_x

If you can handle Irreversible you can handle this no problem.

Khalil McMillan
Khalil McMillan

Kinda like a donkey show (been to tijuana)...that one scene in *Irreversible* can not be unseen....

craigbhill
craigbhill

In the case of this story, it's not exploitative to explicitly show it---the second time, Lisbeth herself tapes it for others' viewing---to show the depth of her ill will toward the perpetrator and others (men) who abuse her, including even the guy she falls for but is so filled with anger toward men doesn't trust him with her affections.  The viewer is helped by palpably feeling her rage toward men.  Censoring the shots lessens the blow.  So, with this story, it is not gratuitous.  The very focus of the triliogy is justice for abused women.  Since it's in the book, show it.  Only the immature, squeamish and the abused themselves should avert their eyes as need be.  Which holds as well for any scene of violence in any film.     

Jenieidj
Jenieidj

The graphic scenes were needed to understand the character of Lizbeth Salander full movie u can watch online streaming at  mehndiwali.com

Stratwray
Stratwray

Saw the movie.  Highly recommended for adult audiences.  The graphic scenes were needed to understand the character of Lizbeth Salander.  I had seen the Swedish film and liked it.  The American version is even better I think.  Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig are the perfect actors for their parts.  The rape scene of Lizbeth, and her revenge sexual assault of her tormentor are intense.  But wow, what a movie!

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