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Rants and Raves: Lisbeth Salander

Is the US Ad Campaign Being True to Larsson’s Character?

Noomi Rapace looking as Lisbeth Salander should.

Credit: Music Box Films

Above: Noomi Rapace looking as Lisbeth Salander should.

This isn't so much a rant as it is an observation. I want to highlight the difference between how the character of Lisbeth Salander was presented to us in the Swedish film "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2009) and how she is being represented by Rooney Mara for the upcoming American remake.

I know sex sells. And I know Hollywood loves to use sex to sell its movies so I'm not in the least surprised that Columbia Pictures is using sex to try and stir interest in its upcoming remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." That's why you find star Rooney Mara in various stages of undress as the main character Lisbeth Salander in all the poster art and photo shoots promoting the film. I'm not prudish about such overt sexuality but I do feel like this approach is betraying the character of Salander, a female character who watched her mother suffer physical and psychological abuse at the hands of a man, and who herself had been sexually assaulted. The reason media campaign bothers me is that I am worried that the film, like the ads, will get Salander's character wrong.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Folms and Columbia Pictures

Some foreign poster art for the Swedish adaptation and American remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Above is the poster art for the 2009 Swedish film and the new teaser poster for the American remake. In the Swedish poster actress Noomi Rapace is covered up in jeans, hoodie, and leather jacket, and looking the way she does throughout the film -- tough and guarded. Those black clothes are in part an armor that keeps her isolated from the rest of the world. The American poster depicts Mara in a much softer, sexier, and exposed manner. She is a sex object in a way that Rapace never allowed herself or the character of Salander to be.

Novelist Stieg Larsson introduces his character to readers as "a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle. On those occasions when she had been wearing a tank top, a dragon tattoo can be seen on her left shoulder blade."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Films and Columbia Pictures

Left, Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander and, right, Rooney Mara in a teaser photo as the same character but slightly more exposed.

As we get to know more about Lisbeth, we discover that her traumatic childhood has made her introverted, anti-social, and particularly hostile to men who abuse women. In fact, she takes great pleasure in exposing and punishing such men. In the book she is described as, "the woman who hated men who hate women." She is also described as bisexual. Larsson describes his heroine as, "She went around with the attitude that she would rather be beaten to death than take any shit." Rapace perfectly embodies that attitude even in the still images. Mara, not so much.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Films and Columbia Pictures

Again Rapace and Mara, each giving their take on Lisbeth Salander.

In "The Girl Who Played with Fire" there's a line: "He felt that he had to find Salander and hold her close. She would probably bite him if he tried." Again, Rapace sells those qualities to us. Plus, Salander in the book and Swedish films is a figure of female empowerment. She may suffer abuse but, as described in the book, she asserts "never let anyone who has insulted you get away with it. Bide your time and strike back when you are in a position of strength- even if you no longer need to strike back." That's why I like the fact that the images of Rapace as Salander often show her with a gun or in a position of power rather than as a sex object or vulnerable looking victim like Mara.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

Rooney Mara trying to show the feminine and tough sides of Lisbeth Salander in a magazine photo shoot selling her as Larsson's heroine. A tutu? Really?

The American ads and the various photo shoots trying to sell us on Mara as Salander undercut that image of Salander as a figure of female empowerment. Rapace's Salander would never have to strip down or teasingly display her cleavage in order to be sexy. Rapace's strength, confidence, and toughness make her sexy not her exposed skin. Mara is presented to us like a sex object in a Calvin Klein or Victoria's Secret ad. That's fine and dandy for selling pin up posters but it's totally out of character for Salander and if all this media attention is meant to stir my interest in the remake, then it is failing miserably because all I feel is deep concern that Hollywood will ruin this great character.

But my only hope lies in David Fincher. Fincher is directing the remake and he has a knack for nailing creepy, disquieting material. If you look at the trailers for the original film and the remake, there is a greater similarity in the treatment of the material and I do spy causes for hope that the remake may indeed capture Salander's fiery, tough, and violent character.

Trailer: 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Here is how the Swedish film "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" teased its story.

Trailer: 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2011)

Here's how the American remake is promoting "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

So I'm hoping my observation... okay, my rant... about the American teaser campaign for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is unjustified, and that the print materials coming out are simply being handled by some publicist with no creative connection to the film. I just don't want to see Lisbeth Salander abused by the American remake. I want to see her kick some ass.


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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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