I recently saw the Hollywood version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As a disclaimer, I have not read any of the books or seen the original Swedish film. Thus far this is my only real exposure to the very popular “Millenium” trilogy. The film was enjoyable, crammed with plot but still a nicely paced crime thriller, and piqued my interest to actually read the best-selling books. It’s certainly a very Hollywood movie, with good-looking stars and every shot is noticeably slick and stylized.
Not too long ago I saw on one of my friend’s desk a book called Les hommes qui n’aimaient pas les femmes, and upon seeing the author’s name realized this must be the same book I’d been seeing in bookstores and airports across the country.
The original Swedish title retained by the French translation, Män som hatar kvinnor, in English Men Who Hate Women, doesn’t really sound as nice or line up as well into a trilogy as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo does. It doesn’t look quite as tantalizing on a movie poster or a book cover. It does, however, drive home Larsson’s intent in writing the novels, which is to highlight sexual violence against women. In changing the title more people are perhaps more likely to purchase the novel. The insides of the book are, I imagine, still very much the same, but in changing the title fewer readers will really be forced to confront the book’s points.
The change in title makes the plot far easier to swallow as simply a thrilling detective story, albeit with some rather graphic rape scenes, and thus far more sellable, a great bonus for a Hollywood film which are typically all about making money. In her blog on Celebrity Gossip, Anne Helen Petersen describes her issues with the title thusly:
1.) No seriously, why the fuck is this film named Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
This beef is more with the English-language publishers of the book than the film itself, but my complaint holds: in Swedish, the book is titled Men Who Hate Women. This title underlines Larson’s feminist intent with the novels, which was not to make entertainment out of sexual violence, but rather to highlight misogyny in all its manifestations. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo not only makes Lisbeth into a nameless Girl, but also a girl whose overarching signifier is a tattoo. One of the points of the narrative is to encourage us to see Lisbeth as much more than her appearance suggests, and the title does the absolute opposite.
I won’t doubt the film’s entertainment value but it achieves some of this by eschewing the original intent of the work. As Petersen describes in her post, sexual violence is turned into catharsis, and Fincher does not shy from showing the mainstream beauty of his female star. Her transformation into an undercover persona becomes “a game of ‘how pretty would this girl be if we could just get some normal clothes on her’?”. There were also a noticeable amount of closeups of Mara’s butt, perhaps framed alongside a gun or other signifier of violence.
Claire at The Feminist Gaze also takes issue with the sexualization of Mara’s character:
In fact, I can’t remember a book or film from the last several decades that has managed to achieve such worldwide success with such a strongly feminist lead as Lisbeth Salander. In addition to this, when we have seen Lisbeth go through such a sadistic rape, it’s completely inappropriate to gaze on her in a sexual way as she pursues the men who have kept her on the outskirts of life since childhood. This is why I am so incredibly angered by the release of the American poster.
The poster she describes is one which features Mara’s breasts, marginally covered by her co-star Daniel Craig:
In the case of character and the work’s themes, yes it is wrong to look at Salander with a sexual gaze. In the case of marketing the book and movie especially for profit, doing so, sadly, makes perfect sense.