The Unicorn Scale: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Well, the days are getting shorter and that always puts me in the mood for darker theatrical fare. I’ve deliberately kept the material light in my reviews lately, but it’s good to throw in some earnest stuff to get through those long winter nights. So I thought I would review one of my favorite bi movies of the last decade, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
And yes, before anyone points it out, I know there are multiple film versions. I’m gonna focus on the Swedish version because it’s darker, more complex, and closer to the source material. Also I just watched it with others at the L.A. ambi bi movie of the month meeting, so it’s fresh on my mind. And you know what, I just plain ol’ like it better.
Before I go for a deep-dive on this flick, I should give a few heads-ups. First off (and this shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve read my reviews before) this review will be rife with spoilers. Second, if you’ve read this far and are still wondering what the Unicorn Scale is all about, you can check out this link here.
I also feel compelled to give a content/trigger warning for readers: this is a graphic movie with a lot of sexual violence and violence towards women. It’s hard to swallow at times, even for the most hardened viewer, and it’s best to know that going in. That said, Girl With … is a surprisingly rewarding film. Now without further ado, let’s get cracking.
This 2009 brooding psychological thriller is based on Stieg Larsson’s novel Mån som hatar kvinnor (which translates to “men who hate women”), the first in the author’s Millennium novel series, published posthumously. The story centers on an Agatha Christie level mystery, with an island, a cold case of a missing young girl, a set of possible suspects, and an island that isolated the characters in question during the disappearance. Our Hercule Poirot called upon to solve the case is Mikhael Blumqvist, a recently-disgraced journalist who has childhood ties to Harriet, the victim. Through a series of plot reasons I won’t go into here, Blunqvist gets help from Lisbeth Salander, a bi researcher who helps him discover a fresh lead on the case.
What I Liked:
There’s a lot to like about this movie. Girl is smart – it never talks down to its audience or simplifies its harrowing subjects or themes. The mystery structure is masterfully crafted – even as a veteran mystery fan I was still surprised and delighted with how everything wrapped up. The architecture of the narrative interweaves both plot and character developments beautifully, revealing only little pieces of the multiple puzzles at the time. And on this last viewing with a group, I discovered how darkly funny it is in some sections. To be clear, I would never in my life recommend this movie as a comedy, but it does have tiny glimmers of gallows humor tucked throughout the story.
That’s what I liked. What I loved was the character Lisbeth. She is what I wish so many other bi characters were in movies. She is clearly the more fascinating of the leading duo. She is bi and no one with any semblance of a soul bats an eye at her sexuality. (At her choice of dress and photographic memory and other personality markers, however, yes.) She is a fully realized woman who is capable, with agency, and the full gamut of emotions and actions available. When Blumqvist and Lisbeth have sex and a relationship does not emerge from the pairing, Blumqvist does not go cold on her. In fact, he shows her more compassion than anyone else in the film for her character and actions, ultimately resolving as a deep trust and respect for each other.
Lisbeth is frighteningly smart and complex, but not painted to be the most approachable character. And she takes action – not only in the aftermath of her brutal rape, but to help Blumqvist crack the case and help solve the misogynistic murders they discovered on the disappearance trail.
The film also has thoroughly, immensely satisfying endings to all of its plots. A lot of justice is doled out, legal and otherwise. The puzzle pieces click together with a satisfying snap without making a lot of leaps of logic.
What I Didn’t Like:
I’ll be blunt: it’s extremely difficult to watch the assault and rape scenes. I’m not going to debate that. Sometimes they felt like they went painfully long, passed suspense and story’s need and into gratuity. But this was tempered by how Lisbeth outsmarted and punished her aggressor. (Her response also factors well into the sequel movies, which I recommend.)
The flick also stretches in length at times. It didn’t bother me since I was so wrapped up in the storytelling, but others may want to watch at home where they can pause for breathers and bathroom breaks.
Lisbeth accepts herself, has more dimensions than most female characters ever get on screen, and is unapologetic about her sexuality. And those who matter don’t take issue with it, either. Though she doesn’t use the word “bisexual,” the promotional materials for both the novel and film have no problem mentioning this aspect of her character without fetishizing her.
This is a damn dark, but damn good film. I would readily recommend it to anyone who likes a smart, brooding evening of cinema – but not without heaps of content/trigger warnings for both scenes and subject matter.