***foul language alert***
If you’re keeping track, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third in a series of mystery novels by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson. It’s also the third in a series of film adaptations of the novels. I’ve written before about some of the feminist critiques of the books, though I haven’t read the books myself. I have seen all three films; I praised the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for its feminist admiration of its hero, Lisbeth Salander. I took issue with the second, The Girl Who Played with Fire, for what felt like an anti-feminist exploitation of the bodies, desires, and impulses of all of the female characters.
I’m happy to announce that the series has righted itself with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, a dark, dark courtroom drama that finally allows us entry into the world of the tiny, angry, brilliant, troubled woman whose very existence has been defined by the evil men who surround her.
Allows us entry, but begrudgingly and without a word of welcome. In this film, Lisbeth is the most sullen, defiantly silent, and unyielding we’ve ever seen her, even as the cruel details, the horrible cruelties, of her life are revealed to the world. If you’ve read or seen the first two parts of the series, you know that as a child Lisbeth Salander was committed against her will to a psychiatric hospital, where she was subjected to ‘treatments’ that may or may not have included electroshock therapy, sexual abuse by one or more male doctors, and near complete isolation from other patients. You know that she was declared mentally incompetent upon her eventual release from the hospital and handed off to a series of male guardians who did not always have her ‘care’ in mind. You know that one of her ‘guardians’ raped her, brutally. You know that her father tried, among other things, to have her killed. This third film opens with Lisbeth unconscious in a hospital bed, recovering from: being buried alive, being brutally beaten to the point of crushed bones by her half brother, and being shot in the head. She’s also under arrest for the attempted murder of her father.
There are people who want to help her, most notably the chivalrous Mikael Blomqvist, the intrepid journalist who in the novels apparently broke Lisbeth’s heart but who in the films seems sort of pathetically in love with her. He risks his life, and the lives of his employees, to secure documents that can exonerate Lisbeth at trial. He pressures his sister, an attorney, to take Lisbeth’s case; she is initially annoyed and frustrated with Lisbeth but comes around to Michael’s way of thinking before the end. There is also a kind male doctor who agrees to smuggle things into Lisbeth’s room and who holds the police at bay for as long as he can while Lisbeth recovers.
To these people, Lisbeth offers not a single grateful word. She refuses to respond to any of the doctor’s gentle and curious inquiries into her life. She refuses to see or speak to Mikael. And she refuses to answer any of her attorney’s questions, even though it appears that she is working against her own best interest by doing so.
Lisbeth is so silent in this film that it’s squirm-inducing. When the psychiatrist who was responsible for most of her childhood’s torture arranges to meet with her, she refuses to speak. At least tell him what an enormous dickfuck he is, you want to yell at the screen, but you know that would be impolite. When brought in to the police station for question, she sits in complete defiance, without answering a single question, until everybody gives up and sends her away. For godsake cooperate with these people, you want to yell, because everyone knows that you’re supposed to cooperate with the authorities.
This is shadow feminism at its finest. The ‘authorities’ you’re supposed to cooperate with have abused, assaulted, and tortured Lisbeth. The men, even the ostensibly kindest ones, who want to ‘help’ her are part of an anti-woman regime that dismantles her, that disempowers her, that determines how fuckable and therefore how worthy of their assistance she is.
We can read Lisbeth’s sullenness and silence as a simple refusal to participate in a system that has literally fucked her up the ass.
It’s a silence that should lead all of us to consider our complicity in social structures designed to work against the best interests of the poor, the nonwhite, the nonmale, the undereducated. My discomfort at Lisbeth’s refusal to answer questions at her official interrogation–that comes from a lifetime of learning how to be a good girl, how to do what the nice men ask of me. Lisbeth’s days of being a good girl are long over, and this film respects her enough to grant her that silence, to love and admire her for it.
This film loves her, but true to form, Lisbeth never offers up her gratitude to the film, its camera, or its viewers. The biggest misstep of the second film in this series was its treatment of Lisbeth and her body as an object of sexual desire. She gets all naked with her girlfriend in front of the camera’s male gaze; she walks around in bathrobes and skimpy outfits for no apparent reason and in a complete mismatch with the story being told. This film’s greatest accomplishment is that it refuses to sexualize our hero in any way that might be recognizable to the general viewing public. There is one scene near the end when Lisbeth is interrupted during a bath; though the filmmakers could’ve snuck some skin in there, we never get a single glimpse of her body and, what’s more, she emerges from the bath looking not steamy and sexy but soaked and disheveled. And here’s the piece de resistance, in the form of Lisbeth’s clothing choice for her trial:
That’s right, motherfuckers. You won’t get a single glimpse of Lisbeth’s body. She’s done with your world and everything it represents to her. We (the poor, the nonwhite, the nonmale, the undereducated) may not have the courage to make such a decision for ourselves, may not have the courage to take that path, but we must respect a film that refuses to let us think that our path is the harder one to take.
- film review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire
- film review: The Social Network
- the sleeping alone film review: State of Play
- on homophobia, classism, and the politics of rape: Don Belton and Bloomington’s Pride Film Festival
- the sleeping alone review of films: And Then Came Lola