Feminist Fatale: Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

*WARNING: contains spoilers*

After seeing the American remake of the Swedish best-selling thriller novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” my girlfriends all turned to me and said “I want to be like Lisbeth Salander.” Admittedly, I was also seduced by this refreshing, enigmatic heroine and even cheered when she gained revenge against her rapist and attacker. Could Lisbeth Salander be the feminist heroine that the world of cinema has been desperately needing for years?

Initially, I loved Lisbeth for her unique personality traits and alluring sensuality. She certainly leaves a great first impression. She is effortlessly sexy – she does not care for conventional beauty and sex standards. Clad in leather, tattooed, and pierced, Lisbeth certainly does not use femininity or feminine wiles to get her way. She is neither sentimental nor overly romanticized. An androgynous and bisexual woman, she defies the arbitrary boundaries of sexual and gender boundaries. More importantly, she is also an unapologetic sexual being in the film. Lisbeth makes all the moves; she is the seducer of those she desires. She convinces her crush and partner in a murder investigation, celebrity journalist Mikael Blomkvist, to sleep with her.  Additionally, she seduces and then takes home a nubile bar beauty.

Lisbeth  is also  intelligent and independently makes her own decisions. She is perhaps the smartest figure in the film. After all, it is Mikael who needs her savvy computer skills in the murder case. Lisbeth outsmarts all the men in the movie. At the film's end, she exacts her revenge on the financier Wennerström (the man who accuses Mikael of libel in the beginning of the movie) by going to Stockholm disguised as “Monica Sholes” and artfully stealing all his money. I must admit that it is a breath of fresh air to see a clever woman who does not depend on beauty and sex to dupe men. Lisbeth simply uses her brains.

Lisbeth's most irresistible feature, however, is her fearsome strength and vigilante attitude towards violent men. Just as she is more intelligent that most of the film's men, Lisbeth is similarly stronger than them as well. After her bag is stolen in a subway, she runs after the thief with superhuman strength and retrieves her belongings after literally beating him to a bloody pulp on the escalator. Although this moment is seemingly mundane and does not contribute much to the plot, it speaks volumes to me as a young woman. Having a purse or bag stolen in a crowded, public place is a fear of many modern women who live in urbanized areas. I cannot count how many times my mother has warned me to “keep an eye” on my bag. As a student who uses public transport, I have adopted the habit of being overly conscious of my belongings. Men often take advantage of this uniquely feminine fear. Lisbeth Salander, however, proves that women are not weak victims, but can also be a source of fear and a force to be reckoned with. At the film's end, it is Lisbeth who kills the serial rapist and murderer of women. Mikael is tied up in a torture room with the killer and it is Lisbeth who storms in and saves the day. She swings a golf club at the murderer's face and disfigures him. After asking Mikael, “May I kill him?” she hops on her motorcycle and crashes into the killer's SUV, causing it to crash in a whirlwind of fire that extinguishes a man who has terrorized women for decades. Quite frankly, Ms. Salander is a bona-fide badass.  I believe she appeals to women because she operates under a code of justice that gains revenge for victimized women everywhere. The victimized Lisbeth refuses to be a victim herself. Lisbeth indubitably plays the role of a merciless vigilante and I presume that many women live vicariously through her actions.

I love the film for its feminist vengeance and vigilante themes, but I believe the film implicitly promoted violence against men and rape fantasies. For example, I loved the look on Lisbeth's face when she is asked to join Mikael on a hunt for “a killer of women.” She appears eager and considers the job only when she is given the detail of tortured and victimized women. However, I was slightly concerned by Lisbeth's excessively violent revenge against her legal guardian, who forces her to perform oral sex and rapes her in exchange for cash. Lisbeth returns to his apartment after her rape, ties him up in the same manner in which she was tied , and sodomizes him. The finishing touch of her act of vengeance is that she tattoos “I AM A RAPIST PIG” on his chest and bids him good luck in his sex life. I remember the audience cheering and hooting during the scene and I admittedly joined them in their exuberance. I subconsciously, like many women everywhere, wanted to see Lisbeth repeat the same brutal offense inflicted on her to the man who harmed her. I believe the violent sex scenes and Lisbeth's exaggerated vigilante attitude are perhaps the shortcomings of Lisbeth's role as a feminist role model. I admire her strength, intelligence, and unique sexuality, but I believe victims should not continue the cycle of brutality. Victimized women should adopt the strength of Lisbeth without adopting the violence of their attackers. Nevertheless, I loved the experience of finally seeing a fearless woman on the big screen.

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  1. Very swell article, thanks for sharing, you`ve written exactly how I feel about this powerful character.

  2. I definitely recommend you watch the Swedish film as well! She is much more independent, sexier and stronger! I’m currently writing an essay comparing the two, in saying that the Swedish one empowers women more in all aspects. Lisabeth is the more dominant character and the story focuses more on her intelligence, revenge and courage than the English version, let me know what you think of the Swedish film in comparison?

  3. Thank you for a very well written article. Lisbeth is definitely an interesting character, much different from the mainstream in numerous ways. When Lisbeth asked of Mikhail “May I kill him ?” that there was a bit of a disconnect. She has her own morale code and it seems likely that she would have made that decision on her own without validation from anyone, especially a male. Also,Lisbeth did not crash into the serial killer’s SUV. He ran off the road in an attempt to get away from her as she was pursuing him. She did, however, make the decision to leave without rendering any aid. Again, thanks for the great article.

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