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Män som hatar kvinnor - The Ex-Communicator

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May 18th, 2010


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11:55 pm - Män som hatar kvinnor
This evening I saw the film Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women), in Swedish with English subtitles. It is given the title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in English. You probably know the author Stieg Larsson died and left three manuscripts which then became international best sellers. I think all three have been filmed; this is the first.

It's a good film: 'He is a middle aged investigative journalist, she is a butch and enigmatic computer hacker, together they fight crime'. The two characters are interesting and well acted and the artistic production is high class. It is not unlike the Swedish version of Wallander in visual style. It's a high quality middlebrow murder mystery. It's a pretty long film and I wasn't bored for a moment.

Warning: this film includes one scene of bad sexual violence against a woman. It's not endorsed or forgiven within the story - if you see what I mean, without giving anything away - but it could be problematic to any viewer. I personally held my hand up between my face and the screen so I couldn't see it (and that means I don't have a clue if it was made out to be sexy at all, even obliquely). I think it is problematic to show something like that, but while this scene is not central to the main plot, it does dramatise the emotional logic of the film, as signified by its title. I felt I had to include this much above the cut.

The character of the girl hacker was great. She is aggressive, determined, and intelligent. I didn't agree with the decision the author made to have her sleep with the ageing journo. The male actor is attractive - at least to me, a similarly ancient being - so it was pleasant enough to watch it, but it was also a bit tiresome. I was just enjoying the fact that they weren't sleeping together when they did.

The emotional logic of the story, which is played out in several ways during the film, goes like this: bad man abuses women, woman gets mediaeval on his ass, and a good man deprecates the whole violent cycle. I am being glib, but that is the basic plot machinery. Now, personally, I think this is better than the traditional plot 'woman takes revenge, good man regretfully brings her to justice' (probably after some romantic involvement). It seems designed however to let your middle class viewer experience it all three ways while identifying with the good man, and thus remaining innocent of the violent cycle. I personally identified more with the vengeful women, and quite enjoyed it.

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:azdak
Date:May 19th, 2010 03:24 am (UTC)
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HUGE SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT






It's not endorsed or forgiven within the story - if you see what I mean, without giving anything away - but it could be problematic to any viewer.

One of the reasons I disliked the book was I felt that it was using a rather sanctimonious "Isn't it dreadful the way men abuse women" attitude to cover the fact that it itself is fascinated by rape and torture. And I also felt that one case of sexual violence in which the woman decides not to go to the police is perhaps acceptable, given the woman's character, but when every case results in the decision not to go to the police, then it looks as if the author is saying "Don't bother trying to solve sexual violence as a social problem, it can't be done, men will always prey on women, that's the way it works." I hated the fact that they decided not to let the police know what had happened to all the young women who had been kidnapped by the serial killer - in spite of the fact that the emotional motor if the story is one man's desperate need to know what happened to his niece, decades after she disappeared. It was as if only his pain mattered, and everyone else was anonymous.

And yes, the fact that the main male character is a middle-aged journalist who has meaningful sex with pretty much every woman he meets, including his editor, didn't escape my attention either...
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:May 19th, 2010 05:37 am (UTC)
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Yes, he's a bit of a Mary-Sue for the middle aged journalist writer. I whispered to H during the film, 'Every Swedish man seems to have women chucking themselves at him non-stop' whether this is an accurate representation of Scandinavian society I do not know.

I didn't realise the police didn't learn what had happened to the kidnapped women. That must have been made clearer in the book. In the film he tells the police to look in the cellar, where all the killer's photos and records are, and I assumed that was then all investigated and dealt with.

I agree the story dramatises the idea that there is no social or legal protection for women, except what they create for themselves against mainstream society and morality. Is this a subversive message, or a repressive one? I think the story plays it for titillation, but if it gets the idea out into the mainstream, it may further discredit the attitude that conventional social structures are safe for women.
[User Picture]
From:azdak
Date:May 19th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
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I didn't realise the police didn't learn what had happened to the kidnapped women.

In the book, he agrees not to reveal the killer's identity for harriet's sake (it would be embarrassing for her if people knew she'd been abused...) So Our Hero does some angsting about his lack of journalistic integrity, but not nearly enough angsting (IMO) about what this means for the families of the victims.

I agree the story dramatises the idea that there is no social or legal protection for women, except what they create for themselves against mainstream society and morality.

But only what they create as individual women - there's no sense that they have any obligation towards other women, towards other potential victims. Granted, Lisbeth is a bit anti-social anyway, but if another woman before her had carved "rapist" on her guardian's chest, it wouldn't have saved Lisbeth from being raped - by the time he takes his shirt off, it's too late. It's a neat revenge fantasy, but it doesn't actually help anyone. And Harriet doesn't feel any solidarity towards Martin's other victims - they can remain anonymous, just so long as she's all right. I found it distinctly disturbing as an attitude.
[User Picture]
From:andrewducker
Date:May 19th, 2010 07:54 am (UTC)
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The scene is not at all sexy, even obliquely.

I can understand the argument against showing that kind of thing. But I can also understand the argument that if you're going to show violence then you should make it so unpleasant that people can't just gloss over it. It should make it clear that rape is incredibly unpleasant. Because some people don't seem to get it...
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:May 19th, 2010 08:39 am (UTC)
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Yes, and I remember this argument back when Sam Peckinpah started showing gunfights with realistic(ish) faces being blown off and so on. I agree that it's better for people to know what violence is, that it's not a thrill for those affected, but at the same time I think some directors use violence for cheap thrills. I don't know basically. I found this scene quite unwatchable.
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From:andrewducker
Date:May 19th, 2010 09:16 am (UTC)
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I found it at the limits of watchability, which is pretty much where I wanted it. It haunted me for a couple of days afterwards.

Which is better (from my point of view) than an inoffensive rape scene. But I can see that other people might find it troubling.
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From:pennski
Date:May 19th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
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I've read the first book and found that scene both necessary and troubling. We did buy the other 2 books but I'm going to have to be in a mentally strong place before I read them.
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From:communicator
Date:May 19th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
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I will probably read it, now I know how the story goes. I can always skip those pages.
From:huskyscotsman
Date:May 19th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
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I saw this at the cinema a few weeks ago. I came out reeling. My reaction on Twitter (which I can't link to because it's down, bah) was something like "tells you it's going to brutally punch you in the head, then does so". That turned out to be exactly what I needed at the time, so I absolutely loved it.

Thinking back later after I'd recovered my breath, I could see there were some very dodgy elements. There's a fine line between shocking for the sake of social satire and shocking for titillation. I think the film's heart is mostly in the right place, but it stamps clumsily all over that line so it's really up to the viewer to decide.

One that made me cringe a little is the way the heroine was depicted as being abused by her male guardian, and sleeping with another woman; then once our middle-aged hero comes along, she realises that not all men are evil rapists and hops into bed with him. It's presumably meant to show her as an intriguing bisexual character, but it isn't hard to read it as her being "cured" by the sheer power of Mary Sue's heterosexuality.

Like you, up until that point I had thought it was interesting and refreshing that they didn't have a sexual relationship. It's not like the guy was short of attractive, interesting, apparently sane women of his own age!
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:May 19th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
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her being "cured" by the sheer power of Mary Sue's heterosexuality

LOL, yes, and he's all 'Do you really think this is a good idea? Oh, all right then.'

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