Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I just saw the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Subtitles and all. It took me a couple of weeks to muscle through it—there are some shocking scenes in there that have to do with rape, sodomy, bondage, grisly serial murder, and other horrifying aspects of life on earth. I’d argue that these potentialities have little to do with most of us, but the simple fact is, whether graphically rendered in the imagination or not, all of us have given safe harbor to these ideas before, in one intensity or another. For some of us it may be quite tame; an episode of road rage that provokes us to violent or murderous thoughts. For others it may be full-blown deviant sexual fantasy or worse. Whatever the case, Steig Larsson’s book tackles some of the worst of our potentials without fear. I find that striking, because we all play with fire from time to time, ignorant of its full potential or not.

I’d heard, of course, of the Girl books. I was curious about them, but was too busy to follow through. When the Swedish version of the film popped up on Netflix, it was easy to get at. I watched the film not for its entertainment value, but for its value as a kind of case study. I read fiction that way, too. I know I’m weird. Though I may be a couple of years behind the power curve, I finally got curious enough about the Girl stories to give this one a look.

I had to look away from the screen at several key points, because the scenes were just too intense for me. I got the point, though. I don’t know from experience what rape is—though I’m sure there are those who will read this who do—but it was real enough for me as acted out on screen. It was unspeakably awful. I couldn’t watch.

And I mention it because I’m conflicted about the inclusion of those elements in the story, in the movie.

See, I think Larsson was quite brave to plow directly into the issue of these manifest evils in our society, God rest his soul. Part of me asks, “Why would he write this into his story?” And another part of me knows already that authors and writers and other artists have a responsibility to address—and not ignore—those parts of our culture that shock and appall, and speak truth: that after all the evil that enshrouds every one of us has been cut through, we are still invaluable, we are still God’s image bearers. It’s a great mystery that these things that are in violent opposition to each other can exist in the same vessel.

Part of me felt some of these scenes were gratuitous. That was the part that questioned why a man should write—why a movie should be produced—about rape, about sexual torture, and so graphically. What would be the purpose? Do we not already have enough saturation in our culture, in our society, of these greasy and dishonorable things? Detestable, I should say. But as the movie played out, I realized the purpose, the design of the writer, the producer, the director.

Those elements of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo didn’t just occupy space in the narrative. The writer was trying to tell a story. As it happens, it unfolds slowly and we discover at the end just why all that bone-chillingly horrid stuff is in there. It’s a central part of Lisbeth’s character and identity. Though I can’t relate to what the Girl went through literally, I can relate to feeling used, abused, to having issues with authority, to feeling fragile, to having a need to be guarded.

I realized that there are universal aspects to things, even to pure evil like that. And while that may make for a bit of an awkward read on my blog, it makes good food for thought in regard to Story. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo isn’t what I’d term a recommended movie, especially the Swedish version (I have a feeling the American version was toned-down a bit; less graphic, but I don’t know for sure). But it had an effect on me. What’s interesting is that I had no idea what I was getting into with it. I didn’t know what the story was about, what it centered on. If I had, I wouldn’t have watched it. And though it was beyond shocking, I’m glad I did. I’m certain it will make me a better writer in the long run. That doesn’t mean I’ll be mindlessly copying ultra-graphic elements into my stories. No. It means I’ll be taking a more considered approach to my characters, my plots, my stories. It also means I’ll be reading Steig’s Girl series soon.