Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
Baldur Bragason/Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc.
The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson is, without doubt, a publishing phenomenon. Initially a word-of-mouth success, sales had reached an incredible 65 million by December 2011. With successful Swedish films made of all three novels, and a Hollywood update of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander’s story is firmly embedded in our global public consciousness. She is one of a new breed of anti-heroines taking the entertainment industry by storm. Others of this genre include Kristen Stewart as a sword-wielding Snow White, former MMA fighter Gina Carano as a formidable solider of fortune in Haywire, and Pixar’s forthcoming Boadicea-alike Princess Merida in Brave.
It has been suggested that Salander is not a feminist, perhaps most notably by the latest adaptation’s star Rooney Mara. However, I would disagree. Salander is undoubtedly fearful of men, but who can blame her, considering her past experiences. The character’s backstory is particularly brutal. Forced into state care after retaliating against an abusive father, the young Salander was repeatedly failed by institutions and individuals intended to protect her, resulting in her losing legal autonomy and being placed under guardianship. As an adult, she is brutally raped by her guardian Nils Bjurman and determines to exact justice.
Lisbeth is tough, but then she needs to be. Far from indiscriminately hating men, she opens up to and comes to trust several important male figures, including journalist Mikael Blomkvist, her boss Dragan Armansky, and her previous guardian Holgar Palmgren. She is resourceful, loyal and incredibly clever, yet is judged harshly by society, based largely on her appearance and sexual preferences. Without wishing to spoil the plot for anyone yet to experience these incredible stories, I wept with triumph when some recognition finally comes her way. What’s maybe most exciting about Salander is her polar opposition to tradition female protagonists. She doesn’t need to be rescued by the male lead (in fact, she’s often doing the rescuing), and unlike Lara Croft, or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, she’s not running around wearing tiny shorts or skintight PVC. She’s fighting for her own rights, and the rights of girls like her, and doing it with skill and bravery; she’s real, and you can’t help but root for her to the very end.
Yes, Salander is flawed. But isn’t everyone? Lisbeth’s popularity, and Mara’s recent Oscar nomination, may be a sign that pop-culture heroines are starting to get serious. I suggest that this could only be a good thing. What do you think?
Girl Museum Inc.