by Julia Wher, sophomore journalism major
Her image on the movie poster interested me: a pale young woman with black hair, spiked choker, heavy eyeliner and lipstick (both black) on a face adorned with piercings. She looked reserved and mysterious; fully dressed in black, she was sitting on the floor staring right at you. I was surprised that a Facebook ad popped up on the right side of my page and actually suggested something interesting. Curious about the movie, I decided to watch it, not knowing how inspirational I would later find the film’s leading lady.
The original Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is the first of a movie trilogy adapted from Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series” book trilogy. Eventually, after watching all the movies, the girl on the poster— Salander—wasn’t just an intriguing figure to me anymore. She had just become my new favorite heroine: my radical.
Throughout the trilogy, Salander not only witnesses her mother become brain damaged because of domestic violence by her father—who later shoots Salander in the head and tries to bury her alive with the help of her half-brother—but she’s also purposely sent as a little girl to a mental institution where she’s sexually abused, something she experiences later on in life as well, at the hands of her male legal guardian. This occurs simultaneously with a bigger political plot involving her father and Salander being framed and accused of a murder she didn’t commit.
Experiences as horrible as these can definitely crush one’s positive outlook on life and tear apart one’s desire to live, so not surprisingly, viewers can’t help but care for Salander and hope for her well-being. She, of course, isn’t scar-free—her personal relationships and behavior within society reflect that. Her appearance, for example, is not only a way to express herself but also to tell society to keep its distance.
She toughens up and keeps her guard up—making it difficult to connect with others—but remarkably, Salander never considers herself a victim of life circumstances. She’s technically a victim of abhorrent situations, yet her mentality is always one of a fighter—never a victim—and that in itself is enough reason to admire her.
However, that’s not the only reason. In the movies, Salander is both a witness and victim of violence, and because she decides to fight back and deal justice with her own hands—targeting all those responsible for her bad experiences—she becomes an activist against violence toward women. Her male targets can indeed be seen as “woman-haters,” and because of that, hostility and hatred toward men like these flourish, making Salander want to turn them into the victims of their own wrongdoing.
It’s true that some viewers may consider her methods extreme, but knowing what she went through in the hands of these men, I feel they deserved the pain they got for the suffering they caused. I seethed in anger when I saw what they did to her, and I cheered when I saw them getting their payback. In real life, any type of violence toward women is still not taken as seriously as it should: Punishment for the perpetrators is still mild, and unfortunately, victims are the ones who are stigmatized.
That’s why Salander is my radical: After all her negative experiences, she not only remained a strong woman with a fighting spirit, but she didn’t tolerate misogyny, treating men who hate women the way they should be treated, even though only on the screen.
I know she’s just a fictional character, but I’m sure many other fictional characters can be as powerful and meaningful to their audiences as she was to me. I’ll never forget Lisbeth Salander, and hopefully, I’ll still get goosebumps whenever I’m reminded of how inspiring she can be after all she has been through.