Girl in the Spider’s Web

by Alvin G. Burstein

Almost 150 years ago, the philosopher John Stewart Mill published what was then a provocative essay, On the Subjection of Women. Mill, a former child prodigy and later, a noted public intellectual. He argued that women were not just disadvantaged, but as, half of humankind, the largest group of enslaved humans. He documented the peculiarly onerous abuse to which women could suffer because “…their masters require something more from them than actual service. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments…not just a forced slave but a willing one….” For that reason, he predicted that our patriarchal society would stubbornly resist acknowledging women’s rights to liberty and equality. He would not be surprised by the circumstance that Americans would elect a black man as President before according that office to a woman. He would have taken pleasure in the reality of a recent Congressional election that saw record numbers of women candidates, and victors.

Despite his Victorian context, Mill is clearly a bellwether of the twentieth century #Me Too movement that gives voice to women’s experience of abuse, especially sexual abuse. Steig Larsson, author of the popular Millenium novel series that spawned the Swedish and American versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films is another such bellwether. The motivational focus of both the novels and the films is its protagonist’s, Lisbeth Salander’s hatred of men who hurt women.

The success of the three American films—The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest
assured its sequel, The Girl In The Spider’s Web. The new film will satisfy fans of the first three, bringing back the main characters: Salander, journalist Blomquist, his editor and sometime lover, Erika Berger and the unorthodox computer genius, Plague. Continuity with its predecessors is underscored by the opening scene. Salander interrupts a sadistic abuser in flagrante delicto, exposing the perpetrator and hanging him by his heels.

As it unfolds, some backstory emerges. Salandar is provided with a sister, and the two are victims of their father’s sexual abuse. Another innovation is Salander’s involvement in an international struggle for control of a world-wide network of atomic weapons. She must now deal, not only with criminal gangs, like those trafficking in prostitution in the earlier films—though there is one of those here as well, Spider, but also with American and Swedish security forces.

There are some shortcomings. Salander’s use of tasers, satisfying in the original films, gets tediously familiar in this one. More central is the handling of the relationship between Salander and Blomquist. In the earlier films, her vulnerability to his casual sexual involvements, her hurt when she takes the risk of loving a man, only to discover his tomcat character is powerful and painful. In this sequel, she turns to him with caution and only out of situational need. And Bomquist’s decision as the film’s end to forego a scoop feels artificial. Finally, and most critical plot-wise, is a motivational switch. A key motivational element in this film is sibling rivalry between daughters, not hatred for men who hurt women.

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