Well I thought I had seen my most hated film of 2011 already, which was Martha Marcy May Marlene. Then I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This film is nothing but a despicable, desensitized meditation on degrading things like rape, torture, and grisly death with no substance behind it. I usually draw the line with rape, though. It is rare that a director is able to negotiate the minefield of such a topic and actually come through with a scene that doesn’t feel cheap and obscene. Those that were able to retain an ounce of respect for the moment and the viewer were perhaps Bergman (The Virgin Spring (1960)), DeSica (Two Women (1960)) or Bresson (Mouchette (1967)). But like I said, most rape scenes have little to no added value and in fact are offensive to me in the worst possible way. Perhaps the most egregious scene is in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971). The scene in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo did not need to be filmed with the specific body movements, camera angles, noises, and other details involved. I thought the scene was completely over-the-top and unnecessarily offensive to women, and in turn, to me as a viewer. Rape is too often used as a cinematic device for effect. There are ways of conveying the devastation of rape without actually having to show all the details. David Fincher should be ashamed of himself for having filmed this scene in this way.
Furthermore, Fincher’s use of grisly murder photos, torture and other violent imagery also seemed to cross a line for me, as there was nothing behind it, like I mentioned. I think maybe it’s different if it’s filmed from a perspective of shock and horror, but here it’s presented so blankly. I didn’t find that these sequences added value to the story, nor to a proposed appreciation for the characters involved. It was just needless cinematic excess. Zodiac (2007) was a fine film, but I felt that the murder scenes were unnecessarily celebrative of the acts, as if the display of the sequences stood outside of the rest of the film. Did I really need to see the gory details? And who is the gore being displayed for? I didn’t go to see a slasher flick. What was the point there?
I know there is a debate about whether “Torture Porn” such as the Saw films, or The Human Centipede stuff, can be art. I’m usually fairly lenient regarding a definition of art, but I can safely tell you that this would be art I do not wish to see. I would argue though, that those films are made for a very specific audience wanting a very certain thing from them. Those viewers want the shock and spectacle of it perhaps? What irks me about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and also about Martha Marcy May Marlene, is that they present themselves as Cinema, as Art House, as real filmmaking if you will. For me, if you’re going to throw in cheap cinematic devices, like rape and other degrading flourishes for shock effect, you better have a point and I just didn’t find it in these films at all. It’s one thing if you’re Pasolini, who may have made the must repugnant film of all time, Salo (1975). But he had a point and went in whole hog, right? Fincher is just cheaply using moments like the rape scene without seemingly any tact or respect or larger point for having filmed it that way. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is empty and meaningless and ugly. I’m sorry I watched it.