It’s been a week since I walked into the late show of director David Fincher’s cinematic adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” to see what all the fuss was (is) about. Having consumed a whopping six pages of the book beforehand, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what I was about to see. I kept waiting for the plot twist wherein the film’s heroine (or “anti-heroine” as the high-brow publications are calling her), Lisbeth Salander, is taken under the wing of some kind-hearted fashionistas, and with some well-tailored Herve Leger and the wave of a mascara wand, goes from raw grunge-chic to sparkling Swedish socialite.
As I sat, terrorized and transfixed by graphic images of rape, violence, and a mangled cat carcass, I reassured myself with the thought of Salander and the dreamy journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by the newest James Bond) vanquishing the bad guys and settling down to raise a gaggle of flaxen-haired offspring, who would inevitably put themselves through medical school modeling their chiseled cheekbones on the cover of Swedish Vogue. In retrospect, when The New York Times called the plot, “… a thoroughly ugly view of human nature,” they weren’t being overdramatic, they were being polite.
Lisbeth Salander isn’t fairytale princess or a badass Bond babe. Nor is she an angsty mall goth dripping in malice and kohl eye liner because her parents made her take out her lip ring. As a character, she is completely unique, shattering all preconceived stereotypes and paragons of what a leading lady should be. Perhaps this is why she has not only rendered me with writers block as severe as her haircut, but also taken the worlds of fashion and pop culture by storm.
Since the novel, part of Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (which also includes “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”) was published posthumously in 2005, it has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. In the months leading up the the films highly anticipated December release, and the film has been featured in Vogue several times, with the hauntingly beautiful Rooney Mara (who plays Salander in the film) as the November cover girl.
Style websites have been scurrying to assemble lookbooks to help fashion-forward fans channel the renegade hacker’s gritty-not-pretty aesthetic, which has become all the rage. The film’s costume designer, Trish Summerville, has collaborated with H&M on a 30-piece “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” capsule collection, which pays homage to the newly-minted fashion icon with some wardrobe essentials: biker jackets, t-shirts, overcoats, army pants, and lots and lots of leather. And while the retail giant has been accused of “glamorizing rape,” the line has been wildly successful, selling out in some locations in under five minutes.
While we still love our fairytale princesses, it only takes a brief scan of the headlines to realize that these times we live in aren’t exactly Happily Ever After. Though she is a victim, Salander’s refusal to play the damsel in distress is an inspiration to those of us who live in a reality where we can’t expect handsome princes and fairy godmothers to swoop in to save us.
In a recent interview, Summerville explains, “I hope what I’m conveying with the collection is anybody who can shop at H&M, being female, can go in and find a piece to go with their wardrobe.” This mass-market channeling of Lisbeth Salander isn’t about glamorizing rape, murder, revenge, or any of the darker themes of the movie. It’s about assertiveness, self-confidence, and actively taking control of your own destiny, even when life is less than a fairytale. The fact that the clothes happen to be super cute is just an added perk.