Note: This article contains frank discussion of sexual assault and graphic violence.
I have a confession: I’ve never actually read the Millennium trilogy. I’ve seen the movies, even the American remake of the first, but I’ve never actually read the books. I never felt the need to, honestly. We could spend a lot of time here on the book-versus-movie argument, their relative quality, but it really comes down to one thing—I don’t need to relive the rape of Lisbeth Salander anymore. I don’t need to see another version of that act played out. It’s not that I necessarily think the story is a bad one, but there are some tales which only ever need to be consumed once.
Yet, here we are, with Titan Comics releasing fresh comic book adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s original novels. My first reaction upon hearing the news was: “Why?” I understand that the story is a popular one, but on the heels of a pair of film adaptations and an existing comic adaptation from DC comics, do we really need one more version? But of course, I can’t really fault them; it’s been an extremely successful crime story, with complex, interwoven plot threads, and publishers exist to make money. This version is actually older than it seems. Originally released by Éditions Dupuis as a six-volume series in 2013, Titan Comics is now translating it into English.
It’s also a book where the female protagonist is raped not once, but twice in one of those plot threads. This thread is distinct from the main story, which is about the disappearance and possible murder of another girl, and distinct yet again from the other side thread, which is about a member of a rich family capturing and torturing young women. These are all distinct still from the multiple sexual encounters the male protagonist has with several women, all consensual.
In an interesting stylistic choice, despite the fact that there are quite a few naked women appearing throughout this adaptation, the only time any of those women is shown without some sort of cover or clever framing to hide that nudity is when the plot focuses on those young women being tortured. Those characters are shown in full, uncensored detail. One is bound, naked and crying, in a living room of some sort, before she’s dragged by her hair over to hot coals which highlight her screaming, terrified face, and another is shown postmortem, strung up by wrists and an ankle in a barn, a hatchet buried between her shoulders. It’s as though they cease to be women in those moments, and thus, not being women, have no requirement for modesty. The lone exception to this is Lisbeth herself; whether by scene framing or the simple fact of being a protagonist, she retains a degree of dignity other victims are denied.
This being the latest in a succession of adaptations of a novel published posthumously, there isn’t much of a purpose to debating the themes of violence, rape, and revenge woven throughout. They exist; they will continue to exist in every version of this story that continues. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has always been built on the victimization of women, and that detail can never be extracted from it without fundamentally altering the nature of the work itself. In this particular iteration, however, conscious choices were made to highlight that violence in lurid detail. Tasked with reproducing this story in a new medium, writer Sylvain Runberg and artist Jose Homs deliberately chose to present it in this precise way. After having read it, I’m left with the same question I had prior to beginning: “Why?”