Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) got the ending that Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) deserved in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. After years of the government bouncing her around and facing discrimination and violence, she deserved to be happy with Mikael. Instead, like everyone in her life, Mikael left her alone again in the frigid Swedish winter.
It’s heartbreaking every time I watch Lisbeth with the leather jacket for Mikael, only to find he’s gone back to the lover that ruined his marriage. Instead of trying for a fresh start, Mikael goes back to the comfortable, scummy life he lives.
Lisbeth did not deserve this.
The Men of Lisbeth’s World
Every single man in the world of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a disappointment in some way. Holger Palmgren (Bengt C. W. Carlsson), her original guardian, though kind to Lisbeth, suffered a stroke and could no longer be the guardian that Lisbeth needed. Nils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen) was a rapist and a manipulative piece of trash. And Mikael, though kind and somewhat in love with Lisbeth, ended up leaving her in the end for a more conventional woman.
Instead of a new beginning, Lisbeth drowned in the same cycle as before. A man comes into her life, things seem okay, and then he leaves. Mikael really seemed like a change of pace for a while there. He loved spending time with her and he seemed to genuinely appreciate her, even going so far as to give her a $50,000 loan.
Yet, it’s clear in the final scene that what Mikael really enjoyed was the physicality of the relationship. He gave up his marriage for a physical relationship. He cheated on his lover, Erika (Robin Wright), with Lisbeth because he was alone and succumbed to his physical needs. The sexual relationship was truly all he cared about and Lisbeth, blinded by her need for a friend and her love for Mikael, couldn’t see that.
Lisbeth Salander is a feminist icon. She never needed a man in her life, even to the point that she tried to kill her father. From what we know of the men in her life, it was essential for her to get by without a man and she had done well for herself. She had a job, an apartment, food, and she had no problem holding her own against the unsavory people of the dark city.
The one thing she didn’t have was a friend, something her previous guardian, Holger, had been pestering her to find. For a time, Mikael was that to her. Even without the sexual aspects of their relationship, Lisbeth truly enjoyed Mikael’s company. She deserved to be able to cherish that relationship, but Mikael could never let go of his own lifestyle to allow Lisbeth in.
Lisbeth should have been allowed to have that relationship endure in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Instead, it was crushed by Mikael’s selfishness. To Mikael, it was a relationship of convenience. To Lisbeth, their relationship was everything. Everything was ripped away from her and she was left in the same place as before.
One of my favorite movie tropes is when the unconventional outcast gets to make a friend and have a happy ending. David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo spits on that trope. To be fair, the novel the movie is based on spits on that trope, but I digress.
Lisbeth was definitely an odd duck. She wasn’t a conventional sort of beautiful; she wore torn t-shirts with obscene statements, cut her hair short and choppy, and was pierced and tattooed all over her body. Yet, there was a beauty about her, both outside and inside, that showed the world that she was different and she was proud. Like I said, an independent feminist icon.
But, instead of being rewarded for individuality, she was shoved aside once again. She didn’t eventually find love like geeky Peter Parker in any Spider-Man movie. She isn’t eventually accepted like the performers in The Greatest Showman or the sea monsters in Luca. Instead of getting that happy Hollywood ending, she is pushed back to the fringes of society, where she started the film.
Not a Bad Person
While Lisbeth was generally morally gray throughout The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there were moments where a compassionate nature peeked out. After tattooing her rapist guardian, Nils, with the phrase “I am a rapist pig,” Lisbeth makes sure to mandate that Nils never brings another girl to his apartment. This shows a level of empathy that may have been harder to identify before then, showing that Lisbeth cares about others and doesn’t want them to suffer the same fate she did.
She loved Holger as well. Playing chess with him and even taking care of him after he suffered his stroke are actions that only someone with a good heart could do. There was no reason to even visit her old guardian since she had been reassigned to Nils, but she visited him anyway. It’s the love for him that brings Lisbeth back.
Not only that, but she saved Mikael’s life. She didn’t have to risk her own life to journey into the cellar of Martin and rescue Mikael from certain death; she did that because she cared about Mikael. Traveling to the cold northern region of Sweden was quite the sacrifice as well, but she did it to help an old man find peace. The very act of saving someone else’s life should have guaranteed Lisbeth the ending she deserved.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the way things work out sometimes.
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