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Rape Scene in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (MAJOR SPOILERS)

Jan 4 2012 | Comments 34

I had never read the books or seen the other films. I knew very little about the movie except that David Fincher (whose work I respect) directed it and the person I live with wanted to see it. Someone warned me there was a rape scene, which was kind of them. I’m a rape survivor (weird term, but it does the job) and I generally avoid seeing movies with rape scenes. If you don’t know ahead of time, it generally means it’s a small plot point and it’ll go by very quickly and stupidly. But I heard David Fincher tell an interviewer that he deliberately made the rape scene more graphic than it was in the book. I should have heeded my better instincts and not gone to the film. But because social plans were made around seeing the film on New Year’s Eve, I felt uncomfortable asking everyone to change the agenda. I felt likewise unable to say I couldn’t go. I was apprehensive but decided to tough it out. How bad could it be?

Very bad. It was, without question, the most brutal rape scene I’ve seen in an American movie. It was agonizing. It wasn’t just a rape; it was a particularly violent and sadistic rape involving hand and ankle restraints, a mouth gag and vicious anal penetration. The victim is screaming. The chains that attach her to the bed rattle as she tries to free herself. It seems to go on FOREVER.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a Clockwork Orange-style revenge-rape scene, in which the victim returns to her rapist and restrains him, gags him and anally rapes him. She also tattoos him. It’s great to imagine she gets revenge, but frankly, if you’re disturbed by images of rape and sexual violence, it doesn’t much matter if it’s happening to a man or a woman. It’s still going to be traumatic. One rape scene was really hard for me. Two was almost unbearable.

Then there was the overall plot, which focuses on the investigation of a serial killer who disfigures women’s corpses in the most gruesome ways. Photos are shown.

It’s a funny thing about trauma, the way the body remembers. I went through several stages of feeling when I saw that rape scene, and even writing about it now I can feel my body responding: my heart rate is up and my legs are shaky. In the theater, when it was happening, I started to feel so panicky. My muscles got tense and it was hard to breathe. Tears filled my eyes. I kept squeezing my toes together and reminding myself to breathe. I found it hard to focus on the rest of the film. I tried, but I kept hearing her screams and then I’d have to squeeze my fists and toes and breathe. As soon as the credits came up, I fled to the bathroom. I was overwhelmed with nausea but didn’t throw up. It was hard to pee because I was starting to dissociate and leave my body. I felt so angry too. I sent some really evil text messages to a friend who’d texted something benign. I was furious. I wanted to tear down the stalls and kill people. It was such a fierce anger.

As the evening went on, the anger got less and the distance between myself and my body got more acute. By the time I got home, I was completely gone. Nothing was real, I wasn’t real, I wasn’t there. I sat staring into space for a really long time, but it wasn’t a long time because there was no such thing as time. My hands, when I looked at them, were freakish bony protuberances just sitting there on my lap. What were they? I knew there were things in front of me, but I couldn’t see them.

I tried to talk about what was going on, but it made me too sad. Then I started to get weepy. After all, after I was raped, my life went to hell. I blame it for everything. Nothing was ever the same because it brought on the illness. I can’t think of it separately. I lost my mind after that rape. I was a lost girl.

Trigger warnings can’t be placed anywhere and everywhere. The world is a hard place and we just have to take our chances. But I’m still feeling the aftereffects of the film. So I would say if you’ve been a victim of sexual violence, DO NOT SEE THIS FILM. It’s just too hard.

liz | 2:40 AM | Uncategorized, girl with the dragon tattoo rape scene, ptsd, rape, trauma

Markps2 Says:

I think you should find some new friends. Or go without friends. Who would take you to see such a film? Knowing your past. I am sorry.

Jan 4 10:32 AM

Angela Coulter Says:

I also avoid films with rape scenes. I have never been raped, but have been an SA advocate for over 15 years and my secondary trauma- although MUCH less intense and life ALTERING THAN THAT OF AN ACTUAL SURVIVOR- makes it hard to stomache such scenes.

I read the book and git past the scenes referrenced in the article, but I couldnt finish the book- I actually had nightmares and other negative physical responses- scary stuff

Jan 4 10:59 AM

colleen s Says:

Thank you so much for sharing your story and story with your feelings from this film. I too am a survivor of sexual assault and have shared this feeling while unexpectedly watching a rape scene in other films. No one else I was with understood why it botherd me so much. I did find some new friends and that wont ever intentionally happen again. In a straange way it is nice to know I am not the only person who is experiences these feelings…and im sad to hear other people have it too. Again, thanks for the info on the film and thank you for sharing your story.

Jan 4 11:22 AM

brendancalling Says:

oh man that sucks, Liz. Thanks for the warning.

Jan 4 11:31 AM

Charlotte Tibbetts Says:

Dear Liz,

Oh my dear, I’m so sorry that you felt compelled by friends to watch something so inappropriate to your stage of recovery from your experiences. I have read the book but shied away from watching the film because of my own personal past, in the same way that you did. Not only this, I often find the portrayal of rape and sexual violence in films as tasteless and unnecessary. Any viewer with an ounce of empathy will realise the impact this violation has on a character without needing to view the graphic and painful details. It was inconsiderate and unthoughtful of your friends to choose this film although they probably did not realise the extent of the scenes. If you feel the need to offload or explore your emotions, perhaps anger, sadness, shame, pain, etc, please feel free to email me at turningpoint1 at live dot co dot uk. I am a counsellor of survivors of rape and/or childhood sexual abuse and happy to listen to whatever you have to say. Take care of yourself. Charlotte.

Jan 4 11:31 AM

Nicole Says:

I avoid “entertainment” involving most types of violence simply because I’m a sensitive person who doesn’t find that sort of thing to be very entertaining. I don’t care to have those images in my head because they always come back to haunt me in my dreams or when I’m scared and my imagination begins taking over.
There’s so many other challenging, engaging, funny and fascinating forms of entertainment. I think most of my friends know that I’m not interested in brutality. I’m sorry that you had to go through that.

Jan 4 11:34 AM

Charlotte Tibbetts Says:

I agree with you Nicole, it simply is not entertaining and does not add to the story at all. Those of us with empathy can imagine the impact of such violation on a character without having to watch every detail. It is not entertaining at all. Is society becoming so perverse that this form of “entertainment” is now commonplace?

Jan 4 11:51 AM

Sarah Says:

I also work in the victim advocacy field with survivors of rape, stalking and domestic violence. I also have no stomach for these types of scenes in the movies I chose to watch. I also had a difficult time reading that part of the book and seeing the Swedish version of the film. But I have to wonder, do these types of scenes help people who have no exposure to sexual violence understand the trauma a rape victim endures? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I have to hope that it’s not there gratuitously. If it disturbs someone who’s never thought much about the impact of sexual violence, are they more likely to get involved in the issue/solution? or at least more likely to be supportive of crisis centers? Or maybe even be a better/more empathetic/informed jury member in a trial (when, of course, the defense would be blaming the victim)? I don’t know. But I hope so.

Jan 4 12:33 PM

courtney Says:

as another survivor, i DO feel that there is something to be said for “safe” exposure to these images and ideas — depending, of course, on one’s stage of recovery. my greater concern was that the scenes of rape NOT come across as vague or “sexy.” a few months after my rape, i read several rape memoirs and a book of poems by frances driscoll about her rape. putting myself through another person’s experience reminded me that i was not alone. however, a scene of “seduction” from a 1960s or 70s film might send me into anxiety because the themes of danger and power are not dealt with. i had a terrible night after seeing the miami vice movie — and that character was not even raped, but tied up and threatened. as liz spikol states, we cannot identify all of the trigger warnings that we may encounter, but it is important to accept and trust our own feelings and experiences — just because a scene/phrase/joke is “no big deal” to another person, survivor or not, does not mean that our reaction is not valid and worthy of respect.

Jan 4 1:29 PM

miaokuancha Says:

“I think you should find some new friends. Or go without friends. Who would take you to see such a film? Knowing your past. I am sorry.”

^ This.

jfc. What is the matter with those people?

I am so sorry that you were ever violated in the first place. And so sorry that you encountered another trauma in the shape of this movie. I have not been subjected to violence against my person, but I am still very permeable to images or even written descriptions of violence. There is a lot of stuff I just can’t watch or read. I am tired of feeling apologetic about that, actually. I’m certainly on the side of anyone who wants to exercise careful choice in what they let into their consciousness and experience.

I hope that support of people in your life and on this thread can help you move through this unlooked-for revisiting. May you find the right arms to hold you in safety and strength and comfort – even if those arms are your own.

Jan 4 2:38 PM

Carlin Says:

Thank you for your post. I was very traumatized by this movie. My girlfriend and I nearly walked out, and the mere idea of leaving brought me comfort while i was turning my head, so as to avoid the brutality. I noticed so many pairs of eyes still watching… We didn’t leave – i think mostly because we wanted some revenge too. But that was nearly as traumatizing as the first scene! Some of my friends insist it’s relevant to “character development”, to “set the stage”, blah blah blah. I’m sorry. I wish I could unsee GWTDT. The world has NO need for such depictions of rape and violence. None. No one is better off for being exposed to that. In fact, Hollywood producers are probably buzzing with “look at the $$ that movie is making! how can we top that?”
I want important stories told at the movie theaters. Just not ones that so despicably wreck the sanctity of human life. As a man and as a feminist, I think it’s unnecessary. There are far more effective ways to activate the public’s sense of justice and the appallingness of rape.

Jan 4 5:06 PM

AW Says:

I have not seen the movie or read the book, and I am having a problem with the director’s decision to make the scene so graphic. I have a problem with the actors agreeing to the graphic and sensitive nature. Are people looking for an Oscar nod for depict such a personal form of brutality? Does an actress have to subject to such simulated degradation just for accolades?

Jan 4 9:02 PM

zoe Says:

I just wanted to say thankyou sooo much for writing this. i am a childhood abuse survivor. i went to see this film and was totally unprepared for what i was going to see. i felt compelled to stay but the trauma symptoms i experienced and the horrendous flashbacks which are a mixture of the film and my own experience have been harrowing. i have had therapy and been quite well for sometime this movie has been one of the worst trauma triggers i have had. i think it has also saddened me identifying so much with the character i have been able to feel more compassionate with my self and to truly see the horrendous impact abuse has and although recovery is possible the wounds are deep . i do feel comforted that i am not the only person to have been so deeply affected by this film trauma symptoms are frightening and at really make you doubt your own sanity. i trust my body to process this trauma and sincerely hope that in some way this has moved me along the recovery process then at least my suffering hasnt been wasted thankyou again xx

Jan 5 8:36 PM

Sean Says:

Liz … you are one of the most honest and brave women I know. Thank you for sharing your pain and struggles. It provides comfort to those who have had similar experiences and offers a glimpse into the personal reality of trauma to those who try to understand it. Your resilience always amazes me.

Jan 7 1:43 AM

Amanda Says:

I went to see this film last night. My sister had read the book of the girl with the dragon tattoo and recommended it. I was extremely unaware that there was a rape scene in the film and I am mortified that not only did I have to sit through but that my sister has read about it in the book. Maybe the book does not portray it as bad as the film I don’t know. I covered my eyes for the whole time the scene was on and told my partner to tell me when it had finished. He didn’t have to however I could tell by the sounds coming from the speakers. It seemed to last forever and I can’t get over how disgusted I still feel about it. The worst thing was that once it was over we had to watch part of it again when the character replayed the tape. I hate rape scenes and find them unnecessary and too disturbing for films. I watched the film ‘the last house on the left’ thinking it was a normal horror movie and was left crying my eyes out and shouting at me boyfriend to turn it off when a horrific rape scene came on. I have read some reviews on this that have said the scene was completely necessary for the story but I feel they could of included it without making it so visual, so long and so brutal. I could not even imagine being a victim and having to face this especially when it has brought out such emotion in someone who has not been a victim. I am scarred by this film and it upsets me that I know friends and family are going to go through this when they go to see it aswel. I have warned them but how do you stop them going to see a film that is so greatly reviewed and a must see in the cinema this year?

Jan 8 9:38 AM

Amazone Says:

It’s a funny thing about trauma, the way the body remembers. I went through several stages of feeling when I saw that rape scene, and even writing about it now I can feel my body responding: my heart rate is up and my legs are shaky. In the theater, when it was happening, I started to feel so panicky. My muscles got tense and it was hard to breathe. Tears filled my eyes. I kept squeezing my toes together and reminding myself to breathe. I found it hard to focus on the rest of the film. I tried, but I kept hearing her screams and then I’d have to squeeze my fists and toes and breathe. As soon as the credits came up, I fled to the bathroom. I was overwhelmed with nausea but didn’t throw up. It was hard to pee because I was starting to dissociate and leave my body. I felt so angry too. I sent some really evil text messages to a friend who’d texted something benign. I was furious. I wanted to tear down the stalls and kill people. It was such a fierce anger.

To me, ignoring the pain inside is the best way to become a dangerous perpetrator…. Like so many people who have been raped and continue the vicious cycle.

Please see a professional who can help you out. For your sake and the sake of your loved ones.

Jan 10 7:11 PM

Dakota Says:

Carlin….you give me hope that there is at least one man out there that will stand up to violence against women, not just in a superficial way but, will also say no to “permitting” violence against women as some form of entertainment. Many men do not see that the images of women being violated contaminate efforts to free women from centuries of victimization. Good for you for standing up and being a honorable man. I wish I could say that my partner left the theatre with me when the rape scene started but he didn’t and I am struggling to salvage some respect for him….I just can’t connect with someone who allows this to be a part of their life.

Jan 15 12:32 AM

Jennifer Says:

I’ve never been raped, but I found it hard to watch those scenes just as a woman. I think the film could have been made well without showing all of that material so graphically. I am disappointed in David Fincher for not having more sense.

Jan 15 5:00 AM

youserious? Says:

Yes, I’ve read the whole thing. Yes, I’ve known women that have been raped. But really? Get over it, just like they did. It’s just like any other type of torture or physical abuse. The scene was well placed, it was intended to make you feel tense, and feel the agony of the victim. OH GOT I’VE BEEN RAPED/SEEN A RAPE SCENE! Yeah, men/women/children are probably out there somewhere in the world having things a million times worse happen to them. It’s like forcing someone to run a few miles. It’s slightly strenuous on their body but it’s nothing that they can’t recover from, or has happened in the past. Think about people who are tortured, had limbs removed, etc. Jesus christ.

Jan 17 5:04 AM

anne Says:

I agree that this was a gratuitous rape scene, and it added nothing to the movie. The whole rape and revenge rape theme lowered my opinion of the movie. Movie makers continue to put rape in movies as a form of entertainment. Usually its women as the victims and men as the rapists. But rape isn’t entertaining in the least. Its horrifying to sit through and it victimizes every woman in the theatre….I would think if we have warnings of profanity, we should now consider a warning of sexual violence as a specific category.

Jan 18 6:06 PM

Wicked Says:

I agree. You need new friends. Also, it’s just a movie. Rape isn’t funny, no matter what the degree. I was date raped. Even before the force, I didn’t like rape scenes at all! I don’t think anything so graphic needs to be in a movie. Show a door close, show a woman crying with bruises after. Point taken without the unnecessary in-between. This book got rave reviews, but it seemed to dark for me to ever even think about. I guess it has a market though. It’s too bad.

Jan 19 5:03 AM

Tapati Says:

I agree that the rape scene was too graphic in the movie as well as the revenge scene. I am an abuse survivor but have had many years of recovery so I managed to breathe through it all. I hate that the graphic nature of the movie may detract from an audience for the book. The author depicted these things as a critique of his society and because he was strongly affected by witnessing a gang rape. The original title was “The Man Who Hated Women.” He wanted to call out the misogyny and violence against women he saw and worked a lifetime to help end it. Perhaps your friends thought that theme would resonate and didn’t realize themselves exactly how graphic the scene was.

Jan 28 9:55 PM

ADL3 Says:

Pussies,i don’t mean to be mean, but that’s just retarded. Who the hell gets this upset over a rape SCENE? I understand, tramutizations and all that, sad stuff. But it’s a fucking movie. I’ve seen movies where people are attacked by dogs. I was attacked by a dog. But I don’t freak out. I understand the severity mentally may be different, but damn, can’t you separate reality and fiction? I’ll tell you a little secret I use. The girl getting raped… faked it!
Now, I’ve never seen this movie, but your article has definitely pique my interest. So, thanks for writing it, I may have just found the next movie I’ll try to watch.

Feb 19 4:27 AM

KN Says:

A sick movie being sold as an art.
Felt dirty after watching this movie.

Mar 13 10:56 PM

John Smith Says:

Bash all you want, I walked out during the scene to console my significant other, otherwise I would have watched every second. It gave credence to the woman being extremely aggressive and animalistic. In case you didn’t gather, it had happened before. It was meant to shock the audience, to pull them in, and then share in her victory as she destroyed her attacker mentally and physically.

I’ve always wondered if revenge would help women on the road to recovery… Rape is a disgusting show of power disparity between the sexes, the victim always feels powerless. Would having the power to watch their attacker crumble and break restore some of the power the victim had taken from them.

It’s a simple fact that most women will never know the sense of invincibility that being a man provides. Weak men use that power to prey on women. I wish my wife could understand the freedom to walk across dark streets as a 300lb male who’s capable of killing with his hands…

Because of my wife’s past, I’m hyper protective of her. Nothing threatening can get near her without a reaction from me. I would have never taken her to see the movie had I known what occurred, however, it isn’t the director, actor, or story’s fault… they were all uncommonly good for a movie this decade. The problem is that victims are always one jarring image away from reliving their torment, it isn’t their fault.

I worry that you lacked the confidence to simply walk out, and that you didn’t have a partner to lean on.

Time heals all wounds dear, I promise. The amount of time is unknown.

I know that if anyone ever harms my wife, the girl’s movie revenge will seem like a picnic in lollipop land.

Mar 19 1:46 AM

John Mullen Says:

When are you going to grow up. Go to a Catholic Church and accept our lord and our holy mother the Church.

Mar 22 1:54 PM

brenda Says:

My man loved these books, wanted to see the movie. I said we should go. He said no… he didn’t think I should see these scenes, even though he hadn’t seen the movie yet. I’m glad I never went.

I am so sorry. I just stumbled upon your blog. Thank you for the warning.

Mar 22 8:44 PM

Lol Says:

Its a movie. The fuck is wrong with you people? Its FAKE.


And to the original post. You need medical help.

Again its not real. Goodness.

Mar 24 3:32 AM

Courtenay Says:

I was about to read this book. I have started it. It’s my husband’s book I told him – he will have to read it first and tell me if I can handle it. I am almost a decade away from the rape but I am still healing. It is very far reaching. And I have to say I wish you could delete a couple of those posts – God forbid either of those people have to endure the terror of rape or something similiar.

Apr 2 6:30 PM

lea Says:

I agree with above comments. Get new friends. Real friends would not bring you to a movie like that.

I refuse to watch any movie with rape or sexual assault.Not even movies with animals being abused. I will not watch Precious because I hate any movie that deals with children being victims. I am not a wimp, I am one of those people that cannot forget anything, seriously, things that I read/watched as a child that were horrible, keep me up still. I never forget anything.

Apr 28 10:21 PM

cloe Says:

i what i personally found distressing was how shocked people were by it. and yet it didnt really in my eyes touch on how -realistically- it makes you feel.
i was a victim to a pretty violent rape. i feel like this movie should have focused more on Rooney’s character during the scene, it showed her fighting, and continuing to fight, but not the horrible stage at which (most) begin to give up and just become numb to it. i think they should have shown all the stages not just the gritty, oh-this-will-be-so-artistic parts.

May 20 1:51 AM

Y. Says:

I saw the movie when it first came out in Cinemas where I live.
It was only me and my best {male} friend. We didn’t know what the film was about, but I’ve learnt my lesson and now always check beforehand.
Like you, I kept having to remind myself to breathe and it’ll sound stupid, but I had to force myself not to get up and leave. I didn’t want to look weak or anyone to notice me get up and walk out. Poor guy kept asking me if I wanted to leave and come back or go home.
Ended up hiding behind my best friend and couldn’t focus on the rest of the movie, just waiting for the next gruesome scene. Suppose I just wanted to show myself that I COULD do it. Wish I hadn’t.
My friend knows about my past and even though it’s now been just over two years, I’m still working through it. To the people who said “it’s just a scene, she’s faking it”… it doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. It’s like reliving the worst parts of your life over again. Unless you’ve been through it, don’t belittle it.
No idea what I would have thought of the movie had I watched it 3 years ago, but I couldn’t stomach it. Wish someone had told me what happens before I endured that.

May 30 11:11 AM

Max Requenes Says:

I thought David Fincher’s “Seven” was particulary vile and sadistic without any artistic payoff, like in a “Reservoir Dogs”. And though I kind of treasure “Fight Club”, seeing it lately, it doesn’t really hold up. Fincher: meh.

Jul 19 2:24 PM

Mark Says:

Liz, I sincerely feel for you. I am a middle age heterosexual man and rape scenes really turn me off. It greatly disturbs me to see depictions of women being abused. I wish I were there to protect you when you were young and vulnerable. I pray that you will be healed of your pain.

Feb 12 11:32 PM


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