"They were brutal, but they had to be,” says director Niels Arden Oplev about the twin scenes in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that deal with the rape and torture of the title character, played by Noomi Rapace, and then her moment of retribution: turning the tables on the man who sodomizes and abuses her. These are pivotal moments in Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller, revealing much about the pysche of Lisbeth Salander – the book’s 24-year-old cyber-hacking genius misfit heroine. And Oplev and Rapace, bringing Larsson’s thriller to the screen, felt it was essential to honor the late author’s intent.
“It is a film about abusive behavior and violence against women,” Oplev says, by way of defending his dark and realistic sequences. "That was Stieg’s cardinal point, to expose that misogynist and sadistic element in Swedish society, and I really wanted the film to have that.… It really carries some heavy baggage.”
Oplev had originally scheduled one day for these tough pages of the script. Three days later, Rapace and Peter Andersson, who plays Lisbeth’s malevolent guardian, Nils Bjurman, were still there.
“You shoot something as horrible as that, even though we all know it’s fiction, the crew is emotionally depressed,” explains Oplev. “It’s something that puts everybody in this state of mind, it’s really unpleasant. It’s tough for the actors… I just kept extending the time to give them the chance to rehabilitate … they were bruised, physically bruised, and Noomi had nightmares.”
But like Oplev, Swedish actress Rapace recognized that to be credible, the scenes had to be explicit. “It’s always hard to be naked, even in a love scene," she says. "And during this kind of violent rape scene, it was, of course, very difficult. But for me, those scenes were so extremely important, because they said something specific about Lisbeth. The way she handles the situation afterwards, and the way she can turn the abusive feelings into anger and into strength and, in a way, power…. It says something about survival, and about how strong her decision is to live.”