Spending time with Lisbeth Salander has already had an impact on David Fincher‘s relationship with powerful women — at least on camera. After all the grousing about the lack of strong female characters in “The Social Network,” Fincher seems determined to expand his focus beyond the accomplishments of Y-chromosome-carrying cultural pioneers. As if to underline that point, today Fincher has revealed that he’s producing a biopic based on the life of visionary social-realist photographer Dorothea Lange, whose emotionally searing work defined the Great Depression. This is an unexpected move for Fincher, who doesn’t often lend his imprimatur to films he’s not directing himself (this one will be helmed by first-timer Leslie Dektor), much less a quiet period piece about a pioneering female artist driven by her social conscience.
The combination of his adaptation of Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now this Dorothea Lange project seem to constitute a kind of feminist reawakening for Fincher, who launched his feature directing career with “Alien 3″ (a film whose failure marked the demise of the first pre-Angelina Jolie female action hero) and scored a hit with the Jodie Foster psychological thriller, “Panic Room.” But other than those two films, the rest of Fincher’s oeuvre has been dedicated to painting riveting portraits of men battling their caveman urges to brawl (“Fight Club”), to kill (“Se7en,” “Zodiac”), to conquer mortality (“ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“), and to win (“The Game,” “The Social Network“).
It’s not that Fincher’s movies are irrelevant or uninteresting to most women. Most of us grapple with many of the same transgressive motivations and preoccupations to varying degrees. But until Lisbeth Salander hit the scene, we had rarely seen a female character so deeply in touch with her most primitive instincts to survive and succeed at all costs. There’s been an endless array of ruthless caricatures of women who effectively use their sexuality as weaponry. But none of them embrace the vengeful urge to rage, maim, kill, and prevail over all competitors the way Lisbeth has throughout the Millennium Trilogy. That’s why she’s the baddest chick to blaze through the popular imagination since Kali started slaying Hindu demons or PJ Harvey began thrashing at her guitar or Joan Didion first pounded out Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
Dorothea Lange is a charter member of that group of fierce iconoclasts. She survived an early bout of polio that left her with a lifelong limp and the gift of perspective particular to those who inhabit the margins. After a few early apprenticeships in New York, Lange flung herself into the heart of the Dust Bowl and began her life’s work of documenting the American underclasses. Give her your unemployed, your homeless, your migrant workers, and your sharecroppers: Lange perfectly captured their plights in perfectly composed images coursing with so much urgent need; many of her best photographs seemed to implore the viewer to “do something!” She is probably best remembered for her photograph of the weary “Migrant Mother,” whose face is so corrugated with worry, it’s almost hard to witness. Lange fearlessly and relentlessly documented subjects whose lives were hard to look at, much less endure. She even drew the ire of the US Army with her series on the lives of Japanese immigrants who were held in internment camps in California during WWII. Talk about bad-ass.
In this light, it’s hard not to see the continuum connecting Lange with Lisbeth Salander — and how spending time immersed in the world of the latter might have indirectly inspired David Fincher to lend his name to a film about the former. Given the absence of any hint at anything remotely similar in tone and content in Fincher’s portfolio, we’d be willing to wager that his experience directing a movie based on a book originally titled Men Who Hate Women has been a transformative one.
What’s your sense of how the Millennium Trilogy might have opened up the potential for a broader range of female protagonists in popular culture? How were you impacted by the books and Salander in particular?