Much has been said about both The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Claire Foy, the film’s star. The movie — Fede Alvarez’s adaptation of the first book in the Millennium series not written by Stieg Larsson — has seen its main protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, tagged ‘Lady Batman’ and labelled a poster girl for #MeToo. Meanwhile, Foy has been vocal about her dislike of the term ‘strong women’.
The Crown actress, it seems, doesn’t like labels – and though she’s reticent to attach the #MeToo tag to The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Foy does acknowledge the film’s relevance and importance to the cause. Lisbeth’s first #MeToo moment is addressed in the film – the abuse she endured at the hands of her father as a young girl. Lisbeth would also go on to suffer at the hands of her guardian – as seen in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – against whom she would eventually retaliate. Brutally. Salander, Foy admits, reacts to abuse like so many real-life women who’ve embraced #MeToo, only speaking out about their story, or taking action, some time after the event.
The Best Thing is to Not Fight
“I think that’s the point of why Lisbeth is moved to action,” says Foy of the impotence felt by women when it comes to speaking out. “I think she never felt when she was being abused by the guy that was supposed to be in charge of her — you know, he’s supposed to be a ward of the state, he was supposed to be taking care of her, was her caregiver, I suppose… she’s been so trained by the predator-victim dynamic that she knows there’s very little she can do and that there’s very little… she’s powerless. She knows that the best thing is to not fight, in a way.”
Foy explains that Salander chooses to act the way she does in order to take back control, to seize the power, to transcend victimhood – because she knows she’ll be let down if she goes the accepted route. A route established by a society that routinely shifts the blame or onus onto women when it comes to rape or sexual assault, and one that makes them feel ashamed and victimised. In the original film, Salander waits for the right moment to mete out her carefully plotted revenge on her abuser. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web, she is an avenging hero, taking revenge on abusive men on behalf of other women, but is only able to fully understand and confront the far-reaching effects of her father’s abuse in the film’s closing moments.
Women Are Made to Feel Shame
“But that’s the story of Lisbeth; that then she bides her time,” says Foy. “She waits, she’s like a spider, and she waits and then she will make him pay. And then she will make him feel more humiliated than he made her. Her moral compass is so strong, she knows that that is wrong and that shouldn’t be allowed, but she knows that the place where women seek protection is often the place where they’re most judged and most made to feel like a victim as opposed to a survivor.
“And so her lack of trust in authority is something I think is probably what a lot of women feel. And a lot of women feel that there isn’t a safe space for it because the shame often… we’re so ashamed of things like that in our society. The shame often lies with the woman or the ‘victim’ — for want of a better word, because I don’t really like that phrase — being made to feel shame. We’re so ashamed. And that’s wrong. I think that’s why people are able to come out more now because there are more voices. As long as there are more voices saying: ‘This also happened to me, this is also what I’ve been through’, as long there are more representations of women like Lisbeth on screen [demonstrating that it’s] not something that people need to be ashamed of, and we can allow people to speak and express themselves in that way, [all] the better. I think #MeToo is very much a catchphrase for a lot of the media. I can’t tell you how many interviews I’ve done where people have said: “It’s #MeToo, this film” and I’m like, I don’t want this film to diminish the MeToo movement. By attaching it to a movie [that’s a danger].”
Weakness Is Also Part of What It Is to Be a Woman
A term that often gets attached to characters like Lisbeth Salander is “strong woman”. Foy recently spoke out against this overused pairing of words, and explains why she dislikes it so much.
“I think strength and power is something that’s very much deemed to be masculine,” she says. “I think they’re trying to make women being strong [seem like] a positive; it’s something that someone is like: ‘That’s what you want to see. You don’t want to see weak women. Why do you want to see a weak woman?’ And you sort of think weakness isn’t part of it, [the ‘strong woman’ character represented on screen].
“[In fact,] we all have weaknesses and that can make us ‘stronger’. We all have so many different facets to our character and I just find that the ‘strong’ thing makes it seem like a woman is more acceptable in what has always been… that as the protagonist of a film, it makes her seem allowed to be there because she’s ‘strong’. And I just find that really reductive and slightly embarrassing. And I think that a lot of the time, we haven’t been given the opportunity to explore female protagonists who have that depth. Who are as complicated as, you know, the guy in Breaking Bad, or The Weather Man, [in which] Nicolas Cage is playing an incredibly complex person. [Women] haven’t been given that range, we haven’t had that opportunity. And therefore to try and say that we have to be strong, it’s just: ‘Oh god, how boring — just to play strong women all the time.’”
Lady Batman She Ain’t
By extension, Foy also rejects comparisons to Batman and James Bond, prefixed by the word ‘lady’.
“I’m just, like, she doesn’t have a batcave, I know that she had an apartment that could be seen as that, and this could be seen as that, and blah blah blah. It’s always going to be recognisable, and it’s a genre film in the sense that it’s a thriller — there are elements of it that look like those sorts of films,” says Foy. “Of course, they do. Because you can’t get away from it, because that’s the way that Fede shot it. It is noir, kind of — even the tone that Pedro [Luque] the DOP uses, lots of greys and things like that — so that is how it’s going to look. But I’m like, just piss off.”
Why does Foy think we have an impulse to make those comparisons then?
“Because, like you say, you want to label something,” she says. “You want to make it understandable. And also you want to attract an audience to it, I guess. I completely get that. It’s not like I’m talking down about Batman or James Bond. I think they’re both amazing. But also, we’ve got to leave room for Lisbeth to find her own space in that. She deserves to. Yes, she’s going into a genre, into a realm, which no real female complex characters have been before, so obviously that [comparison] has to be drawn. But at the same time, I’m just like, I think we can just let her be for a minute. I don’t think we have to decide she’s Batman just yet.”
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is out now in the US and Australia, and hits UK screens on November 21.