Fearful Symmetries

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26 May, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo



Last week I noted that the Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was going to be remade by David Fincher. Now that I've seen the movie I can say that a remake, while not necessarily a bad idea, isn't really necessary.

The film opens with the wealthy Henrik Vanger opening a package which is revealed to be a pressed flower framed and mounted. The old man bursts into tears.

Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter for the magazine Millennium, loses a libel lawsuit and goes into a self-imposed exile. But his pity party doesn't last long as he is approached by a lawyer whose client wants to hire Blomkvist. The client turns out to be Henrik Vanger. Vanger's niece, Harriet, disappeared 40 years previously, but no one was ever brought to justice nor was any explanation ever found for her sudden absence. With his life nearing its end, Vanger wants Blomkvist to try and solve the mystery by finding her killer. He is convinced that his niece was killed because of the pressed flowers he receives every year. Harriet used to make them for her uncle on his birthday and he continued receiving them even after she disappeared. To him, they are the killer's taunting.

And so Blomkvist takes the job and heads out to the island where the Vanger family resides. There he is given run of an old cabin which, remarkably has Internet access.

The title character is Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker and social misfit who uses her skills to investigate people on behalf of a security company. Vanger had hired the company to do a background check on Blomkvist and the chore fell to tattooed and highly pierced Salander. But even though her job was completed, she couldn't let the reporter go and so she broke into his laptop which reveals his progress in finding out what happened to Harriet. The two eventually pair up in pursuit of Harriet Vanger's fate.

The Swedish title is Män som hatar kvinnor or "Men Who Hate Women" and there is certainly a lot of misogyny here. Salander is a tough, gritty character who has a bit of misanthropic streak. Apparently she is on probation as she is supervised by a legal guardian, which I take to be the Swedish equivalent of a parole officer. She receives a new one, Bjurman, who proves himself to be a complete scumbag. I'm not sure how the scene where he rapes Salander comes off in the book but here it is an intense and very disturbing one. No wonder she says so little – doing so might actually put in her in a position where she might have to trust another person. The misogyny continues as Blomkvist's investigation proceeds. Harriet had written the initials of various local women in a diary of hers which were followed by numbers. Blomkvist discovers that these women were all savagely murdered.



As a feminist hero, Salander is an intriguing character. We are never told why she has a guardian but I presume because of some past brush with the law. She rides a motorcycle, is apparently bi-sexual, and is smart and determined. When she wants something, she takes it. I get the impression that she has been screwed over many times before and so she has constructed a shell around herself for protection. This combination of determination and standoffishness made me feel that she is rather immature. It's as if the 24-year old's emotional growth got stunted somewhere along the way and perhaps bringing to justice a depraved, sadistic murderer of women will assuage her heart in some way that chain smoking cannot.

As with any foreign film, I have to wonder what parts of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo especially resonated with the natives of the country in which it was made. As a mystery, the film is, for the most part, straightforward and universal in its appeal. Non-Swedes won't have any problems following along. Blomkvist investigates corporate corruption for Millennium - is that a big topic in Sweden? Some characters here have Nazi sympathies and I have to wonder if neo-Nazi/white supremacy groups are anything but marginalized there. Are these and other issues of pressing concern in Sweden today? And why the emphasis on misogyny? Purely a plot device or does this theme have larger implications in modern Sweden?

Lastly, I have to give high marks to the movie for not having Salander simply sit at a computer and hack into any given government or corporate computer system in 5 seconds and parse through terabytes of data in the same amount of time to find exactly what she's looking for. Hell, there's even a scene where she goes to a corporate library and rummages through paperwork. I wish Hollywood would take note of Swedish verisimilitude.

|| Palmer, 1:05 PM

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