THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE
For those Americans who can’t read (subtitles), to the horror of those of us who admire good filmmaking, Hollywood has decided to remake the Swedish Millennium Series (a trilogy, so far) by the late Stieg Larsson. Hollywood has a terrible track record for seizing upon perfectly good “foreign” films and ruining them. I am sure that someone can tell me, which, if any, European or Asian films Hollywood has improved but nothing comes to mind. The Departed came close to Infernal Affairs but was not as good. A recent case in point is the pointless remake of the wonderful French farce, The Dinner Game, just released as the terrible Dinner for Schmucks. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, released in Europe a year ago, is a violent, brutal, and uncompromising film, reflecting the ugliness of the human soul. By the time I saw the Swedish film, Hollywood had already decided to hijack this difficult and convoluted family drama. I walked out of the theater knowing that Hollywood would be unable to resist prettying up a film that was often hard to watch.
The day has come and casting has begun and with it, the prettification. The lead male, a crusading journalist, “Mikael Blomkvist,” was played by Michael Nyqvist, an ordinary sort of man. As an actor, Nyqvist, is pleasant looking, dumpy with a pot belly. His character, “Blomkvist,” is an activist but not an action hero. So who would be selected to improve this character? Well, James Bond, of course. Handsome, blue-eyed, blond haired, Daniel Craig, who has one of the best bodies in the land of movies, an action hero with chiseled abs, is replacing a pleasant-looking but plump actor who has no concept of grooming his ample chest hair. Nyqvist looks like the character he plays. Compared to the female lead, the male character is relatively passive: he is a reactor and Nyqvist, who comes across as an intellectual, pales in comparison to the angry intensity of Noomi Rapach’s “Lisbeth Salander.”
So far the part of “Lisbeth” has yet to be cast. One can only hope that Hollywood is a bit daunted at the idea of finding an actor as perfect as Noomi Rapace. Rapace, a lovely woman in real life, completely inhabited the character, a tiny and tough little woman, hard as nails, aggressive and quick moving. Her look goes beyond Goth in that she is not stylized, just tough looking and unfeminine. And the actor has natural boobs. Searching for a young actress with natural boobs in Hollywood will take years and finding one will be nearly impossible. Perhaps Hollywood will go to New York, to the theater, to find an unknown without implants. It is hard to think of which of the crop of young Hollywood starlets would even begin to be right for the part. Maybe the search will extend to the British Isles, where they found Daniel Craig, because nothing says “Swedish” like a British accent.
Larsson was frankly writing “pulp fiction,” a potboiler that would earn money, which it has. Unfortunately he died before he could enjoy any of his earnings and his family and his mistress are fighting over who should get what. Originally titled, “Men Who Hate Women,” (“Man som hatar kvinnor”) the series lives up to its name. “Lisbeth” is everything that arouses fear and dread in the male. She cares not about being attractive to male eyes, she is ambidextrous sexually but cares more for women than men, she is neither feminine nor masculine but more neuter. She does not need men and is completely independent and totally alienated from humanity. She is a computer whiz, a skill usually reserved for the boys. Indeed she is the one who comes to the rescue of “Blomqvist,” using her tech savvy to help him prove his case against a powerful man. Although it is possible for a Hollywood actress to de-prettify (remember Charlize Theron?), the actor who takes on this role needs to be very good indeed. The strength of the “Lisbeth” is formidable and needs to vibrate off the screen. Craig is an excellent actor who can possibly temper his good looks but will his role be rewritten to make him a stronger character? Will his part be expanded so that the female character will be subordinated? The woman who takes the role of “Lisbeth” will have to be prepared to dominate James Bond. And Craig will have to be generous enough to let her.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is violent towards women in a fashion that one rarely sees in an American film. To be fair to American entertainment, the theme of serial killers doing horrible things to women is a constant, from films to television programs. There is an outlandish quality to the elaborate murders that shields the viewer of American television. But we expect Europeans to be less preoccupied with slaughtering their women folk. But Larsson, supposedly, was attempting to show that Sweden was no paradise, like we think it is. But that justification for violence against women is hard to believe. We don’t think Sweden is a paradise because of gender equality, we think Sweden is paradise because they have health care. Because Larsson was a crusader (like his hero) against right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis, he lived with the hourly threat of violence. The Series is a manifestation of the violence that hovered over the author’s real life. Hollywood prefers stylized violence but the Swedes have strong stomachs, apparently. There are scenes in this film that are difficult to sit through, especially if one is a woman, for the violent hatred of women is demonstrated unsparingly and goes on at length, in excruciating detail.
It is hard to imagine how Hollywood will deal with the rape scene and the consequences of the rape. The film, as it is now, skated past the extreme edges of the “R” rating, probably because it was not intended for a general audience. What makes the violence so affecting and disturbing is that it is not stylized, Hollywood style, but is naturalized in all its unnaturalness. As objectionable as the violence against women is, the hatred of key male characters towards “”Lisbeth” is a necessary device which propels the story across four books. Larsson wrote like Charles Dickens, sprawling across the novels and spinning a tortured convoluted story, a true Freudian “family romance.” I went to see The Girl Who Played with Fire with a colleague who remarked that the series reminded him of Raymond Chandler’s dark noir novels of corrupt and criminal Los Angeles families.
My colleague’s point is a very perceptive one. In the second film, connections and coincidences become annoying, as the arch villain is revealed to be “Lisbeth’s” father. What had been a serious investigation into political corruption devolved into a particularly grotesque soap opera. But the family connections are also pure Raymond Chandler who always found the heart of darkness in the home. When the second film ended, “Lisbeth” and her father are both in the hospital and we are left with a cliffhanger. The third film, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest will arrive in America this fall. As for the fourth book, the mistress of Larsson is holding it hostage, negotiating her way through her own family drama with her lover’s children. By the time we get through the third film, we may not care about a fourth. The second film was not as strong as the first, which could, and should stand on its own. Meanwhile, we await the casting of “Lisbeth Salander,” Hollywood style. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger