The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev

Another simplistic Manichean exploration of good and evil helps explain neither violence against women nor what to do about it

Crimes and Misses’ Demeanour. Film review – Tom Jennings
Contrasting with The Killer Inside Me (see Freedom, 11th September), Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium novels ignore organic social networks – and ‘ordinary’ people in every sense. Dystopic domination here originates in elite predators exploiting blindspots in society, transforming from the very top down civilised liberal heaven into murderous misogynist hell. Parlaying a global publishing phenomenon into blockbuster cinema, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s crusading magazine editor Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) can’t singlehandedly stem the corrupt tide without hacker genius Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) motivated to avenge her entire biography of familial and institutional violent sexual abuse. Unlike in Winterbottom’s film, this battered woman fights back – with extreme prejudice – but again the passage to cinema privileges female flesh over external complexity. Nevertheless an otherwise classic whodunnit – industrialist clan harbours incorrigible depravity amid decadence recalling aristocratic Swedish Nazi collaboration – is refreshed by a postmodern dynamic dualism of cosmopolitan benevolence and nubile cyberpunk antisociality, whose unlikely resourcefulness doubtless appeals to sundry self-pitying emo sensitivities seeking conservative wish-fulfilment.
However, the sequels sadly surrender residual credibility, depicting a worldwide web of depraved brutality targeting the ‘weaker sex’ at every turn, requiring superhuman escalation to overcome. So The Girl Who Played With Fire’s action movie posits sex-trafficking for government officials and businessmen, with social-democracy poisoned by Cold War realpolitick infecting police and justice systems, before The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’s conspiracy thriller culminates with state welfare comprehensively suborned, scapegoating victims via secret service parapolitics, media mystification and show-trials. A charitable view detects Larsson’s journalistic campaigns against the malignancies of far-right malice and masculinist supremacy in the trilogy’s populist pulp trappings, with Da Vinci Code banality tempered by extended sociological exposition. But the film entertainments ditch such turgid context, pushing purportedly pro-feminist romance further towards sordid prurient fantasy. Worse, the author’s protagonists were comparably sexually and emotionally crippled – whereas Blomkvist’s promiscuous irresistibility to all womankind now disappears, while Salander’s vicissitudes are amplified in technicolour.
Despite the superficial allure of The Girl’s apparent resistance to oppression, an ultimately alien (rather than alienated) provenance removes her decisively from recognisable reality – with conduct denoting nihilistic egomania rather than righteous womanist vigilantism; his avuncular humanism now resembling self-satisfied patronisation. Strangely appropriate, then, that Blomkvist and Salander are leftfield avatars of Swedish national icons, the 1940s children’s book characters Kalle Blomkvist and Pippi Longstocking – the latter twisted by male kin cruelty, creating patterns of victimisation that wider societal forces reinforce and reproduce. And if their creator Astrid Lindgren’s youthful superheroism flirted disquietly with triumphal Aryan innocence and mastery, more explicit sadomasochism accompanies these cinematic revisions, starting from Larsson’s original title Men Who Hate Women. In the final instalment Blomkvist stresses that “this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women and the men who enable it”. Nevertheless, even if the monsters could be so readily identified, their existence neither absolves everyone else nor will their removal make capitalism cuddly again.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is available on DVD. The Girl Who Pl\ayed With Fire is on general release, followed in November by The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 71, No. 18, September 2010.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see:

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Tom Jennings
Oct 4 2010 14:28


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