Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Millenium trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire & The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest

We all love that feeling we get when we start reading a book, but then find ourselves unable to put it down. We read it voraciously, consuming the words, plot and characters like a black hole. We suck them in, and they become a part of us. The characters become old friends, and we
cherish their memory.
Rarely do movies afford us this same type of sensation. Only the epic greats like Jackson's Lord of the Rings can come close. And even these can fall victim to producers so eager to profit off of the fans that they end up disfiguring the franchise in such a way that true fans become disgusted, and turn away jaded. (See Star Wars, the Burton-started Batman, and poor Indiana Jones.)

But, just the other day, I found myself sitting on my couch watching three movies back-to-back. Four more than six hours, I watched intently, pausing only for bathroom breaks and small refreshments. At the end of the third movie, I felt a strange sadness. I was sad that there wasn't another movie to watch. I was sad that I would not be hearing more about these characters in the foreseeable future.

I had heard good things about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book had been a best-seller, and the Swedish film adaptation was critically acclaimed. I was thrilled to discover, that Sunday morning, that the film was available instantly on Netflix. I was even more excited because I had a new iPad on which I could watch it. I have the cables that hook my laptop up to my HDTV, but I find the picture on the iPad to be superior.

So, I started the first movie and was so sucked in by it that I searched for the second, The Girl Who Played with Fire- available instantly! And then, if I'm in for a penny I might as well be in for a pound, I searched for the thrid movie, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest- also available instantly! I love living in the future!

The Millenium Trilogy follows two characters: The tireless investigative journalist, Michael Bloomkvist, and the hyper-intelligent, gothy hacker, Lisbeth Salander. They are first brought together when Salander is hired to find evidence against Bloomkvist, and Bloomkvist is hired to solve a cold case disappearance. Salander seeks out Bloomkvist because she suspects that he's been set up, Bloomkvist realizes Salander had the intelligence and skills to help him solve his disappearance case. Together, they stumble upon a web of intrigue that, by the end of the third film, goes deeper and more personal than they could have ever imagined.

Noomi Rapace plays Salander, and she is a revelation. She displays an icy exterior, but her eyes show the bubbling rage that lies within Salander. If only there were more roles like this. Salander is a character so well thought-out and rounded that only the most skilled of actresses could bring her to life.
Salander's story itself is distinctly feminist. It shows how easily women can be oppressed, how even the most steely woman has vulnerabilities that can be exploited. The intended title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. We see how sadism and misogyny are so often overlooked. If a woman is raped by a man, no one's really surprised, and they wonder what she did to provoke it. If a man is raped by a man, then everyone is shocked. If a prostitute or runaway is tortured, raped and killed, the police don't put in a lot of effort into the investigation. Even in the U.S., rape kits sit on a shelf, backlogged, waiting to be processed, while the rapists freely walk the streets.
Salander's antagonists easily use the patriarchal system to take away her rights. So, her vengence seems entirely justified and logical, because the patriarchal system doesn't give her any other options.

There's also some great villain-casting in these movies. All the baddies are so perfectly loathsome that they turn your stomach.

The films themselves are neo-noirs. Every bit as gritty and artistic as Chinatown and Seven. The light is harsh, the colors are cold, and the characters' environments closely mirror their emotions. It's incredible to see how gloomy and menacing the Netherlands can be, when shot in the right way.
Be warned, there is a graphic rape scene that is brought up in all three films. To say that it is difficult to watch is an understatement. Take comfort in the fact that it doesn't go unpunished, and is not glamourized or fetishized. These movies are not date night material.

What I like best about Swedish movies is the casting. Too often, movies are filled with men and women who look like models, or are certainly better looking than the average person. In these films, the people look like regular people. There are only one or two really good looking people, and that's because it's part of the character. It's not just window dressing.

Of course, the stories are what makes these films so great. Stieg Larsson's characters and plot are well developed and incredibly interesting. He's able to construct conspiracies that boggle the mind, but do not defy logic. Your disbelief is totally suspended while watching, and it feels more like a "ripped from the headlines" episode of "Law & Order" (if they had an all-star writing team) than an episode of "The X-files" (the terrible conspiracy episodes, not the awesome monster episodes).

In short, these are three of the best films I've seen in quite some time. They can hold their own up to The Maltese Falcon, The Lady From Shanghai, and any trilogy out there.
They are so successful that I don't quite understand the need for English versions apart from the fact that a lot of people are too lazy to read subtitles. Dub the damn things if you have to, just please don't dumb down these incredible works for mass consumption. Could you imagine if someone dared to do that to The Maltese Falcon?

-- Noel
Sent from my T-Mobile phone


FAsh10npr1nc3ss said...

It's always good when you find someone with common interests. I love the "geek girl" title. And it's awesome that you listed these movies. I am over the COMCAST and other cable providers limitations. I got an employee DISH Network subscription and now I have the best access to technology and over 200 HD channels including G4 and Epix. Love them. You can too at

Noel said...

I prefer Netflix. No cable or dish provider offers the staggering library of movies as they do. Plus, it's less than $10 a month! Sure, every once in a while I get a scratched up disc that skips or won't play, but I ran into those same problems when I used to rent from Cinemasmith or Movieworks.