At the Arthouse
Swedish women & their 3-irons: Just one of the ironies of cheesy Girl With theDragon Tattoo
The big ball of cheese that rolled across Europe, gathering kronas, pounds, and euros on its way, has finally reached our shores. I’m referring, of course, to the Swedish crime film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was the top-grossing film in Europe in 2009. (I’ll forego punning on “gross.”)
The film is based on an extremely popular novel whose Swedish title translates as "Men Who Hate Women," which is nothing if not blunt. I haven’t read the book (which has two sequels), but its author, Stieg Larsson, apparently posited a Sweden where Nazis, neo-Nazis, and other nasty capitalistic males rape and torture women with virtual impunity.
Of course, not all the men are evil. The film begins with crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) being arrested for libeling a leading industrialist. Blomkvist is a salt-of-the-earth type with no rough edges. He was tricked into committing libel so his powerful enemies could stop his investigations. Blomkvist has six months before his sentence begins. Knowing this, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), a rich grandfatherly type, hires Blomkvist to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance, and presumed murder, of his favorite niece. The old man lives on the Vanger family estate on an isolated island.
The movie takes a turn for the corny as soon as Blomkvist arrives in the hinterlands. The strings-heavy score kicks in, aggressively underlining the already too-obvious dialogue, as in “This bridge is the only way on or off the island.” When we meet the rest of the Vangers the movie plays like an Agatha Christie mystery, updated to include graphic S&M. Why, the killer could be any of these people!
The film’s title character, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is supposed to provide most of its interest, and Rapace has been widely praised for her performance, for which she won the Swedish equivalent of an Oscar. But for my money her character never really comes to life. She’s mostly a collection of supposedly interesting facts: she’s bisexual, she’s a hacker, she’s a punk, she’s so filled with rage at abusive men that she can scarcely speak. But Salander rarely seems real; Rapace and director Niels Arden Oplev want her nose rings and the hair hanging in her face to create the character, but instead they get in the way.
The film is filled with dated suspense-movie conventions. I guess these clichés are supposed to be turned on their heads because the audience is yelling “don’t-open-that-door” at the stupid man rather than the stupid woman. But that naiveté makes Blomkvist seem a very unlikely investigative reporter. (Spoiler alert! A key plot point is revealed here:) Long after you’ve figured which of the Vangers is the nastiest Nazi of all, and therefore the killer, Blomkvist is telling him all the secrets of his investigation. There’s a moment of unintentional hilarity when Salander breaks in to save Blomkvist—with a golf club. She even chases the bad guy out to his car and busts in one of his windows.
What is it about Swedish women and their 3-irons?