Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It’s pretty unusual for any European book to take America by storm and become an international mega-selling sensation. When it’s a trilogy in Swedish, of all things, it’s downright shocking.

Shocking is the right word for Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, beginning with the book originally called “Män Som Hatar Kvinnor” (Men Who Hate Women) and sold in English as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The books are billed as thrillers, and that’s the right description, too, given the kick-ass (and then some) heroine, the grisly subject matter, and Larsson’s take-no-prisoners attitude to sex, sexual politics, violence, serial killers, political corruption and the general unwillingness of those in charge to do anything about the terrible wrongs in the world.

I gave my husband all three books in Swedish, as well as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in English. He’s not much of a fiction reader (okay, he doesn’t normally read fiction at all) but I thought he would enjoy the chance to see a different kind of language than what’s used in the Swedish newspapers or classics he’s used to. I honestly didn’t know much about the books, other than seeing ads all over the internet and what I’d read on my friend Kathleen’s blog. Kathleen talks about what her friends are reading (it’s a fascinating blog for readers or writers, since readers like to see what’s current and writers need to know what does and doesn’t appeal to potential audiences) and the Millennium trilogy has come up a few times, I believe, even though the third book won’t be out in English until May 25th. (And, no, my husband has not read the third book yet, so he can’t help those dying for spoilers.)

This week, my friend Steve over in Champaign-Urbana told me that the movie version of the first book, also called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was playing at the Art Theater in Champaign. The Art is a terrific little theater in downtown Champaign, locally owned and operated, just one theater instead of ten or fifteen, with unusual and different choices of films.

So my husband and I took the drive over to C-U to catch “The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo,” for me to see what all the fuss was about and for him to get to hear Swedish on the big screen.

I think, given the general descriptions I’d heard before I went, I was expecting more of a “DaVinci Code” and less “Silence of the Lambs,” but then, I can be a bit squeamish when it comes to the scary stuff, so it’s probably best I wasn’t forewarned. And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is definitely scary.

It opens with the more mundane – investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist is being tried on libel charges for articles he wrote about a wealthy businessman – but quickly devolves into murkier waters when Blomkvist is pulled out of his libel nightmare by another rich and powerful man named Henrik Vanger.

Vanger asks Blomkvist to look into the disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet, some 40 years ago, and to do that, he requests that Blomkvist come to the island where what’s left of the family, an unpleasant bunch at best, lives and works. Harriet disappeared from the island on a day when all traffic on or off was blocked, so Vanger feels certain that all of the evidence – and all of the suspects – will be right there.

As Blomkvist begins to work, his path crosses that of another investigator. This one is Lisbeth Salander, a goth/punk 24-year-old whose past is strewn with violence and dysfunction. But Lisbeth, with her amazing computer skills and photographic memory, can be a major asset to Mikael Blomkvist. If he can trust her, if she can trust him, and if they can get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance before the wrong people figure out what they’re doing.

Director Niels Arden Oplev does a fantastic job racheting up the tension, no easy feat when you consider he is relying on research, blow-ups of photos and computer searches for most of his plot. There are a few minor action scenes involving fights or car chases and two or three horrific scenes involving Lisbeth and the state guardian appointed to handle her finances, but most of it is paperwork, something tough to pull off on film.

This is not a short film at 2 hours 26 minutes, and there’s a lot of plot to unload and different puzzles to solve. Still, it all manages to come together within the allotted time without dragging at all.

I’m still not sure how Larsson and Oplev managed to make Lisbeth, who is beyond dark in terms of her look, her actions and her motivations, so sympathetic and compelling. A lot of that is due to the actress, Noomi Rapace, who looks and feels heartbreakingly real as a wounded, haunted, hard-as-nails survivor of God-knows-what. We find out a little bit of that, although not all, and I’m assuming more will come in the next two movies.

Michael Nyqvist who plays Mikael, is also real. He’s not particularly handsome or flashy, more of a regular blob of a guy, and yet he has integrity and substance. His Blomkvist is someone you could trust.

Larsson’s world is dark and evil, with corruption and filth hiding behind every polished façade, and it’s Lisbeth, especially in Noomi Rapace’s performance, that reflects the human cost of all that. Pretty devastating stuff. There are supposedly plans afoot to make a Hollywood version, with Carey Mulligan as Lisbeth and Brad Pitt as Mikael, and all I can say is... See the real version now before Hollywood wrecks it.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is showing at the Art Theater in Champaign through May 6th.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds scary indeed.

    Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In was also good and scary, but very sweet somehow, too.

    Thanks for mentioning my blog. People can scroll through labels on right and click Stieg Larsson to find the entries that mention these books.