Friday, August 06, 2010

The Girl... And Her Problems

According to a recent study, Sweden is world’s fourth happiest country (India is at lowly 115.). You see the three films based on the popular Millennium trilogy — The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest — and you will hardly meet anyone who is happy (Except probably a couple who appears briefly, cycling happily in the city of Stockholm, before they are brutally murdered in the next scene, in the second film!), and especially the girl in question.

The so-called Millennium trilogy is ‘the’ magical publishing phenomenon, post Harry Potter. There was this journalist — Stieg Larsson — who used to write, if nothing else, for his own amusement. One day he died, and they found three unpublished manuscripts, and several unfinished ones; Larsson wanted to write a 10-book series. The first book came out in the English-speaking world as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2005 (The original title in Swedish means 'Men Who Hate Women,' which is actually more appropriate given the content of the plot.). It became a huge hit, selling millions of copies, winning awards. The Fire book followed, and the last one — The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — to complete the trilogy. Millennium is the name of the newsmagazine where one of the main protagonists, Mikael Blomkvist, works.

I have not read the books. I have seen them, they are huge, tomes. But I saw the films. The word is riveting. If I have to tell you how the films are, I can only tell you that they can stand next to ‘The Secret In Their Eyes,’ the Argentine film, winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film last year.

The focus of the story is Lisbeth Salandar, the Girl of the title, super hacker, with a photographic memory, good survival skills and no social life, and also a trouble magnet. On the other side is the journalist Blomkvist, idealist, committed, with a sense of righteousness, and probably in love with Lisbeth.

The comparison to The Secret In Their Eyes, especially the first film, is more than apt at different levels. Both the films are thrillers in the traditional sense and yet both infuse a kind of energy and freshness that goes beyond the thrills. At the core of both the films is a crime against woman — a woman murdered and a girl gone missing — and both deal with investigation by someone who is neither a policeman or a private eye. Most importantly, both the films have protagonists that have lives of their own, aside from the case they are investigating. The comparisons ends here. While the Argentine film was more taut and ambitious and focused, the Millennium trilogy is sprawling, moving between past and present and introducing characters as the story moves along.

Critics have complained that the last two installment of the trilogy is not as good as the first one, and you agree. For one thing, the layers, the complexity and subtlety of the first film is missing in the latter two, as we come to understand the characters of Lisbeth and Blomkvist.

Again, the first film tells three stories, that of Lisbeth, of Blomkvist and the story of Harriet Vanger. Once the case is solved in the first film, the narrative of the Millennium trilogy plunges headlong into the tragic life, death and life of the heroine Lisbeth Salandar, at the expense of sidelining the other major character, Blomkvist. The journalist is still there, but acts mostly as an audience point of view, or a plot device to push Lisbeth’s story ahead. Her story is not uninteresting, but you had hoped for more.

When she was 12 Lisbeth had tried to burn her father (a Russian spy hiding in Sweden; relic of the cold war era, and epitome of all the complexities it involved) because he abused her mother. The father, using his influence, put Lisbeth into a mental hospital in Uppsala where she may have been abused by the doctor. When she leaves the hospital, she is certified to be someone who cannot control her life and is put under a guardianship. The latest one turns out to be a monsters, who rapes her (how Lisbeth suffers the ordeal and takes her revenge constitute an interesting subplot in the first film.). As the film opens, she works as a hacker for a security firm, and probably have an affair with another girl (Her sexuality is a mystery, and how Noomi Rapace plays her with rings, tattoos and an excessive love for gothic, anything is possible. She looks fragile but conducts her in such a way that you will not want to mess with her). In the firm, one of her research subject appears to be Blomkvist, who is going through a libel case for printing against a businessman. Then Blomkvist gets a case to solve a forty year old missing person case, and as he get immersed in the case, Lisbeth becomes interested in Blomkvist and his research. (I must not say anything more lest I violate the spoiler code.) Finally, they join hands to unearth a series of murders and becomes occasional lover. As the film ends, Lisbeth disappears.

It was a perfect ending. We did not need a sequel. But the sequels came, in quick succession: Lisbeth returns to Sweden after an year or so, and there are lot of people who wants her dead. She goes underground, and then she becomes a suspect for three murders, including a colleague of Blomkvist’s. But Blomkvist believes Lisbeth is innocent and tries to help her. But Lisbeth does not need help, she can take care of her own business. Not really — she finally meets her father and a half-brother who try to bury her alive, and in a scene reminiscence of Kill Bill Vol 2, she returns from the dead.

The third movie deals with the aftermath. Lisbeth is hospitalised and she is tried for an attempt to murder her father. The focus now shifts to Lisbeth’s father, his past and his dealings with a secret society in Sweden, and things go murkier.

The Dragon Tattoo became so popular that they are now making a Hollywood remake, to be directed by David Fincher of Fight Club, with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist. Writing about the remake critics Andrew O’hehir commented on why the film may not work as an American story: The story here is not just a story, beneath it is the historical subtext, the politics of patriarchy, the politics of socialism, the residues of the cold war era, and the ethics of how an individual lives a public live. The truth for Sweden may not be same as US of A.

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