Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sweden-Denmark-Germany-Norway, 2009)

The female as hero

The Swedish title of the film (and the book it’s based on) is the better Men Who Hate Women as that makes clear that misogyny was Stieg Larsson’s target in the first book of the Millennium Trilogy. This misogyny is viscerally portrayed in a rape scene that borders on exploitative (there’s one very brief and out of focus shot from behind the splayed buttocks of the victim) but, I think, just avoids going too far; focusing on the woman’s face and screams is sufficient to portray the obscenity of the act. It is a long time since I’ve felt so discomforted by a mainstream film. It’s a while since Hollywood has dealt with such issues in a high profile film and it’s planning a remake.

Following Shutter Island I was concerned, during the first 15 minutes, that having read the book would spoil the film. However, that feeling was soon dispensed as the adaptation was lean and compelling. The English language title emphasises the character of Lisbeth Salandar (Noomi Rapace – brilliant in the role) who is both a victim and the narrative hero. In another role reversal from the usual tropes in mainstream cinema, she is sexually assertive in her relationship with the male lead.

It’s good to see a two and a half hour foreign language film doing well at the box office; no doubt inspired by the book. However, the Wallander series (books and TV) has also stimulated the appetite for Swedish thrillers. What will the Hollywood remake look like? Given David Fincher is attached, it could be very interesting though artistically there is no point in remaking a very good film.


  1. Shubhajit Lahiri

    I too really liked this movie a lot and have even posted my ruminations at my blog. As you said, misogyny forms a strong component of the storyline, not just the subplot but also the main plot, and thus the subject would have been even more effective had the literal English translation been used. Sweden here is a dark and seedy place, and this has been portrayed in immensely compelling albeit disturbing fashion. I too feel the planned Hollywood remake would be unnecessary and an act in futility despite the project being tentatively helmed by David Fincher, who himself has made the terrific police procedurals as Seven & Zodiac.


  2. venicelion

    I found that since I knew what was going to happen, I wasn’t so swept up in the thriller narrative – though I agree that the rape was so graphic that it was deeply disturbing. But I did feel that I had time to reflect on how the adaptation worked on screen. Putting aside my own imagined representation of the book’s characters, I thought the film was well cast and all the performances were excellent. The film also looked good and the confident direction held everything together. So far, only Philip French in the Observer has noticed that the Danish director Niels Arden Oplev had previously helmed the excellent ‘children’s film’ Drømmen (2006) known in English as We Shall Overcome. He’s not on board for the other two films so it will be interesting to see how different they look.

    Re the title of the film, it’s worth remembering that this is the first of the trilogy. All the books have been re-titled in English to emphasise the Lisbeth character’s importance in the narrative. On the other hand, the trilogy is entitled ‘The Millennium Trilogy’ and in a way it is Millennium magazine, part-owned by Blomkvist that is at the centre. The first film keeps to a manageable length mainly by reducing the time spent on Blomkvist’s research and the financial crisis at Millennium (and downplays the role of the other women in Blomkvist’s life). I’m torn here because I am certainly interested in Lisbeth as a character – and the impact she has made with readers (female and male) – but I’m also interested in the politics of campaigning journalism.

    I think we need another one or two postings to explore all that this first film helps to set up. I note that in the US, where it has also just been released, some commentators are comparing it to Red Riding as another trilogy based on successful novels. This also looks interesting.

    And let’s all shout loudly about no bloody Hollywood remake!


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