Let’s just make everyone uncomfortable and tell it like it is. The focus of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is the subjugation, degradation and dehumanization of women by men through time, class, profession, education, sex and brute force … not a new concept and one we neither want to run into the ground or, to put it succinctly, want to talk about at all.
The sequence of Larsson’s trilogy began with a startling cinematic version of Larsson’s best-selling novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which was eloquently directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Here, the audience is introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative reporter for “Millennium,” who is apparently desired by all women. He ends up hiring Lisbeth Salander, who, through uncanny resourcefulness, upstages each demented, and potentially lethal, situation she encounters.
In the second in the series, “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” the focus dramatically shifts from Blomkvist to a more personal study of Lisbeth Salander. As she seeks her evil father, a “Star Wars” twist, and his unfeeling (literally) son, her life story is exposed along with the news that she has a twin sister.
In this last film, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” Salander spends most of her time recovering from injuries sustained in book/film II while being indicted for murder.
In the sequels to “Dragon,” directed for European TV audiences by Daniel Alfredson, some of the important information is suspiciously missing. Where was Lisbeth’s rescue of the wife from Book II? What about the attack on Erika, Blomkvist’s lover and publisher, from the misogynist at her new job in Book III? (Yes, she leaves her job at “Millennium”). Furthermore, where was the exposure of Sweden’s role in the international sex trade as brought up in both books II and III?
Do the filmmakers in the last two Millennium films even care that Larsson’s sole request to his publisher before he died was that every book planned for this series have the same theme and title: “Men Who Hate Women”?
Unfortunately, when the focus shifted to simplifying and exaggerating a plot for a popular viewing rather than on building impact, insight and intellectual challenge, the last two films lost their soul, their raison d’être.
Talk at the Bar
After seeing “Hornet,” four of us gathered at a bar close by Portland’s famous Hollywood Theater to hash over our reactions. Would my friends agree with me that everything important was sacrificed in this third and final segment of the Millennium series? Could they see anything good in the film at all?
Jo’an, a Peace and Justice activist, countered with the observation that Lisbeth was still an inspiring heroine. “Lisbeth is triumphant as a broken vessel. She survives horrific things. She is able to control the people around her and control herself.”
Bill, a writer of horror stories, had just seen all three films in the last four days. He happily admitted that he loved the development of the villains and particularly relished the nastiness of Salander’s father. He saw that the villains in all three films, as well as Lisbeth, were brought to life by excellent acting.
With the noise of the bar, we leaned in to hear what Mark, a movie critic who was recently interviewed on film, had to say. “I was most impressed with the acting. Did you notice the prosecutor’s expression as the court case began to wind down? He needed no dialogue to express his thoughts – just his posture. Plus,” Mark laughed, “there’s nothing hotter than an intelligent woman! Lisbeth was always working to regain her power – she has an amazing ability to process what’s there. Even though she was silent most of the time, she could deliver her dialogue with just a twist of her lip.”
I asked my fellow critics to rate “Hornet’s Nest” from 1 to 5, 5 being highest. My number rating, which I have never given before for any film, will come at the end of this article.
Jo’an: “Even though this film was full of what I don’t like, which is violence and a dark tone, I found it gripping and unpredictable. Salander is a fascinating study. I give it a 4.”
Bill: “The first two-thirds of this dragged and there was not enough developed — not enough of Salander. I give it a 3.”
Mark: “There was some intrigue, but the Swedish scenery was missing! I give it a 3.”
The Book Club
The Vancouver Community Book Club has read all three books in the Millennium series. Both the film and book version of “Dragon” gained an enthusiastic, unanimous 5. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” earned a 4.5. But this last book in the series, for similar reasons we saw in the movie – less Salander, less insight, less passion and convoluted extensions into government complicity in illegal activities — earned a 4.
My Verdict for IJM
Larsson’s series on the dehumanization of women reflect a truth about us. That his protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, could break this chain is the mesmerizing power of Larsson’s work – and the key ingredient missing in increasingly greater amounts throughout each film in the series.
The last of his books earns a 4 from me because I couldn’t follow the intrigue of the Swedish government and its connection to illegal activities. I’m wondering if Larsson’s publisher wouldn’t have worked this out with him before he died.
But, was the movie better than the book?
No way. I’ll give the film a 3.5 — but not because the plot wasn’t exciting or because of the acting was weak – they were both great. It is because I was disappointed in the lackluster attention to Larsson’s more powerful purpose, his message and insight about the quizzically dehumanizing arrogance and violence some men dish out upon women and how it can be successfully avenged through cleverness and cunning.
Director — Daniel Alfredson
Screenplay — Ulf Ryberg
Source Material — Stieg Larsson
Producer — Soren Staermose
Country — Sweden
Release Date — Nov. 2009 (Sweden), Nov. 2010 (USA)
Runtime — 147 minutes
Cast — Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin, Per Oscarsson, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson
Web site — http://dragontattoofilm.com
Also Known As — Luftkastellet der blev sprængt
Book vs. Movie: ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’
Book vs. Movie: ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’
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Follow Bev Questad on Twitter at http://twitter.com/questad.