I’m usually rubbish at sequels, prequels or, to be honest, even TV series. With the memory of a goldfish, I need notes or a long-suffering friend if I’m to keep pace. I’m also pretty rubbish at violence unless it’s fast paced and of the Kick Ass variety, particularly when it’s sexual violence. So why did I love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, (Män som hatar kvinnor), The Girl who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes) so much? And why am I feeling slightly bereft at their conclusion?
The sheer quality of the characters plays a major part, for which credit must go to both author and actors. Although Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander stand out, the trilogy is a bravura piece of ensemble acting. The films are chock-a-block with interesting characters such as Lisbeth’s fellow hacker Plague, or boss of Milton Security Dragan Armansky. Love them or loathe them, there wasn’t a single character who I didn’t care passionately about.
What Cath Clarke in the Guardian calls ‘dreary TV drabness’ I found refreshingly realistic compared to Hollywood blockbusters. (Talking of Hollywood I’m intrigued by the remake, although I really can’t believe it’ll top the original.) The computer hacking carried out by Lisbeth and Plague, or the surveillance methods of Milton Security were as exciting – perhaps because more believable – than many a car chase or explosion.
Admittedly I struggled with the level of violence against women (and how graphically it was portrayed), particularly in the first part. Although realising the original title was Men Who Hate Women may have helped. The trilogy, however, is strongly moral, focusing on the fault lines that run through Swedish society. A society that is less tolerant and more misogynistic than we tend to think – see, for example, the problems of Stieg Larsson’s common-law wife, Eva Gabrielsson. The abuse Lisbeth suffers at the hands of her doctor and legal guardian parallels that received from her father, as the complex relationship between state and family, public and private, is teased out. (See the Opinionator blog for some interesting thoughts on this.)
I don’t claim that the films are flawless. The middle section didn’t really work as a stand-alone film, and the Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) storyline in the last section felt tagged on. But the fact that despite the flaws and some pretty impressive running times (152 minutes, 129 minutes and 147 minutes respectively) my interest never flagged says a lot.
Although The Guardian excelled itself in the perfunctoriness of its reviews (here’s Peter Bradshaw on The Girl Who Played With Fire, “Michael Nyqvist returns as investigative reporter Mikael, with the mutton-dressed-as-lamb style in leather jacket and hair colour.” A case of the lady does protest too much?) rather than dreary I found it heartening to come across filmmakers who respect their audience and trust their cast. It’s not often that viewers are credited with attention spans long enough to sustain interest through character and plot alone. And I, for one, am grateful.
Yes, the films are dark, and they don’t shy away from showing that darkness graphically, but the final message is one of optimism: goodness (in the shape of a passion for justice, intelligence, compassion, resilience and sheer guts) really can make a difference. A message borne out by the final scene, which is both touching and deliciously understated.