Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Millennium Trilogy

(Swedish, 2009)

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor) (2009) Apparently I was one of the last people in the literate universe to hear the sad story of Stieg Larsson, the Swedish journalist who wrote and sold a trilogy of books, then promptly keeled over dead. Since then, the books have sold 27 million copies in 40 countries, making him the second-best-selling author in the world in 2008, and the best-selling dead one. The original Swedish title of this first book translates as Men Who Hate Women. I have read the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and eagerly await the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, due out in the US in May 2010. These are some of the best books I’ve read in years. The good news is that all three have already been made into movies in Swedish. (The second one is due to be released in July, the third in October.) The bad news is, they are almost certainly going to be remade in English, and I can 99% guarantee that Hollywood will fuck them up.

The stories are so good in so many ways, and they all revolve around the most fascinating female character I’ve encountered in many a year: Lisbeth Salander, a deeply disturbed, totally kick-ass, tiny computer hacker. This movie succeeds or fails entirely on the casting of the part of Salander, and I’m overjoyed to report that an Icelandic/Swedish girl named Noomi Rapace absolutely nails her. This is a relentless, violent, complicated movie that runs over 2½ hours and is one of the most faithful adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen. Some few things are omitted, but they don’t affect the power of this story. As I write this the movie is in limited release, slowly going wider. If it comes to your town—and you have the stomach for some scenes of strong violence—see this!

2. The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) (2009) This is the only film and book in the trilogy whose title remained more or less intact (the cyber-translator I used rendered it as “The Damsel Playing With Fire”), and it obviously was the source of all the English “The Girl Who/With” titles. These titles are improvements for the English-speaking audience. This film/book and the third one are really one long story, whereas the first could have stood alone, without a sequel. This one ends in a huge cliffhanger, with Our Girl hovering on the edge of death. I just wanted to warn readers/viewers of that, and you should understand that these last two movies were made for Swedish television serialization and have been cut down slightly and separated into two movies when they really are only one story. As such this one suffers a wee bit, as most second trilogy stories do (Tolkien’s The Two Towers), but only a wee bit. Although all the players are very good, particularly Michael Nyqvist as Michael “Kalle” Blomkvist, once again it is Noomi Rapace who owns her every scene, including some that she isn’t even in. Her presence always looms over everything. This movie begins to explain how Lisbeth Salander got to be the way she is, and the unfolding horror of what was done to this one girl by the State starting at the age of 11, and how it is still ongoing, is repugnant and compelling. Throughout these movies she is suspicious of intimacy—though she has an active sex life—and will not talk to cops or shrinks. Not now, not ever, even if she has a compelling reason to do so. Now, on to the climax … I

3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes) (2009) The literal translation of this title from the Swedish, I am informed, is “The Air Castle That Was Blown Up.” I think we will all agree that it just doesn’t work in English. “Air castles” or maybe “dream castles” in Swedish seems to mean much the same as it would in English, that is, “pipe dreams,” but I suspect the idiom is something that doesn’t translate. I’ve tried to think of a better way of putting it, but the best I’ve come up with is “Exploding Castles in the Air.” Not a good title for a book or movie. And that’s okay. Many movies are re-titled for distribution to other countries.

So now we move to the endgame. Lisbeth Salander is in the hospital, recovering from three gunshot wounds, including one to the head, that she got when she went to kill her mother-beating father and psychopath half-brother but was ambushed, shot, and buried. But she wasn’t dead, and she digs her way out and severely injures her father with an axe. Kalle Blomkvist finds her and she is arrested for three murders she didn’t commit, plus attempted murder of her father. So Micke and the staff of Millennium, Micke’s lawyer sister, and a hacker named Plague set out to uncover and also prove the facts behind her commitment to a mental hospital at the age of 11, where a pedophile psychiatrist ties her to her bed for 381 days and violates her, and subsequent guardianship by a brutal pig who rapes her, all of this to cover up “national security” secrets and the identity of her father, a total scumbag defector from the USSR. Lord, how many disgusting crimes have been committed and covered up by scumbags in the name of national security? The list is endless.
It’s a daunting and dangerous task, but slowly Micke and the others begin to pry up a deeply buried rock, and the human cockroaches and slugs and shit-eating vermin who have lived under it for 30 years begin to scuttle away. But scorpions and snakes hide under rocks, too. Add to that the fact that it’s hard to believe that a small agency, unknown even to the Prime Minister, could operate and hide for so long—surely you’re being paranoid—and it’s an uphill climb all the way. (Events something like this actually did happen in Sweden in the ‘70s.)

This will be the third time I will praise Noomi Rapace to the skies. But what the hell? She deserves it. This one might have been the most challenging of all for her, because she is incarcerated in a hospital and jail for about two-thirds of the movie, without much to do in a physical way. No chance for the ball-busting action of the first two films. But she destroys her enemies in other ways. There are scenes where she is completely silent, but her eyes and the edges of her mouth speak loudly. I have seldom seen an actress who can speak so loudly in silence and stillness. It is the stillness of a predator about to pounce. Her entry into the courtroom where she is about to have a sanity hearing is so in-your-face that we laughed out loud, as she has chosen to appear the absolute most outlandish Goth punk of your worst nightmares. You think I’m insane? Bite me. Then she and her lawyer totally demolish the opposition. I mean, they burn them to the ground, piss on the ashes, and sow the ground with salt. It was one of two places where the audience we were with broke into applause. The other … well, it’s at the very end, and involves a humongous nail gun …

There is the possibility that she will be nominated for an Oscar this year, she seems to be eligible for at least one of the films. I think there’s little chance she could win. Though you never know. Marie Cotillard did. I’d vote for her, and I haven’t even heard the other nominations.

The English remake of the first film of the trilogy started shooting this September (2010) in Sweden, and for a while the role of Salander was the hottest property in Hollywood. Many names were mentioned, but it fell to Rooney Mara, someone unknown to me. (Haven’t seen her in The Social Network.) I looked at her pictures, and she looks delicate, waif-like. It’s being directed by David Fincher, who is interesting (though I didn’t like Se7en as much as some did), and who has worked with her before. Daniel Craig is going to be Blomkvist, and Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård (at least there will be one Swede in it) are cast, too. It’s all very impressive, and I’m, like, still very dubious. It was great to hear that they’re actually doing it in Sweden instead of transplanting it to America. But we’ll see in December of 2011, I guess. I’m sure I’ll go.