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Captivating character makes must-see movie

POSTED: July 14, 2010 11:30 p.m.

If you’re reading this in a public place, pause and look around you. Chances are, you just saw someone reading Stieg Larsson’s "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Or maybe one of its sequels, "The Girl Who Played With Fire" or "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest."

Larsson’s series of novels, collectively called the Millennium Trilogy, are taking over the literary globe. And for good reason. They combine traditional mystery plots with cyberpunk imagery and fiercely pro-female activism. Think Dorothy Sayers meets William Gibson meets Camille Paglia. Most of all, they are simply intricate and suspenseful reads.

Originally written in Larsson’s native Swedish, the novels have been translated into many languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. They are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the U.S. as readers go to them, curious about the hype, then find themselves completely hooked.

What many Americans don’t realize, though, is that all three novels have already been adapted into Swedish-language films that are as gripping as the books.

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" released on DVD recently, and if you’re drawn to these movies, you definitely want to start at the beginning.

The story begins with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist who has just lost a lawsuit against a powerful corporation. With a short prison sentence looming, Mikael takes on a bizarre job. Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), another powerful CEO, hires Mikael to investigate the disappearance of his niece, who vanished from the family mansion 40 years ago.

Unbeknownst to Mikael, Vanger hires hacker-cum-private investigator Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to check Mikael’s background. Lisbeth slowly gets drawn into the web of Mikael’s lawsuit, his investigation, and her own tragic past.

Lisbeth is the "girl" of the movie titles, and she is one of the most enigmatic movie characters to come along in decades. She is only 4 feet 11 inches, yet capable of reducing the most physically imposing man to his whimpering knees. Larsson describes her as anorexic and boyish, yet attractive in a way no male character can find words to describe. She’s glowering, brilliant, speaks only when she must and keeps most people at a safe distance. And somehow we find her irresistible.

Rapace captures all facets of the character, and her performances in these movies are making her an international star.

The story in "The Girl Who Played With Fire" isn’t on as grand a scale as the first movie, which is good in a way. This second installment focuses more on Lisbeth’s past and Mikael’s investigation into an international sex-trafficking ring. The more focused story lends the movie a quicker pace and more thrills.

Do be aware that these novels and movies take on rape, sex-trafficking and abuse more graphically than most. A handful of scenes in "Dragon Tattoo" are quite disturbing because they depict sexual assault as the perverse and brutal act that it is.

Which brings us to the final aspect of the Millennium phenomenon: the inevitable Hollywood remakes. Trust me, Hollywood is going to ruin these stories, regardless of the specific talent involved.

Anyone who has read the novels knows that Lisbeth is such a complex character that it seems impossible for any actress, no matter how talented, to capture her mystery and power. Rapace has pulled off the impossible once, and there’s virtually no chance another actress will do it again.

Nor will Hollywood do justice to the central themes of sexual abuse and rape. No mainstream studio is going to allow similarly graphic imagery, and that aspect of the story is crucial. After all, the original title of the first book translates into "Men Who Hate Women." Take away the sexual assault scenes, and the movie will be just another brainless blockbuster.

So how do we get to see "The Girl Who Played With Fire" in a theater in Gainesville? Call and let the manager know there’s an audience.

If our local multiplex won’t show the film, drive to another theater. You won’t be sorry.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.


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