The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A new sensation leaves its mark on the globe

How, here in the United States, do we gauge a global phenomenon, and in particular, a phenomenon that was not born within our borders? Let’s take The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for instance. The international bestselling mystery thriller written by the late Swedish writer/journalist Stieg Larsson is part of a “Millennium” trilogy, a series of unpublished novels left behind at the time of his sudden death in 2004. Originally released in Sweden in 2005, with the title Men Who Hate Women, it wasn’t until 2008 before Tattoo reached our shores and sold almost 2 million copies. The second book, The Girl who Played with Fire, has been translated and is being devoured by readers here in the U.S., eagerly awaiting The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

In the meantime, the film adaptation by Niels Arden Oplev was the European box office champion in 2009 and is the highest grossing Swedish film of all time. A sure sign of its global cache is the anticipated buzz surrounding the inevitable Hollywood remakes. What is it about America and our seeming inability to appreciate any cultural artifact that does not have a direct “American” reflection? Why is it that we can only truly accept and embrace art and ideas bearing our own image?

It could be argued that Tattoo’s girl, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) is, and should remain, a distinctly European antiheroine. A severely troubled computer hacker, Lisbeth is far from a typical literary victim. The film clearly and succinctly sets up her backstory without toning down the horrific violence and abuse visited upon her or her equally bracing retribution. Even though the action and the narrative seems intent on tracking the exploits of Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced and highly idealist journalist hired to investigate the disappearance and assumed death of the niece of a businessman whose family had ties to the Nazis, Lisbeth is the signature creation, a rival to the likes of Robert Langdon and Hannibal Lector.

Even so, those comparisons are too on-the-nose while also being wide of the mark. The intrepid Blomqvist is closer in spirit to Dan Brown’s Langdon. Both men are the first ones called when the truth is in doubt, and it is their combination of intelligence and integrity that the audience finds comforting. On the other end of the spectrum, Hannibal Lector, prior to the later installments of the Thomas Harris thrillers, which made too great an effort to rationalize his urges, was a modern-day Lucifer, an unstoppable fallen angel toying with the lesser evildoers of the world.

Lisbeth, thanks in no small measure to Rapace’s tightly coiled performance, has a more spot-on literary brother in the character of Mouse from Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, but Larsson wisely chose to shine the spotlight on her, the character willing to take action, to seek justice beyond the compromised codes of society by any means necessary. She is what Ralph Ellison was getting at in the introduction to Invisible Man; the Lisbeth of Oplev’s film, Americans refuse to see her, catching a glimpse instead of her “surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imaginations.” It is sad that we cannot train ourselves to see her as the unique and indelible figure she is.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be shown exclusively at the Neon Movies

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