23 July 2010

Män som hatar kvinnor / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo *

Boy, it's telling that the original Swedish title of both the film and the source novel is Men Who Hate Women. I guess the more direct Sweden Is Rapeland just wouldn't have sold enough copies (or movie tickets), huh?

In short, this film is very good, a good ol' mystery story that turns fairly cleverly and pretty smoothly into a serial killer story, with a likable odd-couple as the intrepid detectives. More than one moment in the story felt almost unbearably tense, and the whole "scanning the internet or scouring old logbooks for clues" stuff was never as boring as it might have been. I genuinely liked both the protagonists and enjoyed their tense tete-â-tete, and if the film's final solutions (no Nazi pun intended) felt somewhat obvious from the get-go, the script doesn't punish you by beating you over the head with it. I get the impression they half expected you to beat the characters to the conclusions they come to, and that's okay. It's still about the drama of getting there.

I know this is a world-famous much-hyped novel series right now, and so I assume in all those extra pages they must explain the biggest nagging question the film left me with, which is why the hell did Lisbeth get involved in the case in the first place? She was hired to hack his stuff, she did that, she found him trustworthy, okay, but what drive does a girl this guarded and this dangerous (and borderline self-destructive) have to continue pursuing Mikael's remote-accessed laptop once she's delivered files to her bosses? Then to expose herself to him because she's answered a riddle he hasn't... I mean, I get that part of her just wanted to rub it in his face that she's smarter, but this is more. She puts herself out there like she never has before, and there's got to be some missing scene or chapter or pages that explains this huge bold move to us, right? Because once she's in, I am hooked right alongside her (and him), I can see why you wouldn't let up, but I can find no reason inside the story for her to cross that first threshold, and that really frustrates me.

And seriously, I think the ratio of Nazis, serial rapists, or Nazi-serial-rapist/serial-killers to nice guys in this movie is about 2:1 or maybe even 3:1. I enjoyed that Women Getting Revenge never overshadowed the interpersonal drama stuff or the main whodunnit plot, but there was a certain theme of Men Are Monsters here that felt, frankly, disappointingly one-sided. Never once were we given a deeper motive for any of the monstrosities against women except "it feels good." (SPOILER) The religious/Nazi thing was even dismissed by all but the dead father. Men simply do these things because those men are "evil," and that's less terrifying and more didactic than this film deserves.

I did, though, quite like some of the thematic repetitions throughout, like the unfortunate nature of a "photographic memory" and Lisbeth's inability to forget the minutest detail of the things she'd suffered through (echoed back to her as she videotapes her own brutal rape). And I enjoyed that Lisbeth was shown as still capable, in her own guarded way, of loving -- both physically and emotionally -- despite the trauma she'd suffered through. Often with rape-victim movies and especially with rape-victim movies where the rapists are depicted as un-nuanced forces of evil, the victim's suffering permeates every facet of their being in a way that leaves no room for character or color. Here it shades her, but she still feels like a developed and three-dimensional human being, and that goes a long way toward redeeming the story's flatness of the villains for me. In fact, I would have loved to spend more time in the conflicted and contradictory psychology of the title character, in light of where she's been, who she is now, and the kind of future Mikael's stability and quiet acceptance seems to be offering her. I found that more enthralling than the actual murder investigation, but then again like I said, it seemed clear to me from the get-go that Harriet was still alive -- and besides, I've always gone more for character than for plot, if push comes to shove.

Seen at the Laurelhurst Theater.

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