I'm always wary of fads in literature. Whenever a new book is being lauded in the media, I am always quick to whip out my (purely decorative) 18th century antique monocle replica ($25) and carefully scrutinize the cover for any remaining residue of an Opera Book Club sticker. It's not that I *hate* such books... well okay, i do. Protip: If the title typeface of the book you're holding is smaller than the promotional stickers proclaiming celebrity endorsements, it's probably not the next Catcher in the Rye. Not that there's anything wrong with that - sometimes a silly, superfluous narrative is precisely what we need to stay delightful and sane. But these are not stories to be remembered.
Right. So. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This book (and it's sequels) has hit the public "like this" button for massive damage (I continue to be a fan of mixed metaphors, as well as never-getting-to-the-damn-point). Having had the book recommended to me multiple times, and being unable to perceive any sign of the aforementioned CLUB PROMO STICKER, I did what a responsible English Bachelor's Degree Recipient does: I went and saw the movie. This is where things get a little more serious, and no, I won't hold your hand - I don't trust human contact.
The movie, which is originally titled Men Who Hate Women (yup, just going to unabashedly trust the Wikipedia translation there) is very intense. I like that it emerged from the book's homeland of Sweden because there was not a repainting of what American Audiences "want/can handle", and you can tell that the studio (Yellow Bird) handled it with care and attention. Yes there are subtitles, though truthfully, I barely noticed them (then again, years of watching Japanese anime, Bollywood classics, and episodes of Buffy-on-mute-in-your-parent's-basement-so-they-don't-criticize-your-viewing-tastes will do that). The genre is vaguely Murder Mystery, though the actual mystery component was fairly simple and even a bit predictable. But it works because this movie is more about the characters, with the central murder simply serving as a vehicle for showing us who these people are. In one corner, you have Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced journalist who has just been found guilty of libel, after being set-up during his investigation into a company's secret arms dealings. He has a few months before he has to serve his jail sentence, however, and a rich elderly man from his past decides this period of freedom is best spent solving a murder that has been haunting him for over 40 years. Yeah, okay whatever. Mikael is a likable guy - really intelligent, thoughtful, and passionate, but he's not really what the movie is about.
The meat of the story comes from the titular character Lisbeth Salander. She is a single, 24-year old outcast with a troubled past that she likes to keep secret. A good 30-minutes of the movie is spent establishing who she is and what she does (illegally hacking into computers as a information consultant for the firm she works for), all completely separate from Mikael and his new thing. Well, not entirely separate. Lisbeth has been hacking into Mikael's computer, following his activities (and investigation) in her free time. And this is where things get horrifying. Due to a convoluted system requiring her to have probationary oversight (due to her criminal record), she is reassigned to a new guardian - one who, unlike her current guardian isn't out in some hospital somewhere recovering from a stroke. Her new guardian begins leveraging his legal authority against her, gaining access to her bank account while restricting her own, prying into her sexual life, and eventually, raping her. Twice.
Now this is a part of the movie that bears not skimming over simply because it is uncomfortable. The rape scenes are not particularly graphic nudity-wise, but they are incredibly cruel and violent (the woman sitting in front of me at the theater had to keep looking away, and understandably so). They are uncomfortable to watch, even safe at home or at a theater. But they are necessary, because without such painful scenes, Lisbeth's vicious drive for revenge is unrelatable. But with them, you want (at least on some level) the same visceral retaliation she wants, and feel a twinge of the same unfulfilled satisfaction when she achieves it.
Eventually, Lisbeth reaches out to Mikael when he finds himself at a loss as how to proceed with his investigation, sending him an "easily traceable" e-mail telling him how to decipher the clues he's stuck on. Thereafter they combine the might of their marvelous thinking brains and rather quickly begin unraveling family secrets of their suspects.
Lisbeth and Mikael are a delight to watch. Their interactions are hilarious, and unpredictable. Lisbeth half-mocks Mikael's inexperienced driving, and her response to most of his questions and comments involves immediately leaving the room and smoking 3-4 packs of cigarettes.
I don't want to say much more because I don't like to spoil perfectly good movies with my clumsy summaries, but I can say that this is one of those cases where I want more of the story. I want to know what happens to Lisbeth and Mikael. I want to know what awaits in the next chapter and learn more about Lisbeth's past. And I want to know how they ultimately escape those Nazis on the airship. From what I've been told, all those things are addressed (except for the Nazis - that's what we mountebanks call a "decoy"), and the series only gets better as the novels progress.
So how terrific for me to discover that I won't have to read the novels! The two subsequent sequels (ha!) have already been filmed (and released... in Sweden) and have US release dates of July 9 (hey, that was this month!) and Sometime-2010. Beyond that... nothing, because the series' author died in 2004, so I'm kind of hoping the sequels are horrible and not as good as they undoubtedly will be, leaving me unfulfilled in the midst of a brilliant saga.
And no, I'm not going to acknowledge the tentative Hollywood remake.