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"She certainly has “doll-like, almost delicate limbs, small hands, and hardly any hips."
January 4, 2012 5:01 AM   Subscribe

Softening and sexualizing Lisbeth Salander: David Fincher's casting for Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo examined.
posted by Fizz (104 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The original article.
posted by kmz at 5:04 AM on January 4, 2012


Thanks for that link kmz.
posted by Fizz at 5:05 AM on January 4, 2012


She’s sexual, but not sexualized; she has vulnerabilities without being vulnerable

Really? I had always found her to be pretty sexualized and vulnerable, despite the fact that her character is also supposed to be a kick-ass hacker and such.

NYRB had a really good article on this about six months ago.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:08 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Didn't seem to know anything about hacking, except how to install the trojan that her fat nerd friend gave her.
posted by thelonius at 5:10 AM on January 4, 2012


I like the Swedish films, and see no reason for Hollywood to put their own spin on the trilogy. The Swedish woman who plays Lisbeth is perfect IMHO. She's tiny and spunky, sexy and scary and has this crackling energy.
posted by Skygazer at 5:18 AM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Didn't seem to know anything about hacking, except how to install the trojan that her fat nerd friend gave her.

Yeah but didn't you listen to the music that was playing while she was setting up cameras and typing really quickly. It's OBVIOUS she knows what she's doing, the music is all intense and cybery and trippy.
posted by Fizz at 5:22 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I long for the days of old Hollywood when if a studio wanted to release a recent foreign film phenomenon for itself, they just shot a bunch of one-sided conversations with Raymond Burr and slotted them into a poorly dubbed original. That would have made for a great version of The Ring.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:23 AM on January 4, 2012 [26 favorites]


Well in book 1 she wrote her own Trojan "based on Internet explorer" and in book 2 she bought a new Mac. She is pretty much a hacker.

Those books were deeply strange. Why all the shopping lists of what she bought at Ikea? Why so much focus on Mac computers, to the extent book 2 contains what amounts to a two page review. Very oddly written books.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:25 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Then main character of GWTDT (book) was pretty much Steig Larssen's cock. It was a fun read though. The Swedish film improved on it by excising subplots, imho.
posted by thelonius at 5:30 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Those books were deeply strange. Why all the shopping lists of what she bought at Ikea? Why so much focus on Mac computers, to the extent book 2 contains what amounts to a two page review. Very oddly written books.


They were published postmortem. I wouldn't be surprised if there was very little editing of a fairly rough draft Larsson's.

I think the books could have used a good relationship between a (living) author and an editor, but, circumstanced conspired against it.
posted by entropone at 5:34 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I went to see the American movie with three people who were fans of the Swedish version. I didn't much like the American version largely for the same reasons listed here; Lisbeth's sexual issues were handled in an uncomfortable way, almost glorified, instead of her being an interesting character with an abusive past. Her relationship with Daniel Craig's character is portrayed as her being inexplicably in love with him or something, and the whole thing was just kind of odd and didn't sit right. It's hard to articulate, but she came across as a lovesick fuck bunny, and like we're supposed to think she's awesome for being a fuck bunny instead of being concerned for the abusive past that makes her feel like she has to have sex with whoever. They left in a lot of stuff about her emotional issues, but it seemed at odds with the sex scenes and atmosphere portrayed in them, like they were keeping some stuff because it was in the original but didn't really understand or care why it was there.

After the movie ended I was kind of wondering if the Swedish one was that bad, because the people I saw it with generally have similar tastes to mine and one of them would have felt as disturbed by how Lisbeth was portrayed as I was. And, sure enough, they were really surprised that they changed stuff to make Lisbeth weirdly lovesick and the person I guessed would be disturbed by it was appalled. That person had also read the book and said the whole lovesick thing at the end of the movie was entirely made up whole cloth, tacked on to the end of the movie without having been in the book or Swedish movie. Apparently in those, Lisbeth is really trying to distance herself from the guy but he's super lovesick -- which makes a ton more sense than the American version. I don't even know if I think it's sexist so much as just stupid, but it did grate that they specifically rewrote what sounded like a fairly realistic portrayal of a sexually and emotionally damaged and disconnected woman to someone that lusts for Daniel Craig and just luuurves him so much, because those parts didn't seem to fit at all with the other parts. Regardless of the gender of the character, it was just disappointing to see something delicate like that so mishandled, and for what reason? To make her more appealing by making her more loving or something? I really don't know, but it sucked.
posted by Nattie at 5:36 AM on January 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's ironic that the article is making the case that the new movie is an inferior adaptation, given that the ONTD post is itself an inferior adaptation of the original article.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:38 AM on January 4, 2012


Hollywood film is Hollywoody. Though somewhat less so than usual.

Internet still outraged.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:39 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Didn't seem to know anything about hacking, except how to install the trojan that her fat nerd friend gave her.

The NYRB article quotes the part of the book where Salander goes shopping for a replacement computer:

... set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB Ram and a 60 GB hard drive.

Reminding me of the scene in Spielberg's Jurassic Park when the kids get into the tour jeeps and enthuse over the cutting-edge technology: "Wow! An interactive CD-ROM!"
posted by Trurl at 5:40 AM on January 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I tried to read the books and found their style so odd that they were practically unreadable; I did, however, watch the the first two Swedish movies in the series, and it struck me quite forcefully by the end of the second that Lisbeth Salander spends a lot of time naked and/or being tortured.

There are quite a few conclusions one could come to about this and I haven't really decided between them yet -

- She's the ideal geek girl-friend as seen in so many comics - hyper-sexual, nerdy, wears leather pants, probably has (your) taste in music and yet she isn't a wish-fulfilment fantasy because, like, she's angry and she kills lots of guys. But she still sleeps with the shlumpy hero, so maybe she'll sleep with you?

- She's another stereotype - the vengeful, deadly doll - the little girl who can kick your ass. As seen in Hana, Sin City ("deadly little Miho"), Kickass and about a million other things. A lazy paradox, of which middle-aged men seem very fond.

Although I think there is an element of both of these in the character, I think there might be another, slightly kinder explanation.

I'm tentatively going to go with option 3:

- Lisbeth Salander is so over-determined because she is basically an instrument for taking vengeance on patriarchal violence. The books are pretty clearly about that (e.g. originally called "Men who hate women", basically being about examples of evil male authorities hurting the seemingly defenceless). This is a fine goal, but by the time we reach the end of the second story, Lisbeth Salander has had to take on the role of avenger for every conceivable real-world abuse of women. Which means that she winds up suffering all of them - abusive father, rape, psychiatric abuse, beatings, assault etc. etc. Too much has happened to her to realistically happen to one person. It gives her an almost comical, Perils of Penelope Pitstop quality and also means that she starts to steer too close to the sexism of that trope that says "the main/only plot event that can happen to women is rape" (cf. women in refrigerators).

All of this starts to muddy all the moralistic points that Larsson wants to make.

(Another side effect of this in the movies, at least, is that the other female characters tend to fade into the background a bit, especially in movie 2 - I gather that the books are a bit better at avoiding this, but it does exacerbate the sense that there is only one woman in the world).

@Nattie: apparently, at the end of the book, Lisbeth brings a gift to Blomkvist, then sees him with Erika, his partner from the magazine. She is heartbroken and leaves. The Swedish version removed this.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:40 AM on January 4, 2012 [27 favorites]


Interesting. I have never seen the film(s) or read the book, but people keep telling me I just have to. I'm not sure why. Because I use a computer and used to have funny hair and have a dragon tattoo?
posted by JoanArkham at 5:41 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


They were published postmortem. I wouldn't be surprised if there was very little editing of a fairly rough draft Larsson's.

I think the books could have used a good relationship between a (living) author and an editor, but, circumstanced conspired against it.


Yeah there was a lot of controversy swirling around how much he has actually written as well wasn't there? Like maybe he had written the obsessive inventories of everyones possessions and someone else filled in the gaps.

Her relationship with Daniel Craig's character is portrayed as her being inexplicably in love with him or something

That was in the books, she was obsessively in love with the main charachter but also hated herself for being dependent on him. She watched his computer as he wrote and even broke into his house IIRC. The way she just kinda jumped on him in dragon tattoo was fairly odd.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:45 AM on January 4, 2012


I do have to add, despite the huge issues I have with how the American movie was changed, I thought Mara's acting was fantastic. It was the writing that was gross.
posted by Nattie at 5:45 AM on January 4, 2012


Because I use a computer and used to have funny hair and have a dragon tattoo?

Or you like drinking coffee and eating sandwiches while doing stretching exercises?

Slate: "The Girl Who Deserves To Escape Her Author: How Stieg Larsson's heroine battles his plot and prose.
posted by davidjmcgee at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2012


Hollywood film is Hollywoody. Though somewhat less so than usual.

Internet still outraged.


Too cool for school Internet commenter is snarky and dismissive.

Nobody is surprised.
posted by kmz at 5:50 AM on January 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


And, sure enough, they were really surprised that they changed stuff to make Lisbeth weirdly lovesick and the person I guessed would be disturbed by it was appalled. That person had also read the book and said the whole lovesick thing at the end of the movie was entirely made up whole cloth, tacked on to the end of the movie without having been in the book or Swedish movie. Apparently in those, Lisbeth is really trying to distance herself from the guy but he's super lovesick -- which makes a ton more sense than the American version.

I've read the books and that's incorrect. She's in love with him in the book, and the ending is the same -- she's bringing him a Christmas present and see's him with another woman.
posted by amarynth at 5:51 AM on January 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have watched both the Swedish and American movies and I wondered about that.

It seems that the Swedish movie improved on the characters in the book while the American movie stuck closer to the way the characters were written in the book.

B+ for the Swedish movies. C- for the American one.
posted by j03 at 5:57 AM on January 4, 2012


... set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB Ram and a 60 GB hard drive.

Wow. That reminds me of a short story I wrote in middle school that told the very exciting adventure of removing the Michelangelo virus from a PC. Including riveting details like the various network drives at UT and my computer's specs.

In my defense, I was in middle school.

The national middle school literary mag that made it its story of the month however, I don't even know.
posted by kmz at 6:01 AM on January 4, 2012


Her relationship with Daniel Craig's character is portrayed as her being inexplicably in love with him or something, and the whole thing was just kind of odd and didn't sit right. It's hard to articulate, but she came across as a lovesick fuck bunny...

Well, that's how she comes off in the books and it's even more inexplicable since the protagonist (AKA Stieg's cock) is forthrightly portrayed as a dumpy middle-aged writer. But honestly, if you are going to go through the trouble of hacking together a potboiler for the beach-reading set you might as well give yourself a fantasy girlfriend while you're at it...

Bottom-line: not good books, but it's interesting to see Stieg cram in as many left-of-center issues into the genre as he can. The books really illuminate how many of these sort of spy/action/adventure novels come and spin some deeply right-wing fantasies.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:14 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


My exposure to TGWTDT was an abridged audiobook from a Guardian/Audible giveaway in 2010. It sounds from the above like that was a good way to go. Rats, I was looking forward to the Fincher version after that amazing trailer.
posted by rory at 6:15 AM on January 4, 2012


Ohhhh there is much more spec porn in the books. Also lots of details about how to tastefully decorate a swedish apartment, Girl Who Played With Fire must contain a hundred pages about buying furnishings.

I like the books, but partially because they break just about every rule about writing and good taste you can imagine.

Guy writes a trilogy of books about how he spends his time generally being awesome, trying to destroy the corrupt Swedish government (who knew), and having casual sex with every single woman he runs into. Books get published and become an international phenomenon.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:16 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mara was good, but Rapace did something really special with the character and was better served by her script. Skygazer had it right with "tiny and spunky, sexy and scary and has this crackling energy." Mara's Salander is more gothy hacker chick from central casting than a real character.

The decision in the Swedish movie to make Blomkvist the smitten one was a good one that felt a lot more realistic. Even the sex scene in the original fit her character more than in the American one.
posted by callmejay at 6:20 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen either movie yet but in the book she is inexplicably in love with the main character who's flattered but not really all that in love with her.
posted by octothorpe at 6:20 AM on January 4, 2012


Seriously, please, please: Never use ONTD links. They're always stolen content. This particular one doesn't even have the decency to include the byline. Never, never, EVER link to ONTD.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:28 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah, I guess my friend misremembered the end of the book, then. Well that sucks, I liked imagining there was an alternate version of the story where she wasn't so weirdly lovesick.
posted by Nattie at 6:34 AM on January 4, 2012


*Shrug* I liked it, and thought it was pretty faithful to the book.

That said, I could never really reconcile the series' feminist message with the fact that Bloomkvist literally slept with every single heterosexual female character in the series except for his sister.
posted by schmod at 6:52 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have never seen the film(s) or read the book, but people keep telling me I just have to. I'm not sure why. Because I use a computer and used to have funny hair and have a dragon tattoo?
And they always think they're the first ones to tell you, right? You and my wife.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:57 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, I could never really reconcile the series' feminist message with the fact that Bloomkvist literally slept with every single heterosexual female character in the series except for his sister.

Are promiscuous men anti-feminist?
posted by Jairus at 7:01 AM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Does anyone know where the article originally came from? Googling for some key phrases from it turns up the exact same piece posted in about a hundred content farms, but it's not clear where it might have been lifted from.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:04 AM on January 4, 2012


I liked the books and both the Swedish and American first movies. Maybe I lack discrimination?
posted by Hobgoblin at 7:06 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, I could never really reconcile the series' feminist message with the fact that Bloomkvist literally slept with every single heterosexual female character in the series except for his sister.

Are promiscuous men anti-feminist?


No, snubbing your sister is. (CUE INCREDIBLY CREEPY RIMSHOT)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:08 AM on January 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


Does anyone know where the article originally came from?

It's by Monika Bartyzel, a terrific writer who has a series called Girls On Film that used to live at Cinematical before Cinematical was offed, and that now lives at Movies.com.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:09 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyone who questioned my usual and immediate dismissal of modern American film needs to read this.

A new American film is one of those things you can assume is bad (i.e., "bad" in a critical mode, not something that is liked or disliked by some population) before you even see it and you will be right 90% of the time.

Man, Fincher has a hard-on for tough chicks he can turn into dirty porn actresses.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:13 AM on January 4, 2012


I can't decide whether I want to read the books or really don't want to, but I enjoyed The Rejectionist's Eleven Thoughts About Lisbeth Salander:
9. Lisbeth Salander is crazy, Lisbeth Salander is broken. Lisbeth Salander doesn't know kindness. Until you come along. You. Yes, you. Lisbeth Salander is waiting for you, to show her the mysteries of her own heart. Lisbeth Salander: incomplete without you. You'll find yourself attracted to her, despite her prickly demeanor; underneath it all, she's really rather pretty, although she doesn't think so. Tell her she's a babe! She'll growl, but secretly she'll be pleased.
posted by Jeanne at 7:13 AM on January 4, 2012 [15 favorites]


I don't quite know why, but I found the Ikea shopping lists very interesting.
posted by ericales at 7:14 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I did not get the sense that she was lovesick in the movie. It seemed quite clear to me that she only knew one way of relating to men, and saw her choice as between being in control of the interaction or being a victim of it. But at the end, Bloomkvist is still sleeping with his friend. Lisbeth was not in control after all. She wasn't a victim either, but in her experience that was the only other option. It's not lovesickness, it's confusion and fear in the face of s

As for the article - one thing really jumped out at me: "Bjurman starts off warm and seemingly logical. In comparison, Lisbeth appears like a rude, antisocial child spurning honest help." That's the whole point. He does present himself that way, that's how he wants to be seen, that's how his colleagues see him. That's why she can't call for help. Who will believe her against him? She has no reason to trust him due to her past experiences, so she is withdrawn and hostile. (And is proven right.) The point is you don't get a cheat sheet telling you who is a monster.
posted by Nothing at 7:17 AM on January 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sorry, that should have been "in the face of a situation she does not have experience with."
posted by Nothing at 7:19 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those books were deeply strange. Why all the shopping lists of what she bought at Ikea? Why so much focus on Mac computers, to the extent book 2 contains what amounts to a two page review. Very oddly written books.

This is absolutely true. I believe that much of the bizarre awfulness of the writing can be chalked up to a poor translation, but the oddly fetishistic focus on Mac and Ikea products suggest that maybe Larsson had as much in common with Lisbeth as he does with Mikael.

Speaking of which, I hadn't heard that story of Larsson witnessing a rape. That definitely explains a lot of the baggage that he visibly brings into the books.

The books are not a great work of art, and I'm very skeptical that they strike a blow for sexism. For what it's worth, I feel like the glamorous frills that Fincher added to film were always there under the surface. Lisbeth was never the perfect feminist heroine that some imagine her to be. Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm a bit dubious that there was much to 'ruin' in this regard.
posted by Edgewise at 7:20 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyone who questioned my usual and immediate dismissal of modern American film needs to read this.

Lisbeth's lovelorn nature was already in the Swedish books. I can't vouch for the Fincher movie, but I think this is a case of more people realizing that Lisbeth Salander wasn't the feminist icon she'd been sold as.

Also, Sturgeon's Law applies to film in general. Don't judge everyone else's cinema just by what trickles abroad. Once you see a shitty French or Chinese film which, for excellent reasons, was never promoted outside of those countries, you'll realize why Hollywood earns a mint the whole world 'round.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


After what they did to Tank Girl, I don't know what anyone was expecting. At least with Stieg Larsson they're not bastardising anything thoughtful or realistic.
posted by Segundus at 7:32 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Didn't watch the movie, 50 pages left in the first book...

Personally, I wouldn't say that Lisbeth was actually "in love" with Blomkvist.

I mean that's a pretty strong emotion for someone who seems to be pretty-much closed up to the world. Unless of course things change in the last 50 pages or in the next set of books.

Up to where I am at, I would say that she is quite fascinated by him, fond, at best.

That being said, I am quite disappointed that the story took this cutesy, somewhat romantic turn. Blomkvist's character is starting to remind me of Robert Langon's character (DaVinci code, etc.) - strong and silent, modest, and irresistible to all women everywhere, turning even the most intelligent, interesting and powerful ones into a giggling high-school teenybopper.

At the beginning, Salander seemed to view everyone as objects or barriers, whether they were nice to her or not. And then Blomkvist, with his charm, seemed to do everything right and within a matter of weeks, she went from being a lone wolf to a suburbian housewife.

A fun read, nonetheless, and I'll probably read it again in a few years. Don't know if I'll get the other two in the series, though.
posted by bitteroldman at 7:41 AM on January 4, 2012


After what they did to Tank Girl, I don't know what anyone was expecting. At least with Stieg Larsson they're not bastardising anything thoughtful or realistic.

'They'?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:44 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Switched out the link.]
posted by cortex at 7:47 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well in the Stiegverse it makes complete sense she becomes obsessive or falls in love with Blomkvist.

Blomkvist is completely and totally accepting. Everyone in her life has treated her as a mental defective or a criminal. Blomquist straight up says "you seem fine to me". Of course after a lifetime of being treated "less than" you will react positively to someone who treats you as an equal.

Now I gotta read the damn thing again to see if I missed anything.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:49 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read the first book recently and yeah, it's an odd piece of writing. It was like Larsson made a running leap for professional caliber novelist but didn't quite make it. There were elements that were strong and interesting, but plenty of just amateur missteps. It's always embarrassing when an author interjects their tastes awkwardly into their stories (the Mac stuff, the popular mystery novels Blomkvist is always reading, etc.). That's just kind of pathetic, but yes, his real crime is sabotaging Salander's character. She does start off as an off-putting, broken but interesting mess of a character who seems destined to alienate anyone she comes into contact with, but no, the author surrogate has to come in and tame her. Larsson just wasn't disciplined enough of a writer to let it alone, couldn't pry his own fantasies and issues out of his novel, which ultimately soured me on it. The book wasn't bad, but man it wasn't good either, probably not worth enduring that rape scene.

Tangentially, I listened to an interview on NPR with Rooney Mara and the interviewer asked how she handled such a brutal project and also asked about watching the film with her parents. Mara kind of blew it off, but it made me feel so squeamish thinking about that scenario, and mostly because I knew that Fincher's movie could never be anything but 'pretty good', certainly never anything like great cinema. Having your parents watch your character get anally raped in a likely mediocre film. Yipes. I guess that's the life of an actor.
posted by picea at 8:23 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those books were deeply strange. Why all the shopping lists of what she bought at Ikea? Why so much focus on Mac computers, to the extent book 2 contains what amounts to a two page review. Very oddly written books.

To be fair, I've heard the same thing said of Bret Easton Ellis ("Why so much focus on skin cream and Genesis?") when in fact those things are a necessary part of the theme.

I assume we've lost something in translation (but maybe it's irritating in Swedish, too).
posted by coolguymichael at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2012


Blomkvist is completely and totally accepting. Everyone in her life has treated her as a mental defective or a criminal. Blomquist straight up says "you seem fine to me". Of course after a lifetime of being treated "less than" you will react positively to someone who treats you as an equal.

I don't know. Between her hacker friends, Mimi, the boxer, her boss at the security firm, and her guardian, there are a number of people who do not treat her as either a mental defective or criminal. She slept with Blomkvist because people always want to sleep with the Mary-Sue.
posted by theclaw at 8:39 AM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


People always want to sleep with my Mary-Sues, too!
posted by shakespeherian at 8:44 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mimi doesn't happen till the second book. The boss has made her a special project and she even questions why he is trying so hard to help her , yeah there is "Plague" the guy she bought the PowerBook from but nobody sleeps with the computer nerd. Anyway he is part of her "criminal" life, the life she hates.

You are right that if she is going to sleep with anyone it is going to be Blomkvist,since he is the main character.

when in fact those things are a necessary part of the theme.

That may be true of a competent writer. You could argue that the extended Ikea shopping in book 2 was symbolic of her transformation ( she transforms and empty apartment as she transforms herself yadda yadda). I don't think the random mac specs were part of the theme though.

I think Larsson didn't know what not to write.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:56 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


the interviewer asked how she handled [...] watching the film with her parents. [I]t made me feel so squeamish thinking about that scenario

Goddamn it, you mean to tell me that I seriously can't find an unedited version of George C Scott in the theater in Hardcore anymore!? I was gonna post it as "exclusive footage of Mr. Rooney at the film's premiere" but the only version of the scene I can find are lazy "mashups" with JACK AND JILL and shit like that. Favorites denied.

posted by Ian A.T. at 9:06 AM on January 4, 2012


I liked the books, and the Swedish movies, and I'll probably see the American ones sooner or later, but I'm not sure that I will read/watch any of 'em twice.
posted by box at 9:18 AM on January 4, 2012


Guy writes a trilogy of books about how he spends his time generally being awesome

I don't know how exaggerated it is, but he seemed like a pretty awesome guy
posted by Hoopo at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, he kinda is pretty awesome. You gotta admit it is a bit distasteful to write 3 whole books about how awesome you are though.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


strange that; we don't think that when people write books about themselves being scumbags.
posted by Hoopo at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


it struck me quite forcefully by the end of the second that Lisbeth Salander spends a lot of time naked and/or being tortured.

There are quite a few conclusions one could come to about this and I haven't really decided between them yet


One conclusion about the first two Swedish films is that they had different directors. It's been a while since I watched, but a lot of people (myself included) thought the second director played more up on the idea that "if I show a lot of gratuitous nudity, people will like it more". A bit, in my opinion, against the theme of the books / feminism / etc.
posted by inigo2 at 10:29 AM on January 4, 2012


I don't want to defend the movie, because I agree that it was popcorn cinema, and (outside of Fincher's technical skill as a director) isn't much more than average.

The main thing that I took from it was that there are two different sides presented throughout, there's 'light Sweden' which is modern, liberal, comfortable and bright, and there's 'dark Sweden' which is racist, sexist, deviant, and exploitative. When Blomkvist goes to visit the old nazi this much is said: at least he's honest about which side he's on. The villain of the book is dark Sweden masquerading behind the Ikea furniture of light Sweden.

Blomkvist and Lisbeth are the two protagonists living on either side of the divide.

Blomkvist is a crusader against dark Sweden, who champions the good liberal causes, is in a fulfilling open relationship, and who has a balanced and loving personal life in a modern, well-lit flat, and challenges the powers that be through his work as a professional journalist.

Lisbeth (because of her troubled past) lives in the midst of the dark side of Sweden. She's makes her money through stealing information, hangs out in seedy night clubs, lives in a decaying, grungy tenement, and is exploited by the powers that be because of her life on the fringe.

In addition to changing Salander's character, the movie also changes Blomkvist. Notice that the 'kalle' backstory is dropped. Blomkvist is, in fact, mostly seen as being incompetent. The book spent roughly a chapter and a half explaining how Blomkvist was tricked by Wennerström, but in the movie it's brushed aside with a few lines of dialog. This makes him look foolish, and even more so when his departure from the magazine is also stripped of the detailed explanation that it was given in the book.

Blomkvist doesn't really do that much to solve the case (which I'm pretty sure is different from the books). His daughter gives him the first break, and then Salander does the rest. They both reach the same conclusion, but they do it independently (as in: Salander could've done the same work just as well by herself). Blomkvist then foolishly goes up to the mansion by himself, and has to be rescued by Salander. Salander then saves Blomkvist AGAIN by releasing the hacked information on Wennerström.

Even if Salander is more vulnerable, more sexual, and less alien than in the Swedish version of the movie, she's definitely the competent, protective character in the Mikael/Lisbeth relationship.

Maybe instead of reading the posters with her half naked, being embraced by Daniel Craig as a sign of possession we could instead read it as her standing protectively in front of him as he drapes his arm around her shoulder. Lisbeth is also the person who initiates all of the sex (so far as I can remember) in the relationship. In effect she seduces Blomkvist, she acts as his protector, and then she seeks to continue the relationship by offering him a gift.

The end scene of the movie, after the 30 minutes or so of anticlimax following the denouement of the murder mystery, makes me think that this was less a movie about sexual violence (and was probably worse for that, since apparently the Swedish films were better) and more about the tension between the mainstream and the underbelly (or the light and dark) sides of modern culture. For Lisbeth, Blomkvist represents the mainstream, and something that she desires (a nice apartment, a stable relationship, and a steady job). She saves Blomkvist's life (both literally and financially) but for him she's just a passing fancy, just like her troubled past and alien appearance will always keep her out of mainstream society until it deigns her useful enough to pay attention to.

The problem is that this isn't what the book was about (or at least not really) which makes all of the sexual politics not make very much sense. It cheapens the rape scene, because it seems like the rape is nothing more than mechanical justification for Lisbeth to have motivation to join with Blomkvist when he comes to her with the promise of tracking down a killer of women. I would rather have seen Fincher do his own cyberpunk murder mystery instead of adapting this one, which was never very good, in my opinion, and always pretended towards feminism and sexual equality as a way to give an intellectual gloss to a salacious plot.
posted by codacorolla at 10:40 AM on January 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm glad this was reposted. I enjoyed reading it the other day when LJ had a brain fart.

I agree with codacorolla that the dark Sweden/light Sweden aspects of the film were the most interesting. And like other people here, I was disturbed by how sexualized the rape of Lisbeth was, contrasted to the sheer (and more realistic) horror of the revenge rape. This blog post from Jim C. Hinse on writing rape seems relevant (I was going to post it on its own, but I think it's better served as a post here).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:04 AM on January 4, 2012


Oh please...if everyone's going to complain about Lisbeth being dialed up to 11 on the sexy scale, you should also complain about Blomkvist being dialed up to at least 11 as well. Yeah lets see, Swedish version, dumpy Michael Nyqvist, American version, who was that? oh yeah Daniel Craig (Be warned that's Casino Royale 007-Craig rising from the ocean water).

So in Fincher's version you have two sexy promiscuous people meeting under stressful circumstances...and they knock boots...shocking, postively shocking.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2012


(Hines, rather.)

I don't care that Lisbeth was sexy. I care that her rape seemed to be filmed in a kinda porny way, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2012


Ad hominem: "Why all the shopping lists of what she bought at Ikea? Why so much focus on Mac computers, to the extent book 2 contains what amounts to a two page review."

To write off all of his furniture and the new computer as business related expenses?
Alternately "listen honey, I know the budget is tight but I think if you skip a few day-spa visits we can get this stuff I want which I totally need as research for my book you know".
posted by idiopath at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


filmed in a kinda porny way

I found it to be more cringe inducing and disgusting. Out of curiosity did you Herzog's Bad Lieutenant? I thought the rape scene in that movie was much more "porny".
posted by Chekhovian at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2012


I'm always a bit amazed that these books are taken seriously. The characters are too obviously comic book characters. Lisbeth is for all intents and purposes Batman/Batwoman with a stronger sexual component. Her father is a classic Nazi villain ala Captain America's Red Skull right down to the super soldier experiments.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:40 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


...30 minutes or so of anticlimax following the denouement of the murder mystery...

I know, right? I found the movie kind of torture porn-y, but I can see the point of that sort of thing, much as I dislike it. Wandering around in a tedious subplot for forty minutes after your film has ended, though, is unforgivable.
posted by steambadger at 11:42 AM on January 4, 2012


I mean you know that comic books are taken seriously too, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:43 AM on January 4, 2012


I found it to be more cringe inducing and disgusting. Out of curiosity did you Herzog's Bad Lieutenant? I thought the rape scene in that movie was much more "porny".

Haven't seen. I've only seen the US movie once, mind you, but I can't help but think immediately to the way each scene was filmed. For much of the rape, we're viewing it from roughly the camera angle of the camera from her bag, which means that we see her backside writhing against the bed. During the revenge rape scene, we're at eye level with the victim. Of course, maybe some of this does come down to how typically attractive the actress is, not only as only as something that contrasts with her character, but in the fact that we see her basely objectified--she's thin, white, normal looking under all that goth surfacing. Daniel Craig, no matter how attractive, is never objectified by the camera or the text in the same way. Neither is her guardian, even though he faces an identical assault.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2012


What I find funny is that people say that the American version of the film is much closer to the book than the Swedish version and at the same time, as it seems to me, people are complaining that the American movie is worse than the Swedish one because they changed too much stuff including how the main character reacts to things. So basically people are complaining that the American version is worse because it's closer to the original?
posted by I-baLL at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's like imagine if someone remade The Godfather and included all the stuff about how Sonny had a giant penis.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


What I find funny is that people say that the American version of the film is much closer to the book than the Swedish version and at the same time, as it seems to me, people are complaining that the American movie is worse than the Swedish one because they changed too much stuff including how the main character reacts to things. So basically people are complaining that the American version is worse because it's closer to the original?

Probably. People had given those books a pass for a while, but now that the hype is dying down, and now that there's something as uncool as a Hollywood re-adaptation floating around, more people are noticing the seams.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:58 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's funny -- I can't speak to the American film, which I haven't seen, but Monika's piece has a far more charitable recollection of Lisbeth from the books than I have. I always considered her slightly condescended to in a sense, in that she was strong, yes, but she was also unable to resist him, and I have to say, I don't think suggesting she's in romantic pursuit of him at the end of the first book is invented at all. The conclusion of the first book certainly suggests she is interested in some kind of relationship with him and is sort of ... not heartbroken, but certainly very "THIS is why I don't have feelings!" about finding him with his ex. (Or non-ex, or whatever she is.)

I think Lisbeth is a character on whom a lot was and is projected, but I'm not sure the actual Lisbeth of the books can quite stand up to what's often argued about her groundbreaking nature. I enjoyed the books, but the Blomqvist "I enchant the women of the world with my magic masculine powers whether I'm trying to or not" did become kind of a ridiculous running theme, from which Lisbeth was not an exception.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2012


roughly the camera angle of the camera from her bag...we're at eye level with the victim

I think both of the director's choices here were good. The camera bag perspective establishes the viewer as outside the scene, watching this thing occur (maybe that's what you mean by "porny"). But I think rather the effect of that view is to make the audience share in the helplessness. The eye level view show's us Lisbeth's power over the bad guy, and directs sympathy toward her. In retrospect, damn good directing.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:21 PM on January 4, 2012


I disagree, actually. By placing the camera outside the scene and behind the rapist, we're essentially placed in his shoes in our viewing of her. Which is exactly what happens in most porn, which is I think why it felt that way to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:32 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"So basically people are complaining that the American version is worse because it's closer to the original?"

Given how truly awful the books were ... makes perfect sense to me.
posted by kyrademon at 12:43 PM on January 4, 2012


Yeah, I blazed through the first book, and slogged through the second, and then swore off the third. It may be the translation, or the unfinished nature of the whole thing, but the murder mystery really is what carries the first book, and once you start trying to get to deeper readings it just gets worse and worse.
posted by codacorolla at 12:51 PM on January 4, 2012


PhoBWanKenobi: Most porn that I've seen isn't filmed that way.
posted by I-baLL at 12:57 PM on January 4, 2012


This author gives Stieg Larsson and the original movie way too much credit. The ass-kicking waif (Kill Bill, Tomb Raider, etc) is a cliche and fraudulent embodiment of female empowerment. A nerd sexual fantasy disingenuously posing (and often gullible accepted) as a feminist statement.

I mean how shameless was it for Larsson to have the Salander character get all horny for his Blomkvist persona? Ooh, a doughy, middle-aged journalist... mah gay is cured! (At least Tarantino didn't introduce some indie director character in Kill Bill, so The Bride could have a hot sex scene.)

The original title should have been 'Men Who Like Women (That Are 20 Years Younger)'.
posted by dgaicun at 1:20 PM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: Most porn that I've seen isn't filmed that way.

Where we're placed in the POV of the guy, who we mostly don't see? (well, except his disembodied genitals?) We must have seen different porn then.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:23 PM on January 4, 2012


Fincher Fail
posted by New England Cultist at 1:35 PM on January 4, 2012


When you've watched the sheer variety of porn that I have it's hard to generalise. Also one of the dangers of being well-read.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:38 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The ass-kicking waif (Kill Bill, Tomb Raider, etc) is a cliche and fraudulent embodiment of female empowerment.

I don't think she's really in this genre. She gets her own ass kicked plenty of times - she's not some super-strong ninja in the style of Lara Croft. Which doesn't mean she isn't wish fulfillment bullshit, because - well - she is.
posted by Summer at 1:52 PM on January 4, 2012


This author gives Stieg Larsson and the original movie way too much credit. The ass-kicking waif (Kill Bill, Tomb Raider, etc) is a cliche and fraudulent embodiment of female empowerment.

I wouldn't claim this story is high art or anything, but if anything I don't think you're giving Larsson enough credit. I mean, the guy trained a unit of female revolutionary guerillas to use grenade launchers in Eritrea in the 1970s so I don't think "ass-kicking embodiment of female empowerment" is a fair characterization here, nor is it fraudulent. Cliche? Maybe but I don't think Lisbeth is an "ass-kicking waif" of the same sort as Lara Croft or Beatrix Kiddo. She's just violent and in a pretty bad story.
posted by Hoopo at 2:03 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Bride from Kill Bill ain't a waif.

Let's trade her for River Tam, in my Fantasy Ass-Kicking Waif League.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean how shameless was it for Larsson to have the Salander character get all horny for his Blomkvist persona?

One of the reasons why I stopped reading contemporary thrillers is that the grizzled male hero always ends up bedding the beautiful and younger token female, even when he's a half-mute, alcoholic and violent sociopath who bathes once a year. The Millenium books play with that trope, but the dynamics of the relation between Salander and Blomkvist is far more interesting than in most thrillers. Lisbeth being the central character and the damaged one, one could even say that the trope is partly inverted or at least subverted.
posted by elgilito at 2:10 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


mah gay is cured!

I think you missed the fact that Salander's sexuality is never once defined in terms of either gay or bisexual.
posted by New England Cultist at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mara Rooney does a much better job of playing a 90lb androgynous waif who looks like a victim, as she is described in the book. The girl in the Swedish movies, while good, looks tough as nails at first glance and can probably benchpress more then me.

As far as over sexualized goes, it was pretty dead on to the book.

In order she willingly sleeps with in 3 books: Miriam,Mikael(she is totally love sick with him), she thinks about sleeping Dragan, some random guy when she takes all Wennerstrom's money, some American stranger when she's horny,some teenage boy in the Caribbean, I think that's it. She also propositions Mikael's sister at one point.
posted by straight_razor at 2:32 PM on January 4, 2012


I bought the Swedish trilogy on a whim and have to say they aren't my cup of tea at all, but I did get a shiver up my spine at the end of the first film when Lisbeth jumps on her motorcycle and zips off to save the day (and naturally I cheered when she sorted out her legal guardian earlier in the film). I think she's a great character but, boy, the films themselves? Geh. Haven't read the books so I don't know how "true" she is to the original, though.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:38 PM on January 4, 2012


Yeah despite the feminist rhetoric I found the book deeply creepy, voyeuristic and imho sexist as well. The wish fulfillment is intense - Blomqvist is inexplicably irresistible to every woman in the book and the amount of attention Larson lovingly lavishes on the rape scenes was really creepy to me.

The villain was just ridiculous too, and really highlighted to me what he was most interested in. As always when it comes to these serial-killer type things, my lament at the end was, "Why couldn't it just have been fraud?". There's plenty of drama in mundane crime without the need for eye-ball fucking dungeon maniacs etc.
posted by smoke at 2:42 PM on January 4, 2012


There's plenty of drama in mundane crime without the need for eye-ball fucking dungeon maniacs etc.

The books were not about mundane crime, were they?
posted by New England Cultist at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2012


Smoke, you'd probably like The Mundane Crime Trilogy by Tråkig Gäspning.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:52 PM on January 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Blomkvist is basically a Swedish George Clooney.
posted by whoaali at 5:35 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think his head bobbles as much. Whenever I see George Clooney on screen all I can think of is when he was on ER and was literally a human bobblehead.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:40 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I put the Millennium trilogy in the same category as Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Dan Brown novels - not in terms of literary quality, but in the way that they've managed to strike some sort of incredible chord in a vast audience for reasons that are clearly unrelated to "literary quality" as conventionally defined.

What made the books enjoyable its just the obvious glee with which Larsson was writing. Seriously, its easy to tell when someone's writing a book because they just fucking enjoy writing and they're having fun and it flows. Especially when they're writing about something that they care about, expressing views that they hold deeply - that particular mix of joy and honesty tends to jolt through the text in a way that easily overwhelms literary flaws, even serious ones. Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first book I ever read that was clearly in this category (also a massive international bestseller in its time).

Anyway, I was glad this adaptation came out as well as it did. And other issues with the film nonwithstanding, Fincher kind of won my heart for having Martin Vanger use Enya for his torture-people-to-death background music.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:41 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


What struck me about Lisbeth as I was reading the books (and watching the Swedish movies, I haven't seen the US version yet) was that she was essentially another stand-in for Larsson. Sure, Blomkvist is the obvious alter ego, but Salander is such a fantasy of what a guy might want to be like as a woman, that I think she qualifies as another stand-in. She may be a "complex" character, but she isn't complex. Her plot is essentially a very bloody revenge fantasy. Her overall reaction to the abuse she's experienced is to become really cool. In other words, all of her reactions result in strong and assertive and desired activities that make her various abuses seem less severe than they were. Her actions are always righteous as a result, her attitude is always justified. She doesn't (really) suffer from her abuse in the way that many (most) abuse survivors suffer. She doesn't lose agency. This is a woman who literally comes back from the dead to reek havoc. All while being polyvalently sexy and mysterious.

It isn't that I don't think there are women who are like that, and that they aren't awesome, but I do think they represent only one very narrow possibility, and that it's a particularly attractive one to men. It's the type of woman men fantasize being in response to rape and other abuses, because it's the type of man men fantasize being in response to rape and other abuses. I certainly didn't feel like Salander was a serious representation of a woman dealing with former abuses, nor did I feel like the books were particularly radical as "feminist" fiction. By far the most radical thing Larsson did was make Salander able to handle her own revenge without the dispensation of a man.

When Salander and Blomkvist slept together there was something really disturbingly authorially narcissistic about the whole affair.
posted by OmieWise at 4:58 AM on January 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm so torn. I've avoided reading the books, because they sound so unpleasant and squicky, but now I kind of want to read them, because they sound so ripe for obsessive pop-culture analysis!
Bottom-line: not good books, but it's interesting to see Stieg cram in as many left-of-center issues into the genre as he can. The books really illuminate how many of these sort of spy/action/adventure novels come and spin some deeply right-wing fantasies.
I don't read very many spy/action/adventure novels, but I would actually say that the mystery genre skews left right now. (And that's interesting, because I think the conventional way of thinking about that genre is that it's essentially conservative. That might just be Agatha Christie's tragic influence, but there's also this idea that it's about the social order being threatened and then restored, and I don't think that's really what goes on in contemporary crime fiction.) I think that genre has become the place where people write fiction about social problems: it's sort of the one place where you can get away with the modern "Condition of England" (or Sweden or Chicago or whatever) novel. Crime fiction is less about restoring the social order than about exposing the subtle, nefarious workings of power and how ordinary people get hurt by those power structures.
posted by craichead at 7:05 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


they've managed to strike some sort of incredible chord in a vast audience for reasons that are clearly unrelated to "literary quality" as conventionally defined

I'm not sure if "literary quality" has ever been something that strikes a chord with a vast audience. Most of the books of "literary quality" I've read have been because I had to. They're often dreadfully boring. People who read as a diversion are going to gravitate to cheap paperback stuff like Dan Brown.
posted by Hoopo at 9:10 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


OmieWise: "comes back from the dead to reek"

It's hard to find a hypoallergenic underarm deodorant that works posthumously.
posted by idiopath at 5:40 PM on January 6, 2012


Hah! I knew that looked wrong. I swear I'm getting worse at spelling and grammar as I age.
posted by OmieWise at 7:57 AM on January 8, 2012


Half In the Bag review.
posted by codacorolla at 8:05 AM on January 8, 2012


Man, I've been watching old Siskel and Ebert episodes lately and that review really makes me appreciate how interesting S&E made it to watch two guys sitting around talking about movies. There might be some astute observations in there, but it takes the Half in the Bag guys so long to tease out a single point.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:25 AM on January 8, 2012


David Fincher Refuses to Cut 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' India Release Canceled
posted by homunculus at 2:35 PM on January 29, 2012


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