Saturday, July 31, 2010

Love: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Stieg Larsson's worldwide phenomenon isn't just important because of it's financial impact, but because of what it does for film characters and women everywhere. I have yet to read the books, but Director Daniel Alfredson deserves all the credit in the world for not sexualizing the violence or the heroine, never reducing her power into a shadow in the ways that American directors tend to (and very well might in the American remakes of the Swedish trilogy) all the while somehow creating an engaging mainstream thriller. Alfredson gives Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) the respect she deserves, making The Girl Who Played With Fire excellent sequel while cementing Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander into the hearts and minds of everyone out there, once again giving us a female character we can be proud of.
In this second installment of the Millenium Trilogy, Lisbeth Salander, recently returned from abroad with arms full of cash and purchases from IKEA, finds herself in trouble, this time unjustly accused of a triple murder. On the lamb in a high end Stokholm apartment, she again finds herself working with famed reporter and one time lover, Mikael Blomkvist, this time through her hacking into his computer, a one on one meeting between the two never quite occurring. As they did before, the geniuses Blomkvist and Salander fight the good fight, beat up some people, get beat up, and make some love as everything slowly goes to hell.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is not as good as The Girl With Dragon Tattoo. It's editing isn't as tight, and despite the lack of Nazis, many of the plot elements take on a mystical and unbelievable turn (the main bad guy is a six foot + blonde German who can't feel pain due to a genetic disorder, and rambles around Sweden like Frankenstein) while Lisbeth should have been dead after all the stuff that happens to her (SPOILER! most notably when she digs her way out of a grave with her cell phone after being shot multiple times and buried alive). Everybody seems to go it alone in the stupidest of ways, making you want to scream "Will you just call some back-up!" at the screen. The final plot twists, while satisfying, often feel like a stretch. A willingness to suspend your disbelief is mandatory here, which may be a bit of shock to those coming fresh off Dragon which seemed to make a concerted effort to make even it's craziest moments into something totally believable. Luckily, the Swedish setting feels slick to the untrained American eye still won over by bright city lights, minimalist furniture, Nordic club music, and historic backdrops.
But I don't care about any of those problems because I care so much about Mikael and Lisbeth. Noomi Rapace is, as per usual, absolutely incredible. She kicks ass, she shows her vulnerability, she screws her lesbian girlfriend, she sets up her IKEA kitchen, and never once leaves the audience questioning whether or not Lisbeth is an overblown creation, even in those moments that she should be. Rapace is decidedly un-Hollywood and chameleon like, as if her whole form actually shape-shifts when she walks on screen. No one, ever again, will ever be the true Lisbeth Salander (the rumor of Scarlett Johansson being cast in the American version gives me nightmares!). Rapace paints an accurate and full portrait that's never a stereotype, allowing the depth to radiate out of her in the way that it does with a real person you're just getting to know. You can't help but care deeply about what happens to her, not just because she's been through some horrible things and deserves better, but because you fall in love with her.

Michael Nyqvist does the same with Blomkvist (even if his character seems like it would be easier to pull off), allowing his beguiling honesty to become real without feeling preachy or too good to be true. Their relationship is the reason to watch the movie, especially as they volley off one another without meeting, the longing to be in each others' presence both not sexual or the focal point between them, but a raw and subtle emotion underneath the fabric of everything else. They have such mutual respect and understanding of each other despite their differences that not only makes them total equals, but also one of the best couples ever portrayed on screen. SPOILER! When Mikeal pulls Lisbeth's body to safety after she's been nearly killed at the end of it all and says "I'm here," the relief is so great it's an incredible moment, much more justifying and authentic than what we're usually given in Hollywood these days.
Like its predecessor, The Girl Who Played With Fire is an incredibly violent, and often sexual film. But in these unique cases, there is a true agony in the violence. The men raping the women are not attractive, but demons, spit dripping from their wrinkled mouths as their fat bellies slap against the young women's backs. People are brutally hit and shot down in gritty ways that retain the horror without making it stylish or arousing in the way that many horror/thriller movies arguably do. There is no voyeuristic joy to be found here. I am a hard core feminist, and both Lisbeth and Mikeal's characters may be the most important figures to step on the screen ever. Although the violence against Lisbeth is extreme, in many ways it represents the violence and horrible attitudes about women that occur everyday. The intense disgust that pervades the film can only help to change these attitudes, especially considering how their popularity has extended their reach to more unlikely audiences. In one particular scene, Lisbeth interrogates a man that raped a prostitute. She asks him why he did it and he replies, "She was so beautiful, I just wanted her," the subtle implication of "she had it coming," clear in his words. Lisbeth asks him why that gives him the right to tie her up and take her, and he has no answer. It's not a sanctimonius moment, the look in Lisbeth's eyes the knowledge of what's been done to her filling in the emotion where no words could.
 Blomkvist is an equally important character, a man that (reportedly like Larsson himself) is actively trying to right the wrongs against women and is brought to tears when he discovers the horrible truth about what has happened to Lisbeth and the others. More importantly, even though the other characters love to tell us how ugly Lisbeth is (she, of course, is a beautiful woman, just unconventionally so) and how insane and replusive she is, Mikeal respects and loves her in an entirely true way, just as she is. It is that respect from a male that in many ways goes even further than her kung fu moves and surly attitude to changing things once and for all.

I know why American Hollywood is going to remake these excellent Swedish thrillers, the foreign films and books raking in a million dollars a minute. But the remakes, so soon after the release of these excellent films can only cheapen their quality, their message, and their characters. I don't think its possible to pull the same sincerity of Noomi Rapace out of a seasoned Hollywood actress. I hope I'm proven wrong, but let's face it, I'm probably right.

and a 1/4 for being a gamechanger!

Want more? Read Wilde.Dash's review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

1 comment:

  1. Good effort.According to me the main pleasure in The Girl Who Played With Fire is in spending more time with the characters who made such a vivid impression in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.



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