Tuesday, September 6, 2011

LISBETH SALANDER: THE WOMAN WHO HATES MEN WHO HATES WOMEN AND MY OBSESSION OVER THE MILLENIUM TRILOGY

I had watched a few too many bad films in a row one day. A lot of them were subtitled, which isn't unusual for me, but even I get a little exhausted after watching too many foreign films in a row. However, I didn't have anything else to watch that week to fall asleep to, and be able to at least listen without my eyes being open. I thought, I'll watch this one, which was due back at the library the earliest. It was about 1:30am, and I needed to get up in the morning. I thought, I'll start watching it while I finish everything else I need to do online, (I watch a lot of movies on my computer if I can) and then after about twenty minutes, I'll pause it and go to sleep, maybe finish it in the morning it I can. Not a very unusual practice for me. The movie was "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and despite my eyes exhausted from reading subtitles, and that it was the middle of night, and that I was tired already, I could not turn away from this film. Great movies have a way of getting us sucked into them in a way that frankly nothing else can possible matter at that moment. I once spent a week doing nothing but watching "Casablanca," again and again and again.... I must have watched it twenty times that week. Here though was a movie that sucked me in using both the most traditional of storytelling techniques, combines with the intensity of a modern psychological thriller that I hadn't seen done as well before. And yet something was different. There was a character that didn't belong here, and yet, there she was. She didn't look like anybody else, didn't fit in at all in fact. She behaved oddly. She dressed like an extreme version of most of my goth friends, complete with piercings and a very powerful dragon tattoo on her back. I couldn't tell what the character was ever thinking, except for possibly a general dislike of whomever she happened to run across. This was what made her so fascinating, the mysteriousness of her. She rarely talked more than she had to, and never gave an explanation for her actions or behaviors, and she certainly never talked about her past. She had an intensity that could freeze the most powerful of people in their tracks, and yet, she's maybe 90 lbs. soaking wet.

The film made my Top Ten list last year; I ranked it #2 behind "The Social Network." The movie had two sequels, "The Girl who Played with Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," all of which were made consecutively, and released in the U.S. in the same year. They were based on a trio of worldwide bestselling novels by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish author that has a background similar to the male protagonist of his books, the journalist Mickael Blomkvist. I finished the three films, all of which I gave five stars too, and then did something I rarely do. I went and read the books. I don't read novels, generally. I read a lot actually. Articles online mostly, I read a couple columns and blogs on a regular basis, and a few local periodicals, and I'll occasionally read a book if it's an autobiography of someone I admire, and a couple pundits. I read scripts and plays and other texts for work as well, but I rarely read something, especially a piece of fiction for fun. I get more enjoyment watching movies for that. I have an exact audio-visual learning style, so if I see something and hear it at the same time, I usually get it instantly, so film and television is very much a perfect art form for me. If there is a movie that's based on a book that I enjoy enough, I will sometimes go and then find the book. Recently, "I've done that for the movies, "Sideways," "No Country for Old Men," and "Where the Truth Lies...", all of which I recommend as much as the movie that were adapted from them. I don't mention it too often, because that's often work-related too. As a screenwriter, I have to study the ways some screenplays were adapted. Which were more literal, which were changed drastically and why. This is why I think it's better to watch the movie first, then read the book. I know that's not the typical perspective of that position you usually hear, but I think reading a book first can often hinder one's perspective of the movie. Things that might play better in books are often completely inappropriate and visually hard-to-adapt on a screen. They are two different mediums, and comparing the two, is generally something I try not to do for that reason. I think books give us a few too many expectations of a movie, that often can't be delivered upon. While if I see the movie first, then go back to the book, I can see more clearly view how they chose to change something, or add something, or not include something, and usually I can tell why, and without being devoted to a section that might be powerful and memorable in the book. However, if I'm honest with myself, that wasn't the reason I went to read these Stieg Larsson novels. I read them, because I wanted to learn more about Lisbeth Salander.

The books give us slightly more, but not much. They are entertaining to read though. They might not greatest pieces of literature ever created, but when I'm reading something, I don't always want to be struggling over analyzing ever line of Proust or whomever. They were like the movie. Fascinating, unpredictable, and the more I learned about Lisbeth Salander, it seemed the less I knew. I got to hear some of those thoughts of hers that I couldn't read, and they didn't shine a big light on her, or prove to be some other key that helps us to understand more, instead she became more enigmatic than ever, and that just made her all the more interesting.

What do we know of her. Her past involves vague references to time spent in an insane asylum when she was a child. She has a mother, who's at a nursing home and seems a little out it. She has experience a lifetime of abuse from men, most of which, even she doesn't begin to contemplate the depths of it, and the disturbing reasons why. (And continues to experience it.) She no trust in the Police, Psychiatrists, Government, or anybody in authority, and refuses to even utter a word to them, even if she's aware of the benefits it could get her. Yet, she has a photographic memory, and is a world-renowned computer hacker and is a well-respected part-time employee of a security company, that seems to allow her to get away with everything from dress code violations, to her work days sometimes being a year apart from each other, without explanation. She hates men, but she has sex with both men and women, and they all want to be closer to her than she wishes to be close to them, intimately, physically, and with men especially, abusively. She's to some extent a sadist, not just in her many piercings, but in her unusual willingness to place herself in dangerous and harmful situations, physically, and sexually, yet she has the ingenuity to get out of the most precarious of positions. She can destroy powerful people with a stroke of a key, yet has some kind of unimpreachable code that she lives by. One where she is the ultimate decider in other's fates. You can attack her with bullets and beatings that would slay giants, and she will survive and continue fighting. She's a trained kickboxer, and when all else seems to fail, she's a master of disguise, and can change her identity and appearance at a moment's notice, or just because she doesn't want to be found. And she eats a lot of something called "Billy's Pan Pizza."

Larsson created a character so distinct and versatile, that he can put her anywhere, and he does. In "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which is the American title of the book, (and it's a better title than the original Swedish title, which translated correctly is "Men Who Hate Women." [It is not an inaccurate title]) she gets herself involved, by hacking into Kalle Blomkvist's computer (Mickael's nickname) in what essentially is a mystery that's straight out of Agatha Christie. There's an island connected to the rest of the world only by a bridge, and one day when the bridge was out of service, one person mysteriously disappeared, and was probably killed by one of forty people who were on the island that day. It happened forty years ago, and most of the suspects are long dead, and everyone has a motive. In "The Girl who Played with Fire," her past comes back to haunt her, and she is placed in the Hitchcockian of storylines, the innocent man (or in this case woman) is accused of murder, and everybody is trying to find her. Blomkvist tries to help her, and in the process, trying to find the real killer, which involves opening a lot of Pandora's boxes. And, if those weren't old standby formulas, in "The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," she's the accused on trial for her life, in a courtroom drama, where all will be revealed, and eventually, like every episode of "Perry Mason," except for one, the real criminal will be testifying, and eventually revealed through evidence, his own oversized ego, bringing him down, and a skilled attorney that everybody assumes is out of her league.

The point being, how many other characters do you know that can be placed in so many different situations, plots, and the most cliched of storytelling devices, all believably, or at least entertainingly? Not that many, and she could have passed dozens more different ones, spanning the world essentially. A modern-day James Bond, Hercule Poiret, Jason Bourne, Tom Ripley, or some combination of all of them, and maybe a few more. She can continue evolving, and still remain a mystery as the more people she meets and begrudgingly befriends, the more layers they'll try to pull just to get to her, and she'll still remain one of the most interesting and enigmatic characters ever created in literature, books and movies!

Shortly after he turned in the manuscripts of the books in the Millenium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson died of a heart attack at age 50. The novels were published posthumously. According to reports, he had completed about 3/4 of a fourth novel in the series, and it's possible that it might be finished by his longtime girlfriend/co-worker Eva Gabriellson. After that, who knows. Will somebody take over, try to come up with new stories for the characters he created? Maybe. Will it be as good? Who knows? I might watch another movie, and maybe read another book, but for the immediate time being, the most disappointing and sad part of his death, is that we're not getting anymore Lisbeth Salander tales, not from his pen anyway. That won't stop the desire for more of here. Director David Fincher, is already working on the American remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and there's already talk of adapting all these books in Hollywood. I'm excited, and I can't wait, but the potential for an incredible collection of Lisbeth Salander tales, remains unfulfilled. I don't know what I want, to enjoy these few precious tales we have of the elusive Lisbeth Salander, or hope somebody else will pick up where Larsson left off and create some new stories about her. Time will tell, but she is way too interesting a character to simply leave alone after just three tales, and just as we think we're starting to get to know her.
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