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Like some Nordic, dead, Dan Brown, Stieg Larssonn’s ‘Milennium Trilogy’ haa shifted in such defenestrating quantities as to inspire serious debate about its significance. Whereas Brown’s popularity revealed that people will tolerate the prose style of a drunk dog with a typewriter if it involves a tantalising conspiracy, Larsson’s triplet of //The Girl With../ books have triggered po-faced analysis of their significance for contemporary feminism. 


The books do contain a number of immediate subversions of gender and genre conventions. These are hard-boiled crime novels featuring a young, female, bi-sexual, protagonist. Men are frequently rendered as psychopathic, violent, rapists.  This is bestselling fiction featuring child abuse, rape, and murder. 


In ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’, the sequel to ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo’, heroine Lisbeth Salander and magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist embark on separate missions to expose the organisers of a sex-traffiking ring.  While Blomkvist and his journalists follow a trail of evidence, Salander takes a more direct approach which leads her back into her own history of abuse, and into harm’s way.


The Girl Who Played with Fire’ is a film with one eye in the mirror – at times self-consciously cool, at others just self-conscious. Salander, supposedly exists ‘outside’ of society, yet her wealth allows her to inhabit a series of beautiful, stylishly bare, bohemian apartments. Blomkvist’s handsome journos wear natural fibres and work in a converted warehouse, seemingly sponsored by Apple.


This affectation is also present in the film’s uncertain Directorial style, most obvious in its approach to violence and sex. A punch-up in a burning barn, complete with jaunty framing, seems to borrow mostly from the TV series of //The Incredible Hulk//. Yet at the film’s conclusion the brutal realism and mobility of the camera is most akin to schlock-horror. A sex scene between Salander and her female lover is as titillating as it is tender.


Partly, here the book falls foul to the inevitably reductive process of film adaptation. Whereas sex in the book may be depicted with sensitivity and emotional depth, and violence may be depicted with deliberate and shocking realism, on screen such scenes can seem gratuitous.  The film’s particular subject matter understandably compounds the problem but this sensationalism negates the film’s core subtext, the institutionalisation of male violence towards women.


The trilogy’s depiction of men has been justified as a specific criticism of Swedish society. But in //The Girl Who Plays with Fire// any complexity and intelligence seems lost in the reduction of men to mere monstrosities, safely unreal in their ugliness.  Its subtext seems so localised and grotesque as to negate the potential universality and subversive power of its theme.  


This is flat-pack nihilism, Nordic noir, dark and disturbing on the one hand, resolutely bourgeois on the other, The film’s dark, gothic leanings are ultimately as superficial and affected as Salander’s tattoos and eye-liner.

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