Joan Acocella at the New Yorker has an excellent critique, background, and overview of Stieg Larsson’s novels and the films made from them in the January 10th issue. It seems Larsson’s background and possible motivations for inventing a character like Lisbeth Salander are as complex as she is.
Acocella is not a fan of Larsson’s writing but in fact, describes scenes and details from the stories in a way that captures the imagination as much as those very scenes do in the stories, she gets what makes the stories popular, whether she likes the writing or not.
I have not read the books yet (being dyslexic, reading is not the easiest way for me to engage a story) but I have seen two of the three movies and the themes map well onto movies like the Bourne trilogy and others that I continue to enjoy.
You don’t forget such episodes—the truly innocent at the mercy of the truly evil—and they lead directly into the absolutist morals of Larsson’s books, which may also be a powerful selling point. Lisbeth believes that people are responsible for what they do, no matter what was done to them, and plenty was done to her. The trilogy is, to some extent, a revenge story—a popular genre. (Think of “Death Wish” or “True Grit.”) Lisbeth not only cleaves Zalachenko’s skull; she beats up two large bikers simultaneously and, with a Taser, delivers fifty thousand volts to Niedermann’s crotch.
As Acocella says Noomi Rapace, the actress who plays Lisbeth (the girl with the dragon tattoo) is incredible. She’s a petite, female, punk Jason Bourne and like Bourne, she’s flailing around trying to figure things out and in the process, evil people she bumps into don’t do well.
Other mystery writers—Patricia Cornwell, Henning Mankell—have introduced computers into their arsenal, but no one I know of uses computers as extensively as Larsson to build plot and character. Lisbeth and Mikael find each other online, solve crimes online, acquire their glamour online. (Lisbeth has an “Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz . . . with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive.”) Lisbeth’s only friends are fellow-hackers.
The computers used in the movies are more recent MacBook Pros but the point is, both Mikael and Lisbeth do all of their considerable detective work on portable computers that they carry around with them. Lisbeth also has a multitude of hand-held devices that she uses to do amazing things with (Is Lisbeth Salander too good to be true?).
I love this story and it’s a shame that there’s an American remake in the works. Reminds me of Mostly Martha, a gem of a film and the awful American remake of it, No Reservations. Why can’t Americans learn to read subtitles and leave well enough alone? If I can read them as a dyslexic adult, one would think people who are better readers than me could learn to do it.
This is a rambling post but Joan Acocella captured my imagination with her essay and whether or not you’ve read the books or seen the movies, it’s worth considering what makes them work for those who love them.