Weekend Film Recommendation: Män Som Hatar Kvinnor

noomi-rapace-530-x-298

The left-wing Swedish author Stieg Larsson had a strange and remarkable life. As a teenager, he witnessed some of his friends commit gang rape, and was haunted thereafter both by guilt about his failure to intervene and the omnipresence of violence against women. As a journalist he was unknown outside of Sweden when he died suddenly at the age of 50, but soon became one of the most widely read authors on Earth when his Millenium triology was posthumously published. This week’s film recommendation is the first filmed adaptation of Larsson’s crime novels: the 2009 Swedish television mini-series Män Som Hatar Kvinnor.

Though known as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to Americans, the original Swedish title actually translates as “Men who Hate Women”, which better describes what this film is about: a ferocious, unforgettable, superheroine battling some of the slimiest and scariest misogynists in film history (which is saying something).

Noomi Rapace knocked the film world on its ear with her four-barreled performance as Lisbeth Salander, a social misfit with a history of trauma, a genius for computer hacking, and an invincible survival instinct. Events bring Salander together with crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, nicely underplaying his part), who is attempting to solve the long-ago disappearance of a little girl in a remote Swedish village that is icy in more ways than one. Along the way they encounter enormous human ugliness (almost all of it male), perplexing clues, and life-threatening risk.

Having not read Larsson’s books, I cannot evaluate the faithfulness of Rasmus Heisterberg and Nikolaj Arcel’s screenplay to the original story. But I certainly aver that it’s a fine bit of writing, rounding out each character and having them bounce off each other in ways that advance the story. The relationship between Salander and Blomkvist is particularly refreshing because it completely reverses the gender role conventions of the genre. The mystery/thriller elements are also fairly well-done, keeping the audience puzzling over the solution at times and on the edge of their seat at others.

MV5BMTYwMTg1OTU5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTU4NDAyMw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

As photographed by Eric Kress, Northern Sweden is a bleak and lonely physical environment populated by bleak and lonely people, amongst whom some true monsters can easily hide. The film could easily have been a downer if not for the breathtaking power of Salander’s character and Rapace’s performance. Multi-layered female roles are sadly uncommon in movies; the worldwide embrace of Lisbeth Salander shows that audiences are hungry for more.

p.s. This review is based on the 180 minute version that played on Swedish television (later edited down into a shorter film for release in theaters). The 2011 English-language remake has a bigger budget with bigger stars (including a miscast Daniel Craig as Blomkvist) and is certainly a polished piece of work, but not quite as effective as the original.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

10 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Män Som Hatar Kvinnor”

  1. Larsson died before his Millennium Trilogy books got the extensive editing they badly needed. But, then, that lack of editing may be a part of their appeal. In any case, the books have more subplots than a national forest pot plantation.

    1. Despite its 3 hour running time, I think this movie was pretty tight so I assume that means the screenwriters did some judicious trimming of Larson's plotting.

      1. As I remember, the movies follow the books pretty closely with the expected time compressions, elimination of marginal subplots and characters.

  2. One of the reasons I watched this series and not the remakes/Hollywood-ier versions is I wanted to see the real places described in the books. (Though I didn't fact check this – so I'm not actually sure.) If you have a strong stomach, the books have a strong momentum to them and are engrossing, imo. Very grim material of course. She is a pretty great heroine though. Not at all sorry I read them.

    What is scary and sad is, I don't think the acts are farfetched. This stuff is probably happening all over. Very sad.

    1. I used Google Street View to verify a number of the exterior locations in the books. My impression is that some of those locations were used in the movies also.

      The Hollywood version was shot in Sweden. I don't know how accurate the locations are though.

  3. I just watched this, and it's outstanding. Brutal. I'm fascinated to see where it goes in the second and third installments.

    1. I'll be curious to hear what you think. A few months ago, they were all on Amazon Prime if you get that. I watched the second one and thought it was very good, though just a step below the first. Have not watched Part 3.

      1. I'm watching them on Amazon Prime. I've recently decided to do a lot of catching up on movies I've missed, doing one a night. I have lots of time to kill at work, a high quality internet connection, and plenty of extra shifts since we're short handed right now. I'll get back to writing more soon, I hope.

        1. I debated whether to post this or just reply to Keith in email, because I can't offer my thoughts without some spoilers, though I'm not sure that any of them would reduce the impact of the story. So read at your own peril. Also, I have not read the books from which the Swedish TV miniseries was adapted, so if there are differences, I'm talking only about the latter. When I mention "the authors," that's some combination of Stieg Larsson and those who adapted the novels for TV, with no knowledge of how much each is actually responsible.

          In the big picture, I think having the villains of the second and third movies being a sinister, secret rogue government intelligence organization was a mistake. What is compelling about the Millenium trilogy is the exploration of who Lisbeth Salander is, what was done to her, and how that shaped the person we see. The involvement of secret agents pulls against that focus, causing us to think about political rather than just personal implications of the plot. A parallel I draw is to Martin Cruz Smith's "Gorky Park," (the first book in a series that I can't recommend highly enough, at least through the first five installments) in which the underlying plot revolves around venality, greed, and personal sadism. It would have involved some large differences in the storyline, but one in which the motives and evils of the villains were personal rather than institutional would have produced a better contrast with the exploration of the person of Lisbeth Salander.

          One element that struck me as I was watching it was how profoundly Mikael Blomqvist, and eventually his sister Annika, who becomes Lisbeth's lawyer, don't understand her at all. One manifestation of this, especially at the end, is the way that they expect her to be grateful for the ways that they have helped her. They don't comprehend that her life has left her incapable of trusting them, and frightened by the need to depend upon anyone else. Lisbeth is far more comfortable in the first movie, in which Blomqvist needs her, rather than the second and third, where it's reversed.

          At the end of the third movie, Mikael and Annika think of the story as being over, and they experience it as a triumphant victory. They can't grasp that this isn't a victory for her. It is, at best, a point at which she can begin the process of healing, not it's end. She gets some measure of vengeance over those who have wrecked her, but that doesn't teach her how to trust. It doesn't heal her PTSD. It doesn't do anything to provide her with the social skills life has denied her.

          Mikael and Annika want her to validate for them that this was a triumph, and she can't do that. They can't appreciate that the damage to her shapes who she is, and that the damage doesn't end when the villains are all dealt with. I don't know what the authors wanted us to take away from those final scenes. Given everything that has happened, I can't believe they expect the audience to adopt the point of view of Mikael and Annika, and expect Lisbeth to be happy and grateful, but it's unclear what we should think. And that's fine; they don't need to wrap it up for us.

          This all hinges on the quietly earthshattering acting performance of Noomi Rapace. The ways she expresses the hurt inside are usually subtle, with a lack of affect that those around her could mistake for stoicism or apathy. The moments where the mask cracks and the pain, fear, and anger emerge are terrifying, not just for the things that Lisbeth does, but for the window they provide on her inner workings. Even when she has an opportunity to exact revenge, she is methodical; she makes it almost all the way through binding, raping, and blackmailing Bjurman, her guardian, who deserves everything that happens to him, losing control only as she is tattooing, "I am a sadistic pig and rapist," on his torso.

          It's one of the most tremendous acting performances I've ever seen.

Comments are closed.