The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Article Reviews

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (Music Box Films, 2009) 

Fans of the late Stieg Larsson’s crime trilogy (a dark Harry Potter for adult murder mystery fans) will want to see this Swedish-language film tracking the first volume of heroine Lisbeth Salander’s contest with the forces of villainy.
But be warned that Lisbeth is no Nancy Drew, and this is no “cozy” mystery. More hardboiled than Sam Spade or Philip Marlow, Salander makes even Helen Mirren’s Superintendent Detective Jane Tennison seem as quaint as Miss Marple.

A recluse hacker with a wolf’s charm and a biker’s tattoos, Salander is an investigator of unparalleled gifts. There is no nanobyte of personal or corporate data beyond her reach, and few scruples or firewalls to prevent her from uncovering their secrets. Watching her at work is like watching a tigress on the prowl.

But the real (and dark) pleasure of Larsson’s 90-pound detective is that she is a feminist heroine with a decidedly biblical sense of justice. Imagine Judith beheading Holofernes or David taking down Goliath, and you have a sense of what’s in store for any corporate villain or serial killer of women whose scent she picks up.

Larsson’s novel and Niels Arden Oplev’s film are set in a world where women are trafficked and slain by misogynists protected by wealth and privilege, and Salander is the sort of woman to take this news badly. In her own personal and professional life, she knows far too much about the violence of patriarchy, and so when she teams up with an investigative reporter to look into a 40-year-old murder and uncovers a string of misogynist and sadistic crimes reaching back generations, it gets her ire up.

Salander is not everyone’s cup of tea, and her sexuality and responses can be disturbing. But she is someone to take seriously, and not a woman who allows herself to be defined by men, or the need to be with one. There are worse models.         

This article appeared in the August 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 8, page 42).