Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Part of the reason I blog about movies and books so much is that they offer human examples that I want to discuss that most people might know, that are not betrayals of confidentiality (real or imagined), and don’t push me into constant me-me-me. My cousin and her husband generously sent me an iPod Nano that held “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” being read out loud. I was curious, since I’ve only picked up rumors about the book, no real description. After a few days of blundering to figure out to play the gizmo, and a couple more days to listen to the book. This is my “take”.

Two plots travel separately for a time, then merge, then separate again. The first is financial, elaborate accounts of the layered and knotted sub-world that enmeshes formal business with the criminal economy. (This book was written before the Big Meltdown.) The Internet is exploited so cleverly that it takes a person with the single-minded concentration of an Asperger’s Syndrome hacker to unravel it. The hacker is dark, thin, tattooed, pierced and fierce. The other plot line is a Val McDiarmid-type serial sexual torture murder tale, so outrageous that it can exist in plain sight but invisible, clued with religious code. These two types of plot fill our magazines and movies daily. The Swedish location gives the facts an aura of the exotic and the book is recounted in a beautiful BBC voice pronouncing the Swedish words and various voices thrillingly and narcotically at once. The cliche-ridden translation must have been done quickly but it is clear. I wonder whether in the original there so many coffees and aquavits, putting on of jackets and people saying, “Of course.” It’s like a Fifties movie.

What absorbed me was the moral clarity of Salander, who is quite outside polite society, defined as psychotic, or maybe retarded, and labeled a victim, therefore victimized by the legal apparatus meant to protect people. I couldn’t help hearing her name as “Salamander,” the creature that can live in fire, though her code name is “Wasp,” maybe for Aspie. I’m glad it wasn’t the name of the small poisonous snake.

It is this character -- rather than Bloomquist who seems rather like the mild, rather nerdy author, Steig Larrson -- this little female renegade, who seems to have caught everyone’s imagination in the three novels that are, in English, entitled “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Wasp’s Nest.” Just as he had sold these books, Larrson died of a heart attack. He was young but engaged in all the practices doctors warn against (smoking, stress). He had had a female companion through most of his life. She is NOTHING like Salander, judging from an interview on his website, and inherited nothing because there was no will -- though she has possession of his laptop with the first part of a fourth novel. This was a long string of tales that was meant to include ten books, not so much like a literary trilogy as one of those ongoing mystery series centered on a few characters.

It’s hard to know how much of this book’s success is hype and marketing, and how much is the sensationalism of the Swedish movie versions which are now being remade as Hollywood movies. But I see a theme everywhere, the same as in older Netflix movies. (Last night it was “Suspect,” about Cher as a public defender, Liam Neeson as a deaf-and-dumb street veteran, and Dennis Quaid as a jury member who followed NONE of the legal rules.) The theme is the failure of our social systems to effectively address at least two kinds of crime: violence (sexual or not) and financial swindling. The plot is then about someone who must go outside the systems to provide justice and protection. The story always justifies this.

But in my experience going outside systems instead of confronting and reforming them only means MORE injustice and violence. In the confusion of forces, innocent people get ground up. What percentage of the population? How many innocent people, including children, get killed in the meth traffic, the heroin traffic? How many innocent people, including children, die as a result of predatory food and pharmaceutical pricing strategies? Of cost-cutting failure to curb pollution? How many people realize that white collar crime actually kills people? The best use of books like Larsson’s is to raise consciousness and motivate reform. But who then figures out that reform and brings it to pass?

Steig Larsson’s life was very much like his books: running a magazine that was a struggle against right wing Fascist forces who stalked him. They call that paranoia when it’s fantasy, but this was true. He just found it unwinding to spend the evening playing the “cards” he knew well in a fictionalized version that allowed him to win now and then. In terms of reality his income was much less than his income from sharing those fantasies. What does that mean?

But all those cigarettes and coffees and aquavits, real or not, were not in vain. He had a REAL impact on injustice by earning the knowledge that weaves the books. The character Salander captures us and, true to form, we all assume that Salander was someone in his real life -- we constantly slide down the scale from theoretical abstracts to the vivid illustrations in story and then, in a focus verging on capture, to the writer. We want to know all about the writer. I don’t know why this is. Is it an attempt to prove that the book is true (the writer only wrote it down) or is it a way to discredit the issues (the writer only made them up)?

Hollywood casting for Bloomquist turned out to be easier than casting Salander, at least in Hollywood. Daniel Craig, who recently played James Bond (talk about going outside the law), is luckily capable of ramping down his macho side. The teasers and clips on the Internet are in love with Salander’s motorbike. There she goes in her helmet and leathers, zooming through traffic on the road just as she zooms through the traffic on the Internet, fantastic fiberoptic tangles of intrigue and derivatives. I know who she is: Steig Larsson’s Jungian anima.

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