November 18, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

November 18, 2010

The last installment of the immensely popular Millennium trilogy, the Swedish-language version of Steig Larsson’s novel, continues the tale of Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker extraordinaire, and Mikail Blomkvist, the reporter who loves her. These days, their relationship is strictly platonic.

Lisbeth is the daughter of a Soviet defector who fed information to a secret arm of the police called the Section that now needs to keep her silent by maintaining the fiction that she’s incompetent and ought to be institutionalized for the rest of her life. That conspiracy is the “Hornet’s Nest” of the title.

Unfortunately, the “Nest” isn’t nearly as interesting as the “Girl” herself, who recedes further into the background. She spends most of this film in a hospital room, where she either can’t or won’t talk to the people who take care of her.

What a disappointment.

The most thrilling thing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the way Larsson takes a character straight out of Japanese anime and plunks her down in the middle of a nasty mystery that spans two generations.

Boy does Lisbeth light up both the page and the screen, especially once she and Blomkvist join forces. Though she suffers from Asperger’s, she clearly loves him and can’t quite forgive him for making her feel such a strong connection to another person. Mikail, too, is in her thrall.

“Hornet’s Nest” plays out the government plot that has circumscribed Lisbeth’s life, a familiar tale of paranoia and sexual dysfunction. The movie is so intent on exposing dirty dealings that, once the true villains are revealed, their comeuppance seems pat.

Her psychiatrist visits child pornography web sites (information that’s obtained illegally but admitted into evidence at her competency hearing)—check. Her former guardian is a sadist who brutally assaulted her in a video Lisbeth herself made with a hidden camera in the first film—check. Her father, an amoral spy loyal solely to himself, is dispatched early in the movie by a member of the Section—check.

Absolutely the only retribution that has any degree of excitement concerns Lisbeth’s half-brother, an albino giant with a genetic disorder that prevents him from experiencing pain. Lisbeth tracks him to an abandoned warehouse. After a breathless cat-and-mouse chase, she corners him, nails his feet to a steel beam, and phones his location to the members of a local biker gang who want to kill him for murdering two of their friends.

That’s our girl! Whip smart, resourceful. And she has a wicked sense of humor. This is the Lisbeth I came to see.

Finally, the trilogy ends with a shrug. Lisbeth sits alone in her apartment, smoking a cigarette. Mikail rings her bell. They stare at one another for a long moment and then say, “See ya.” She shuts the door in his face.

Okay. I didn’t expect him to take her in his arms and carry her across the threshold, though it might have been fun to see how she would have reacted to being swept off her feet. But both Larsson and the moviemakers owe the audience more after all this time. True, Lisbeth is emotionally stunted, but she can talk, and she can feel. As a writer, I want to hear her voice, loud and clear, at the end of her long and arduous ordeal.

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