The Dragon Tattoo That Set the Hornet’s Nest on Fire

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Published on October 29th, 2010 | by L. Caldoran

The de facto motto of the Yorkshire-based “Red Riding” trilogy—“This is the North, where we do what we want”—could just as easily be applied to Stieg Larsson’s Scandinavia. His own Millennium trilogy shares with “Red Riding” its nesting-doll conspiracies in which Old Boys’ Clubs use their positions of power to cover up rape, murder, and pedophilia—and provide grim fates for anyone who seeks to challenge or expose that order. In this case, those targeted are a woman who has been betrayed and abused by institutions throughout her life, and a man who seeks truth and justice for its own sake.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels serve as an argument for the power of the press. In an era where journalists in fiction are often depicted as hindering investigations and pestering victims’ families, and journalism as a real-life career is often bemoaned as obsolete when anyone can post quasi-literate rants or grainy talking-head webcam footage online within minutes, the writers and staff of the fictitious Swedish magazine “Millennium” have found themselves sent to jail or even murdered for the politically sensitive content they chose to publish.

The menace of murder continues in “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the final film in the trilogy. This time it’s “Millennium” editor Erika Berger who is the target of death threats, causing her to urge her colleague and occasional lover, Mikael Blomkvist, to refrain from publishing a lengthy exposé for her own safety and that of the staff. Meanwhile, picking up where “The Girl Who Played With Fire” left off, petite badass guerilla hacker Lisbeth Salander is recovering from a bullet to the brain, aided by a sympathetic doctor who keeps conspiratorial meddlers and potential assassins at bay until she regains enough strength to face her trial for attempted murder.

“Dragon Tattoo” was a terrific example of slow-burning neo-noir, combining old-school document-scouring detective work with modern technology: watching someone remotely access another person’s hard drive has never been so compelling. Alas, lacking the anchor of its predecessor’s decades-old murder mystery, “Played With Fire” suffered, coming off as more of a conventional action-packed crime drama with Salander as an “Alias”-like mistress of disguise and some credulity-straining Luke-I-am-your-father revelations about the head of a human trafficking ring and his henchman.

The Millennium trilogy is at its best in quiet moments, allowing tension to rise rather than letting it explode in the most literal sense. Thus, “Hornet’s Nest” is superior to “Played With Fire,” but still falls far short of “Dragon Tattoo.” Despite restaurant shoot-outs, warehouse showdowns, and so forth, the most exciting part here is Salander’s trial. A taut, spectator-free affair, the nearly-silent Salander, in full-on goth-punk war paint, and her lawyer, Blomkvist’s heavily-pregnant sister, square off against the patronizing, kiddie-porn-loving psychologist who abused Salander as a child under his ostensible care and wants to see her institutionalized again, with the backing of highly-placed politicos who don’t want her motives and secrets going public.

Salander’s eventual vindication in court is thoroughly satisfying, but has an air of wish fulfillment. Real-life abuse survivors rarely have tangible evidence of their own physical and sexual assault to unveil triumphantly during legal proceedings, as Salander does here with a certain Chekhov gun from “Dragon Tattoo.” The Millennium trilogy instills the hope that one can personally do something about all the horror, corruption, and general injustice in the world, though with the pessimistic-yet-realist knowledge that most of it will ultimately go unpunished, Salander and Blomkvist’s victories ring faintly escapist and bittersweet on the way home from the theatre.

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About the Author

currently lives in Brooklyn. Her favorite films tend to involve historical settings, varying degrees of madness, and men doing terrible things.

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