And so, with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, we say goodbye to the tragic goth hacker Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Or at least we say goodbye to the version of her played movingly, unforgettably, by Noomi Rapace in the trilogy of dark, violent Swedish films based on the novels by the late Stieg Larsson.
Not having read Larsson's popular books, I was new to the franchise when I saw the first film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, earlier this year. It reminded me of The X-Files. There's a single-episode procedural element, a horrific murder mystery; and then there's a larger narrative framework, a deeper mystery. It is, stated briefly: What's the deal with the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?
From the beginning we know that Lisbeth is wary, furious, wounded. Over the course of the films, we learn why. I won't get into specifics, except to say that the trilogy's central event is what is done to her, in the first film, by her sadistic, government-appointed guardian. By the last film it is clear that his crime is just one chapter in an epic brutalization the Swedish government has secretly visited on Lisbeth.
Not yet knowing enough about this framework, I felt let down by the second film, The Girl Who Played With Fire, after the exciting first one. The Girl Who Played With Fire has strong action elements, but I wanted fewer discursive bits about the government conspiracy. Yet the third film has more conspiracy talk and less action still. Indeed, Rapace spends much of the film in a hospital bed, which is a jarring and compelling change from the earlier films, in which she is such a wondrous and sleek action hero.
So powerful is the image of the wounded Lisbeth, in fact, that when, late in the third film, she transforms into the good old Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, complete with mohawk, piercings and form-fitting leather, I wanted to stand up, applaud and sing a Marilyn Manson song.
This makeover comes as Lisbeth attends a court hearing at which there are dramatic revelations. These are courtesy of her loyal friend, the righteous journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), whose tentative romance with Lisbeth is the trilogy's tender subplot. Mikael spends the last film hacking away at the conspiracy, which meanwhile is closing in on him, too.
An American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is in the works, and it reportedly will star Rooney Mara, who played the gal who got away in The Social Network. Mara has big fetish boots to fill. Now that I have seen the final installment, which brings everything into focus, I believe the Dragon Tattoo trilogy -- this shocking mystery, this unlikely love story -- is perhaps the most extraordinary cinematic event to hit Madison this year.