Friday, November 26, 2010


Poker Face

By VenetianBlond
It sounds crazy from the start. The charge that a 12-year-old girl’s imprisonment in a mental hospital was part of a government conspiracy to protect a Soviet defector spy already sounds preposterous. When that charge comes from Lisbeth Salander, violent goth queen and hacker, it seems even more ludicrous. Audiences already know that it’s true — it’s just a matter of whether or not Lisbeth, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and attorney Annika Giannini can prove it.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest picks up immediately after The Girl Who Played with Fire left off, in the helicopter taking Lisbeth to the nearest trauma center from the farmhouse where her father and half-brother shot her and buried her alive. The first act chronicles Lisbeth’s arduous recovery while a gentle but principled doctor keeps the police away. She’s been charged with attempted murder because the police discovered her father with a wound in his head and an axe embedded in his leg. However, he’s not the villain of this movie, because early on he is silenced by a conspiracy member. They’re in “circle the wagons” mode, bound and determined to protect their unit, even if there’s not really a good reason to exist anymore.

Meanwhile, dogged Micke is trying to identify the circle of government officials who would take away the legal rights of an individual in order to protect their organization. If it’s shown that what they dub "The Section" operated with the blessing of the larger Swedish government, they have a constitutional crisis on their hands. He knows he’s getting close when bad things start to happen: threatening e-mails, bricks through windows, and Serbs with machine guns in cafes. But he has the truth, some trustworthy local cops, and hacker resources on his side, so he’s able to put together a magazine issue unearthing the whole shebang.

The middle section of the film is the courtroom drama as Lisbeth is tried. The prosecutor blatantly tries the case in the media by making statements about her instability. The Section already has maneuvered him into being their lackey for having Lisbeth committed again so that nothing that she says is ever taken seriously. Lisbeth has vowed to herself never to talk to psychiatrists or police, so that hinders her attorney’s defense. However, that creates the opportunity for a winning strategy. Duking it out expert against expert would never win, given the way Lisbeth had already captured the public imagination as a murderous lunatic in Fire. However, if Giannini, a women’s rights’ lawyer, can show that Lisbeth was systematically, illegally handled throughout her life, she’s got a chance. The key evidence is the DVD she made with the hidden camera in the first movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The prosecution’s psychiatrist (and co-conspirator) argues that her description in graphic detail of the rape by a trusted advocate is proof of her mental illness and separation from reality. As awful as it was to watch in Tattoo, the audience knows what the court officials are seeing, and it has great impact. Finally someone in power can understand what Lisbeth has been up against, not only with the assaults, but also in the determination of her mental capabilities.

After the court adjourns, there is a brief coda where Lisbeth confronts her brother in an old property of her father’s. This is where trimming the novels proves problematic, because the location is significant only in a sex trafficking plot line that was cut from the films. In addition, Lisbeth has only a tiny connection to the people she calls after she deals with her brother, and no reason to expect that they would act the way they do.

The purpose of the Millennium Trilogy’s grand finale is to outline what happens to Lisbeth Salander. The nefarious octogenarians of The Section don’t prove to be particularly sinister bad guys in terms of the threat to the sanctity of Sweden’s constitution. Sure, governmental oversight of intelligence agencies is a good thing, but it’s hard to wrap a thriller around that concept. The trial works much better given the knowledge that based on her own code, Lisbeth will do very little to help herself. What’s the point in talking if nobody believes you anyway? She comes to court in full goth mode, with a Mohawk, huge piercings, and platform shoes 6 inches high. What’s the point in looking normal if the other side will argue it’s a manipulation or an attempt to garner sympathy?

Small cathartic moments occur when Noomi Rapace allows just a little delight to show when Lisbeth hears what happens to her father, and when she trusts the doctor enough to show him her tattoo. He’s one of the few men, like Micke, who has not tried to exploit her. She can’t quite muster the words to thank her attorney, but she manages to accomplish that with Micke — even if it sounds like a recording. In the last pages of the book, Lisbeth opens her apartment door and lets Micke re-enter her life. In the film, they say an awkward “see ya around,” and she closes the door as Micke leaves. That small change implies a less integrated and less hopeful future for Lisbeth than perhaps Larsson intended.

When is a person just too toxic to be allowed back into society? Britney Spears has her dad’s conservatorship; Lindsay Lohan has rehab. They are not part of a government conspiracy that we know of, but how do they prove that they’re capable of returning to society? On a larger scale, given this country’s record-breaking incarceration rates and constant demand for more imprisonment, can we trust society to know whom to re-integrate and whom to lock away?

Lisbeth’s associates — it’s hard to say that she has friends — have to decide how far to go for a woman who will not return their affection. Lisbeth is exonerated, but she will never be healed.

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