Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy: Three Books, Four Films

By | January 19, 2014

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When Swedish journalist and political activist Stieg Larsson died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 50, he had delivered three of a planned series of 10 novels to his publisher.

Titled Men Who Hate Women, the series was to be an exploration of the inherent personal and institutionalised acceptance of violence and misogyny toward women that is rife in Swedish society – a society that is regarded as one of the most civil in the world.

None of the first three books had been published at the time of his death. But the combined sales of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (as they were titled) currently stand at more than 25 million copies worldwide – a publishing phenomenon.

Lisbeth Salander

Larsson’s central characters are Lisbeth Salander, a young, amoral, tattooed, bisexual but highly intelligent computer hacker and the crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Salander has been deeply wronged from an early age. She has been raped, abused, institutionalised, bound over as a ward of court as an incompetent and denied basic human rights – all with the tacit approval of the establishment and individual members of the State Security.

It is the quest for revenge and exposure of the deep level of corruption that form the core of the trilogy of books. But the degree of complicity by the authorities toward gender inequality underpins the storyline.

Film adaptations

Not surprisingly, each of the three novels led to film adaptations, with the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, becoming the most successful Swedish film in history, earning more than $100 million worldwide. In total, the trilogy has taken more than $200 million at the global box office (with the third in the series still to be released in many markets).

Noomi Rapace was immediately catapulted to stardom for her role as Lisbeth Salander. She turned down the opportunity of recreating the character in David Fincher’s English-language remake planned for release at the end of 2011 and starring Daniel Craig as Blomkvist.

English-language remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Not everyone welcomed the remaking of the film, including the Swedish director Niels Arden Oplov, with most concerned the story would lose its authenticity as a big-budget Hollywood thriller. Fincher has assured would-be critics that the new treatment would return to the original novel rather than a straightforward remake of the film version.

Fincher’s claim could be a positive outcome – he has recently indicated that Lisbeth (played by relative newcomer Rooney Mara) will be more aggressive in the American version.

The Swedish adaptations have focussed extensively on the revenge/thriller aspect of the storyline. Blomkvist is the central character of the first film rather than Salander herself. This is rectified in the second, but the full psychological impact of her treatment as a child is to a large extent glossed over.

Subplots and character development (inevitably) are dropped as the narrative is restricted to its two-hour time frame, but this is achieved at the expense of Larsson’s overarching criticism of the acceptance of violence (physical or psychological) against women.

As viewers, we want revenge for Lisbeth. We want Blomkvist to expose the corruption through his magazine, Millennium. But at the same time, the wider issues of misogyny and the treatment of women in the workplace are not touched upon.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, Blomkvist’s co-editor of the magazine, Erika Berger, temporarily leaves Millennium to become the first female editor of the largest daily newspaper in Sweden. The result? She becomes the victim of internal hate mail. In the film version, Berger does not leave, but instead receives threatening emails in relation only to the impending Salander court case.

The responsibility of adapting Larsson’s bestseller is with Oscar award-winning writer Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Gangs of New York, American Gangster) – a writer not afraid of exploring dark themes. The issue of whether all three films will be remade in English is dependent upon the success of the first.


The Daily Blam

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