Getting Lisbeth Salander Right

I read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and was taken by his Lisbeth Salander character—the most interesting one in his books, though she’s secondary to Larsson’s main character, Mikael Blomkvist, who I don’t get at all. Lisbeth has been the victim of both physical and sexual violence, but rather than being undone by it, she uses this to temper herself as a weapon so she can get revenge.

What I like about Larsson’s books is that he didn’t use sexual violence to be titillating; he did seem to have some purpose in using it as a plot device. According to Larrson’s partner Eva Gabrielsson, who was with him for thirty-two years before he died, the reason he wrote so much about sexual violence was because he witnessed the gang rape of a girl when he was a teenager. He didn’t do anything to stop it at camp, and when he tried to apologize to the girl later, she freaked out, screaming, “Get away from me! You’re one of them!” He carried this guilt with him his entire life, and with his character Lisbeth Salander, he tried to exorcise his demons by giving her the power to be the angel of destruction, taking out those who do wrong against women.

The books were pretty clipping reads, but I found myself bored during the non-Lisbeth parts and exasperated by the manwhore character Blomkvist, a journalist who falls into bed with just about anybody, though he seems to have no exceptional qualities. He’s presented as a doughnut of a man, and maybe that’s where his secret powers lie. Lots of people like doughnuts. Otherwise, how can this be explained:

She stopped and smiled at him.

“Do you know what I’d like to do now?” she said.

“No.”

“I’d like to take you home and undress you.”

“This could get a bit awkward.”

“I know. But I wasn’t planning on telling my boss.”

“We don’t know how this story’s going to turn out. We could end up on opposite sides of the barricades.”

“I’ll take my chances. Now, are you going to come quietly or do I have to handcuff you?”

—from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

This is just one of the many female characters who falls for Blomkvist, and while Lisbeth does succumb to his charms, she shakes him off eventually. The series was made into movies in Sweden, starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, and she’s a pretty kick-ass Lisbeth. There’s an intelligence in her eyes that I find just right for the genius-level Lisbeth Salander, who has an eidetic memory and can make abstract connections lickety-split. The only problem I had with the Swedish version is the complicated legal mess that Blomkvist falls into, which leads to his introduction to Lisbeth in the first place. It’s quite tedious stuff that doesn’t film in a very interesting manner.

David Fincher directed an American version of the first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that came out late last year. In this version, Rooney Mara takes on the character Lisbeth Salander. Her Lisbeth is quite a bit different—heavier on piercings and with a more alien-like demeanor than anything else. It’s different than Noomi Rapace’s version, but I can buy it. What I didn’t like is the way Lisbeth’s filmed in this version. There’s lots of T&A shots of Lisbeth that don’t add to the story, and the only reason I can think of for them being in the film is to titillate (no pun intended). I can’t blame the actress for this; I don’t think she made these choices. Instead, it reminds me of the photographer Otto Öse in Joyce Carol Oates’s novel Blonde. He took the iconic photos of Marilyn Monroe on red velvet that may very well have launched her career and tells her this before the photo shoot: “I’m using crushed velvet for a candy-box effect. You’re a piece of candy, luscious enough to eat.”

I can’t say that I’m comfortable with Lisbeth Salander being portrayed this way.

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Prometheus Gets Bogged Down by Bad Creationism

I guess I should have know what I was in for after seeing the movie posters with a head reminiscent of the statues from Easter Island, but I had seen the trailers for Prometheus a couple of months before the movie debuted. The music from Alien was used, along with a similar chase scene, making me think I was in for another hunter-hunted story like Alien delivered. But no, I was duped once again.

What did I want from Prometheus? I wanted an explanation for how the aliens came to be and why those pods were hanging out in a spaceship, like Venus flytraps, waiting for willing victims to dock. A simple explanation would have sufficed, but instead Prometheus delivers a heavy-handed origin story that references world mythologies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Christianity. The movie creaked with all the symbolism and religious overtones loaded into it, and all I really wanted to see was a good sci-fi/horror story. I didn’t need everything else about where we come from. I look to Joseph Campbell for that, or simple stories that hit the right points.

Prometheus opens with a humanoid character drinking something coffeelike that causes him to disintegrate—he falls down a waterfall into a stream and his blood and specifically his DNA and chromosomes start to corrode and morph. I’m guessing this is an allusion to the original Prometheus, which is never completely followed up. Flash-forward to a similar environment several thousands of years later, where a team of archaeologists have uncovered an artwork that corresponds with that of four other ancient civilizations, who could have had no contact with one another. The two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green), puzzle over what the message means; they interpret it as an invitation.

The two are then shown in stasis aboard a ship as an android, David (Michael Fassbender), tends to them. David acts like a kid left home alone with complete access to the ship for years while the others sleep. He plays basketball in the large, arenalike spaces. He taps into the dreams of the crewmembers in stasis. He watches a movie over and over again, mimicking the speech patterns; studies a language that seems vaguely Arabic; and cuts, dyes, and styles his hair so as to appear as one of the characters that he likes to watch.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is the first human to wake from sleep and informs the android David to wake the others. I appreciate how the chronological time order of the Alien series is considered at this point, and the humans coming out of sleep have a rough time of it, spewing all over. In movies that are supposed to have come later in the time line (though they were filmed earlier), the human subjects rise from years-long sleep easily, seeming only to crave some food and coffee.

The crew is summoned and realize that they are chasing the dreams of a very rich and old man, who says he will be dead before they come back to Earth. Their ship is docked outside of a large, unnatural structure, and they go exploring. Inside, they find holograms depicting what happened thousands of years ago, some nonorganic “pods,” and fossils of these humanoids (called Engineers by the archaeologists), who turn out to have the same DNA as humans. A storm comes up, artifacts are brought back to the ship, and the crew is split up. Some cross-contamination occurs, and then the real purpose behind the mission is revealed, which seems to cancel out the first three-fourths of the story.

There are some good things in Prometheus. There’s some great acting by Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender, but the motivations for these actors’ characters all fall a little short by the end. Some nice, gory parts crop up in the film, one in particular with Noomi Rapace in an impossible situation, hanging on with pure grit. However, these good bits get lost when the screenwriters, director, whoever, try and weight this movie with more importance than it can support. Allusions are made to great works, but their meanings are lost because they’re not used effectively. It all seems like so much great material thrown to the wall and what happened to stick is Prometheus, which comes off as flimsy considering its origins.