Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo dominates the New York Times bestseller list, along with the other two books in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Clearly, they've had an impact on American society.
Translated from Swedish, the novels follow the story of Lisbeth Salander, a petite woman who dresses in goth black clothes, refuses to communicate with people, and can hack almost any computer system. Journalist Mikeal Blomkvist investigates her life, finding a dark story of governmental betrayal, almost unendurable abuse, and miraculous survival.
The film adaptation of the third novel is now in theaters, with the first two available on DVD. All three are in Swedish with English subtitles. While not matching the complexity of the novels, the films perfectly capture the essence of the books, which is the character of Lisbeth. Played by Noomi Rapace, the unsmiling Lisbeth manages to control her destiny and mete out retribution to those who have wronged her. Although she has been victimized, she refuses to be a victim.
For instance, when Lisbeth is forced into a sexual act by her court-appointed guardian, she returns to their next appointment with a hidden camera. She uses the video of the subsequent rape to blackmail him into leaving her and all other women alone. Rather than contact the police, she prefers to handle things on her own after the system repeatedly failed her. The scenes, as with many others in the films, are disturbingly violent. All the films are rated R.
Within the world Larsson creates, evil is strong and active, but the women do not rely on men to protect them from it. From editor (and sometime Blomkvist lover) Erika Berger to scores of law enforcement women to Lisbeth, they face threats head-on.
While there is much to admire in the characters' strength and unyielding sense of justice, the refusal to depend on others leaves all the characters childless, or estranged from children, and ultimately alone. As a representation of the familial and societal mores overtaking Europe, the series is a revelation.
How will it play in greater America? We're going to find out. An American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is due to be released next year.