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She’s a punk rock computer hacker with a black mohawk. She’s a tattooed misfit and a mathematical genius who doesn’t quite meet the diagnostic criteria for Asperger Syndrome. She’s an all-around polymath with a photographic memory who refuses to be labeled a victim. Instead of sitting down and letting the system use and abuse her, she takes the fight to her enemies, including blackmailing her legal guardian/rapist and tormenting him for the rest of his short life.

Her name is Lisbeth Salander, and she’s the imaginary star of Stieg Larsson’s Swedish breakout series known as the Millennium trilogy. Since she refuses to fit into a tidy box, it’s hard to call her a hero, but she’s not really an anti-hero either. To many Americans, she might be exactly the kind of gritty heroine we’ve been waiting for.

First filmed in Swedish as Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women), the story of Lisbeth Salander is now getting the American treatment, and Hollywood couldn’t have picked a better director. In 2011, David Fincher remade the first movie in the trilogy, and the sequel is now just a matter of time. The first novel/movie is a hyperreal crime noir that mixes mystery, action, humor, feminist ideology, and even romance—“erotica” might be a better word—at all the right levels.

Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara can both thank this fictional woman with vengeance on her mind for their success. Of all the hardcore actresses who have emerged from obscurity to grace the silver screen, none are more intense than these two. That’s because they both channeled the borderline insanity of the most intense character to emerge in 21st century literature. Lisbeth Salander, the "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", was portrayed first in 2009 by Noomi Rapace (a Swedish actress) and then in 2011 by Rooney Mara in David Fincher’s sizzling remake.


Noomi Rapace

Noomi Rapace
Perhaps audiences now know Noomi Rapace best for her starring role as Elizabeth Shaw in Ridley Scott’s 2012 pseudo-Alien prequel Prometheus, a role she will be reprising in the 2016 sequel. She has also appeared alongside Robert Downey Jr. in the 2011 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

But she skyrocketed to fame in 2009, a year after the English translation of Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As Dragon Tattoo crept out of cult following status and began building a loyal fan base in the anglophile world, the subtitled Rapace became a household name among Larsson devotees. The entire Swedish film trilogy was released in 2009 (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), and while the first film in the series was a solid thriller, the other two suffered from the same stalled forward motion that afflicts most sequels. This is partly due to the sheer enormity of Larsson’s plotting, which will be no less difficult now that Fincher is working on the sequel remake, The Girl Who Played with Fire.


Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara
After the translation of the first novel, the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon continued to build in America, and in 2011, with the release of Fincher’s remake, Rooney Mara’s star power was kicked into overdrive. She had already had some big roles before donning Salander’s characteristic mohawk, including The Social Network (another movie by Fincher), A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Youth in Revolt (a film adaptation of yet another fantastic book).

But Mara’s fame can really be understood as a post-Salander event. Since starring in Dragon Tattoo alongside Daniel Craig (who plays the investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist), her roles have increased not only in quantity, but also in intensity. In Her, she plays opposite Joaquin Phoenix as a depressed woman who is astonished at her ex-husband’s budding relationship with a handheld operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Before Her, there was Side Effects in which Mara played another tormented woman—only this time she ends up murdering her husband in what she claims was a pill-induced sleepwalk rage. This gripping murder mystery blends the secret conspiracies of big pharma with homoerotic backbiting and a good old-fashioned mystery thriller—and it brings Rooney Mara face-to-face with other big-time actors: Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum.

What makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such a compelling story, both in literature and in film? This trilogy pits fascist pig-men against the evolved twenty-first century woman, who still finds herself the victim of a society that doesn’t trust her to take care of herself. As a computer hacker and misfit genius, Salander strikes back violently. Any actress lucky enough to score this role must be overwhelmed by her luck and gratified by the confirmation of her talents. Many auditioned; two were selected.


Yolandi Vi$$er

Yolandi Vi$$er
As a final note, Dish would be remiss if we didn’t mention a certain tantalizing Internet rumor that never came true. Yolandi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord was said to be in the running to star in Fincher’s reboot of Dragon Tattoo. See one of Die Antwoord’s most famous music videos here, and you’ll understand immediately why Vi$$er as Salander would have been the head-trip of the year. Vi$$er’s depiction of this borderline psychotic woman would have been pure incarnated insanity—but oh well: Rapace and Mara have both done fantastic jobs at capturing Lisbeth Salander’s sizzling intensity, and thanks to Lisbeth Salander, their careers are just getting started.

You may wonder why Dish is recommending the Millennium trilogy even though Fincher’s sequel (Played with Fire) has gotten no further than the announcement that it will, eventually, get made. For those of you who haven’t heard about Dragon Tattoo yet, we’re hoping to introduce a whole new fan base to the craze. And for those of you who are already Salander devotees, did you know you can revisit all four films (including Fincher’s remake) on Netflix and the complete Swedish trilogy (for free and presumably for a limited time only!) on Hulu? This seems like the kind of trilogy that only Hulu+ subscribers can usually access, but that’s one of the Internet’s joys: when you go fishing in this huge ocean of unlimited information, sometimes you can come up with a real catch.

The Dragon Tattoo series is one of the best viewing experiences you’ll have all year, and we recommend you start with the Swedish version and then move on to the American. They are two totally different styles, but they both have their strengths. So get online and get to watching! Help bring Stieg Larsson back to life, if only for a little while. You won’t be sorry you did—but those men who hate women might be…


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 164 - September 2018
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