Home > Film > The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)

The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)

In a sense, a film needs a plot. There has to be something coherent to put on the screen. It should be entertaining. For those who prefer intelligence, it should offer food for thought. But without characters we can understand, respect and care about, there’s no point to the plot. There are only images on the screen with us indifferent as to the fate of those depicted in them.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the man’s film. He was the reporter threatened with jail and so available to undertake the investigation. She was playing catch-up. In the end, it was a partnership of equals. Sex was on her terms. They remained friends when she walked away. He was humble enough to be able to accept the fact that she saved his life. She could be with a man and not think of him as an enemy.

The sequel is a film about a woman. There’s a man who believes he is her friend, but he is now the one playing catch-up. The title is interesting and revealing. It names her as The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden. As a twelve-year old, she defended her mother by setting fire to her abusive father. She is all grown up now and the film starts with our heroine returning to Sweden after a year’s meaningless travel abroad, finding reasons to spend her ill-gotten gains. We see snapshots of her living out of suitcases. Later we see inside the apartment she buys in Sweden. It’s mostly empty. The refrigerator is bare. Eating is a functional thing you do to stay alive. She may have acquired wealth, but it has not changed her as a person. Literally and metaphorically, she lives hand-to-mouth. Material possessions are of little interest to her unless they serve a specific purpose. All she needs is a place to sleep, anonymous clothes to wear and the floor to store them on. This expensive flat has windows looking out into the world she must periodically enter. She feels safer inside looking out, but is supremely confident when out. Someone who knows her, thinks of her as invincible. Indeed, that’s how she thinks of herself. Except, of course, someone more invincible can overwhelm her. When this happens, she never gives up. She just carries on as if nothing untoward has happened.

Early on in the film, her employer from the first film complains that she treats those she knows as disposable. People are only there for her convenience, to be spoken to or helped as she feels appropriate. He wonders how someone can be so walled-off from the world. He says this as an outsider and without rancour, accepting her for who she is. There’s no need for him actually to ask how she relates to those whom she might call her friends. Apart from her first legal Guardian and a girl for sex, she has no friends.

Because she is who she is, she finds herself a target. As it’s explained to her, “It’s just business.” But through this involvement, she gets a second chance at revenge for what happened to her mother. In other films, we would no doubt lose sympathy for someone who decides to act out the impulse. Taking both films together, however, the cumulative horror in her life gives us understanding. The simple vulnerability and honesty of her defuses the issue. This is not sensationalised in Hollywood style with vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. This is an abused woman who fights to reclaim who she is as a person. Nevertheless, we should note that she immediately responds with graphic violence to her rape and, at the end of the first film, she takes vicarious revenge, destroying the wealthy tycoon who was able to imprison her man for an alleged defamation. We can therefore see a kind of inspirational righteousness in her. She seeks justice, not only for herself, but also for those she has some feelings for. Towards the end of this film, she takes the unprecedented step of sending her man an e-mail acknowledging him as a friend. The first sign that a woman who has suffered so much abuse at the hands of men may be able to trust one of that breed again.

This is a film in which people who are hit, stay hit. It does not glorify violence. Instead it shows brutality for what it is and what it does to people. Take it as being a part of the film’s integrity. The story blends detection with a more thrillerish approach. This is detection as self-defence, aiming to identify the source of the threat and eliminate it before “it” eliminates the heroine. More importantly, it starts to give us a better view of the extent of the conspiracy that has victimised the girl-now-woman. Although there’s one obvious “bad guy”, he’s not working alone. Swedish society is implicated and it will take a few brave souls to root out the corruption and see justice done.

This film is stunningly good, in many ways rather better than the first. Although, when I think about it, the second draws its strength from the first. If you saw the second as a stand-alone, you would struggle to understand it. Once again, the cast proves sensational. Michael Nyqvist is playing the “hero” in a wonderfully understated way, while Noomi Rapace continues to star as the eponymous “girl”. In every way, she carries the film. Indeed, seeing the structure of this film and how the primary characters relate to each other, makes Hollywood’s decision to remake the Millennium Trilogy even more bizarre. When you cast a sex symbol like Daniel Craig into the leading male role, how can he fail to see, let alone touch, the girl until the last few frames? Although the hero does have sex with the editor of the magazine where he works, I doubt this opportunity to see Craig without his shirt will be enough to satisfy Hollywood and Craig’s fans. I fear there will be major surgery to distort the plot into a star-vehicle. Unfortunately, Stieg Larsson is no longer around to defend the novels he wrote — the trilogy being published posthumously. When so much money is at stake, the needs of bankers outweigh any artistic hopes that might lurk in the consciences of the author’s heirs who sold the rights.

Back in the Swedish film industry where character is everything, events are left nicely poised for the third. Fortunately, the trilogy is playing as a single season so I only have a few weeks to wait to see how it all works out.

For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)
The Girl Who Played With Fire or Flickan som lekte med elden (2009)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Headhunters or Hodejegerne (2011)
Wallander: Before the Frost (2012)
Wallander: The Dogs of Riga (2012)
Wallander: An Event in Autumn (2012)
Wallander: Faceless Killers (2010)
Wallander: The Fifth Woman (2010)
Wallander: Firewall (2009)
Wallander: The Man Who Smiled (2010)
Wallander: One Step Behind (2008)
Wallander: Sidetracked (2009)

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  1. September 30, 2010 at 8:58 pm

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