Home > Film > The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or Luftslottet som sprängdes (2009)

In the written form of story-telling, you can shift the point of point to give a different perspective on the emerging narrative. This is more difficult in the cinema. That’s what makes The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest slightly different to the preceding two in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, but no less engrossing.

Some thirty years ago, a friend of mine did quite a lot of business in Sweden and I always remember him saying, “If you want anything done, you have to form a committee.” I don’t know whether the same decision-making philosophy applies today, but he described Swedish society as being co-operative in spirit with more people admitted to stakeholder roles.

The best way to think about this trilogy is to see it as two separate narrative arcs. The “girl” starts off defending her mother from an abusive father, ends up punished in a mental hospital, and then released on licence into a corrupt Guardianship system. The journalist has had an eventful life investigating the rich and famous, is the joint founder of a high-profile and respected journal, and continues his pursuit of justice.

This makes the trilogy all about pace and scale. In the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the journalist sets off in classical detective story format. From his point of view, we see the investigation develop. This is small-scale and limited by what he can find. Initially, his progress is slow until the girl makes it a team effort. Then the pace picks up as they begin to see beyond the immediate and glimpse the bigger picture. By the end of the film, we have some real insight into the journalist and observe the girl without being given enough information to understand her. This is reflected in the descriptive title to the film. This is “as she is”.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is a title in the past tense. We are immediately referred back to the original defensive act as the context for the current action. This switches the frame of the film from a genre-specific detective format to that of a psychological thriller where we begin to see why the girl has been victimised. This means we step back from the more intimate story between the journalist and the girl, and now see them as players in a bigger game.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is also a title in the past tense and a reference back to the same attack on her father, now given fresh impetus from her new attempt to kill him. The frame for the narrative is completely expanded to include the state. If there’s one basic truth about governments, it’s that one journalist cannot investigate and prosecute high-ranking civil servants or politicians. Only a state has the authority to look at itself and decide whether anything should be done. Although there’s a wonderful mythology surrounding Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s contribution to the downfall of President Nixon, there was a continuing investigation, initially FBI-based, looking for a link between the Watergate break-in and the re-election campaign committee. Our fictional journalist is no better than the real-world equivalents and can do nothing more than hitch his wagon to the Swedish Prime Minister’s task force. He stops being the “hero” in the Hollywood sense of the word, and becomes a cog in the machine. He joins the committee to get things done.

The girl has a different role to play. In a patriarchal society, there are penalties for attacking your father. It matters not whether this is in defence of your mother or yourself, you will be put on trial. Thus, the girl must be seen as the victim both personally, because she has been seriously injured, and legally, because the courts are to be used to lock her away again in “the” mental hospital. That’s why it’s such a pleasing touch when she asserts her individuality by dressing in high style for her court appearances. She will not be intimidated.

As a drama produced by Yellow Bird, this is a flat, ensemble piece with everyone pitching in to get a successful resolution. The other journalists at the Millennium find key information, the journalist’s sister is the girl’s lawyer. Even Plague gets a featuring moment or two in finally hacking the corrupt psychiatrist’s laptop. There are new players on the side of “right” and, of course, it must all be resolved with the girl released from custody.

The moment at the end between the journalist and the girl is touching and hits exactly the right note. In this concluding film, Noomi Rapace is a largely silent presence. It’s a nicely judged performance as she works her way back to health and then endures the trial. Michael Nyqvist continues as the dogged investigator although, as in the first film, he is forced to fight for his life. Yet again, he is saved by a woman. This is as it should be in a film about patriarchalism. A few words must be said about Anders Ahlbom as the venal and perverted psychiatrist and Lena Endre as the brave co-founder of Millennium and the journalist’s lover. In an ensemble film where everyone must work for the good of the team, they produced particularly clever performances. Ahlbom is the epitome of cunning, never overconfident and sufficiently aware to understand when it’s better to say nothing. Endre rises magnificently to the thankless role. She must be intimidated as the co-founder of Millennium and jealous of the girl who seems to be seducing her man away. It could have been the worst kind of hysteria, but it was muted and sensitive.

I have two reservations about the end-product. The first is that, with everyone spying on everyone else, it’s difficult at times to know which side we are seeing. The second is more serious. The Niedermann thread is completely wasted. He should have been caught at the end of the second film. In this episode, his only function is to interrupt the development of the major plot themes, surviving to allow the girl an opportunity to show she is back on form. In reality, all the post-trial excitement does is delay the meeting we want to see with the journalist. A more subtle way to demonstrate her recovery should have been found.

This is a must-see for anyone who enjoyed the first two. It’s genuinely engrossing and produces a highly satisfying resolution to the girl’s narrative arc with a senior agent of the Swedish government giving evidence for her in the trial. There’s no better way for a state to acknowledge its past mistakes. But, if you have not seen the first two, do not go and see this. You will be thoroughly confused.

For reviews of other films and television programs by Yellow Bird:
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)

  1. Mary
    October 30, 2010 at 5:23 am

    Thank you for your perceptive and well written review. I enjoyed reading your ideas about the film and look forward to seeing it when it comes to town–soon I hope.

    • October 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

      Thank you. There is one additional point to add to the review. In the short relationship between the girl and the doctor, there may be a sign she is beginning to understand that men are not always threatening. This may be a sign of psychological rehabilitation, pulling her out of the slight autism that characterises her general interactions with people.

      I hope you enjoy the film.

  2. John Roberts
    November 1, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Are you suggesting that the film should have changed the book’s chronology with Niedermann? Or (gulp) eliminated the final battle? Because as you surely know, that did indeed occur post-trial in the book, which of course it had too because otherwise our heroine was confined!

    • November 2, 2010 at 12:14 am

      Actually, I have not read the book nor do I care what happens in the book. I am concerned with the film qua film. In my view, the primary drive of the narrative is interrupted by the Niedermann episodes. Instead of representing a credible threat, they prove a toothless distraction. When a studio makes a film, the director has to make editorial decisions on what works as a film and what does not. There is no requirement slavishly to follow the book if it does not work on screen. I think retaining Niedermann was a big mistake and, if indeed it was required, a better way could have been found to prove the girl had recovered her cool than by having her fight the man. This insistence on having her prove physical prowess is not consistent with her psychological rehabilitation as a person. Through her interaction with the doctor and the journalist, she is learning people can be trusted, but this is nothing more than gratuitous revenge. It cheapens the apparent triumph of justice through the trial. Having just shown that the apparatus of the state can produce the right results, it is counterproductive to then see her exulting over the use of the bikers as vigilantes and setting them up be caught in the process. We should see her debate with herself whether to contact the journalist. Then have him come around unannounced and end on that point. That would be a perfect resolution of everything important.

  3. John Roberts
    November 2, 2010 at 12:45 am

    Thanks for the response.

    SInce you haven’t read them, I will tell you: These books are Death Wish with a lefty/feminist twist and a more interesting lead character than Charles Bronson. The readers want Salander to kill her evil half-brother, and to see her take down the bikers too. The dirtier she plays, the better. It’s a revenge epic.

    I like your suggestion, but it makes for a very different experience than the books delivered. And these films are about delivering the books, as accurately as possible given the change in the medium.

    Perhaps Fincher will be bolder about turning the books into something different for the movie. Maybe as Coppola did with The Godfather, he will transmute a very good pulp story into an extraordinary film.

    • November 2, 2010 at 3:29 am

      This is an interesting comparison because Death Wish, the original novel by Brian Garfield, is not what you see with the Winner films. For better or worse, the director decided he would make his own story based on the book. Indeed, it was because Winner changed things around that it could then spawn the sequels exploring the way in which society may accommodate and approve the practice of revenge.

      I suspect we would probably be in complete agreement if I had read the books. It would colour our appreciation of the films. I recently went to see The Last Airbender and was disappointed in the failure to translate a wonderfully powerful story to the screen. When you have a frame of reference, it is easier to make comparisons and judge both the author’s and the director’s intentions. Having only seen the films, I can only view the resulting trilogy as a piece of cinema. As explained in my posts here, I prefer to see this trilogy as an exploration of patriarchalism. The girl has been a victim of her father and then of the state’s institutions. The final scene in court with an officer of the state exonerating her completes the journey which began during her early childhood. She is vindicated. Because of her status as a victim, we are supposed to look the other way when she takes revenge. Morally, she is no better than those who abused her, but we can forgive her.

      As the film ends, there is no atonement. She has learned nothing except that she gets emotional satisfaction from seeing those who have wronged her suffer and die. I would feel more comfortable if she had been allowed the chance to live and let live. Excluding Niedermann would have left her the moral high ground. The director’s decision that he should die at the end leaves her no better than a cold-blooded killer. I would rather not celebrate this in the spirit of Death Wish which glorifies revenge. I simply shake my head in sadness that it should all have come to this.

  4. John Roberts
    November 2, 2010 at 4:27 am

    Here’s a tidbit for you — in the book, Salander invites Micke into her apartment in the very last scene. She welcomes him into her life. (It’s a banal section alright.) The reader is told as directly as possible that Salander has grown and changed.

    In the film, Salander’s final status is ambiguous.

    • November 2, 2010 at 11:18 am

      I feel “banal” understates the horror. My reading around this series suggests the intention to write at least ten books featuring this couple. Apart, I think there is tension and interest. If they became an item, almost all the interest would evaporate and leave us with clunky thriller plots. So kudos to the director for seeing the real issues and leaving it ambiguous. In this respect, cinema has definitely improved on the original.

  5. December 3, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Thanks for some interesting points – you certainly provide far more to think about than the embarrassingly perfunctory reviews in the Guardian, for example.(A snide comment on Mikael Blomkvist’s “mutton-dressed-as-lamb style in leather jacket and hair colour” is their level of insight.) I’m still mulling over quite why I liked the films as much as I did. I certainly had issues with all three – I agree totally with your comments about Niedermann for starters. But then I also agree that the ending was perfect. Maybe it’s time to read the books…

    • December 3, 2010 at 1:48 am

      You are definitely a bright light in East Anglia! 🙂

      As you will gather from the books I’ve reviewed, I rarely read mystery for its own sake so I’m not going to be reading the Trilogy any time soon. I would far rather remember the excitement of seeing the whole thing on screen. I think the reason why I liked it all so much was the sense of real people on the screen. Thankfully, this was not the plastic Hollywood fare with characters I can’t relate to. I have met people exactly like almost everyone that appeared in these films (including several homicidal monsters — signs of a misspent youth in there somewhere). Although this exaggerated reality in having everything involve Lisbeth, it is her experience as a victim in European society that gives the films so much power. There are no punches pulled. Sweden’s nazi past is back in the news again: http://sify.com/news/swedish-royals-in-fresh-scandal-after-nazi-past-of-queen-s-father-revealed-news-international-kmcpariaaja.html as a timely reminder of the first film’s background, the abuse of women in all mental health institutions is a continuing scandal, the corruption of government and its agencies. . . all life is in there.

      • December 3, 2010 at 10:26 pm

        A private reply rather than comment to post: Thanks for lovely reply (although it took a few seconds for light to go on in my brain-that whole not recognising your voice/forgetting your internet alias thing – to continue the light theme!). Yup, definitely people you could believe in rather than Hollywood version. Perhaps that’s why I felt so defensive about the Guardian comment (apart from its lack of any intellectual content). Really must finish my own review today. Got time before TMS and the Ashes starts again! BW & thanks again, h

  1. December 8, 2010 at 2:20 am

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