Swedish Film Series Needs No Remake

by Shannon Baldo

A few months ago, entertainment journals spun into a frenzy over the announcement of a new film version of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium series of novels, beginning with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” So when I stumbled upon a series of movies based on the Millennium series in my Netflix recommendations, I was more than a little surprised.

It turns out that Sony’s highly publicized series of films was certainly not the first attempt to capture these books on screen. Two years ago, the acclaimed production outfit Yellowfish released a series of movies based on the novels for Swedish television.

And quite honestly, these are some of the most exquisite films I have ever seen.

Much of this has to do with the searing depth of Larsson’s narrative. Fueled by his hatred of violence against women, Larsson shaped his Millennium series around a single girl, Lisbeth Salandar, who has endured far more than anyone ever should.

She was physically and sexually abused by her father until she finally lashed out at him, she was psychiatrically hospitalized and denied her rights as a citizen, and she was raped repeatedly by her state-assigned guardians for over a decade. Because of this, Lisbeth has reverted to strength, stoicism and violence simply in order to survive.

Her individual struggle to overcome such violence — and her incredible refusal to become a victim of it — forms the core of the series, and her own horrors are only emphasized by her story’s constant intertwining with that of Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who gradually becomes Lisbeth’s first true friend and defender.
The story itself is positively heart-wrenching, but it can only remain so on screen with painfully raw emotion and truth. And this Swedish series allows as much pain as the audience can handle — and more.

We as viewers watch as Lisbeth is shot three times, twitching with each hit, and we see how her body jerks as her assailant dumps dirt over her still form. We watch as she is tied to a bed, gagged, stripped and brutally raped.

It’s difficult to watch, and more than once even I had to look away. But because of the graphic nature of these scenes, because of the honesty with which they are shown, the audience can truly understand the horror and the depth of Lisbeth’s struggle. Lisbeth, along with all women who have faced similar acts of violence, is therefore able to become real.

And I cannot praise the acting in this series enough. Newcomer Noomi Rapace captures the absolute pain of Lisbeth’s existence, so often suppressed into a numb strength, with an accuracy that is as devastating as it is admirable.

In every shot, in every movement, in every glance, Rapace shows the horrors that Lisbeth has endured. And yet Rapace, like the movie, never makes Lisbeth a victim. In fact, the films do not portray Lisbeth as likeable, let alone attractive or relatable. Instead, she is simply a girl in unimaginable pain, and the film’s refusal to make her anything more only makes her struggle all the more poignant.

The honest truth through which this Swedish series shows the effects of violence against women is what sets it apart from nearly every other film I have seen. It is essentially a penetrative psychological study wrapped up in the guise of mystery and intrigue, but the raw honesty with which it is presented shapes it into something truly exquisite.

As far as I am concerned, there is no need for a Hollywood production of the Millennium series when such a heart-wrenching and profound interpretation already exists.
And I can only urge every one of my readers to take the time to watch this series and to see the breathtaking portrait of pain within this narrative.


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