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Review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the movie.

March 30, 2010

Director Niels Arden Oplev’s movie of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the first book in the Millennium Trilogy) is more harrowing than the novel, and as thrillers go, it had me on the edge of my seat. The subtitles did nothing to belittle my enjoyment.

Noomi Rapace plays the part of Lisbeth Salander and is very much how I imagined her from reading the book, right down to her piercings, her suspicious, angry eyes and her girl-like body. From the very first scene in the movie we see Salander being brutalized by a gang of youths in a subway, and nobody comes to her aid. That just about sums up her whole life to date: abuse, and no-one to protect her. In my opinion, this is more impactful that the “soft” introduction of Salander in the novel, which is via Dragan Armansky, whose opinion of her is the reader’s first, slightly removed, introduction to this character.

The Director takes great pains to show why Salander is such a damaged person: via a flashback of Salander as a little girl setting fire to her father, and through a visit to her brain-damaged mother, it is made very clear that her father was abusive and Salander’s actions were to protect her mother. The Director has taken a bit of poetic license here, since a reader of the Millennium Trilogy doesn’t learn the details of her childhood until the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire.

The rape of Salander by the very man who should be protecting her, her legal guardian, Advokat Bjurman, is horrifically brought to life in the movie. I could hardly watch. This scene summed up one of the central themes of the book and indeed the movie: abuse of women and a corrupt system that allows it to continue. Salander’s mother, Salander herself and the “missing” girl, Harriet Vanger, were all brutalised and raped and they had nowhere to turn for help. In desperation, Salander tried to kill the abuser, whereas Harriet fled the country.

I was glad the movie raced through the period Mikael Blomkvist spent researching the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. As an impatient reader, who likes plot to move quickly, I found the first half of the book – in which Mikael does his investigating – a bit slow-going . Another interesting point of difference between the book and the movie is the very deliberate change in Blomkvist’s character. The Director must have decided to drop his womanising behaviour and his somewhat confronting attitude to sex: his long standing affair with his Editor and his bed-hopping with many of the female characters was conspicuously absent from the movie. Instead, he was a “nice” man who only sleeps with Salander, and only then because she seduces him. Whilst this alteration makes him easier to like, it makes him less complex and therefore less interesting. Nobody likes a goody-two-shoes, particularly in a hero. Bring on the character flaws!

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The rise of the thriller heroine

March 9, 2010

Writing a novel is one thing. Turning it into a movie script is another thing entirely. Today I met with a script writer who is interested in turning The Genesis Flaw into a movie. All very exciting, especially as the novel doesn’t go on sale for another few months. And it’s strange how the writing community is so inter-connected. This particular script writer heard about The Genesis Flaw though a mention on The Writers’ Studio’s website. It was at The Writers’ Studio that I first became inspired to write thrillers.

In this meeting, we discussed how rare, still, are female central characters in thrillers. I’ve noticed that over the last ten years, as more female crime writers have emerged, some magnificent female detective and forensic characters have appeared. How wonderful is Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpatta character? And some amazing, feisty leading females have powered across the pages of thrillers like John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief. But female characters in thrillers still often play the supporting role, such as Dan Brown’s recent mysteries. Steig Larsson’s trilogy breaks the mould here: what a complex, unexpected and intriguing heroine is Lisbeth Salander!

Creating a female protagonists isn’t easy. She has to be tough and resilient enough to survive all the horrors thrown at her. She must be courageous and steadfast, and able to draw on talents that equip her to win the final “battle”. But there is a fine line between creating a female character who endures more than we could, and not making her appear a heartless bitch who rides rough-shod over others to achieve her goal. Making her sympathetic and showing her vulnerabilities, I believe, is essential. If you understand what drives her to place herself in such danger, then, as a reader, you empathise and want to go along for the ride. In the case of Serena Swift, her motivation to action is not only the death of her father but the guilt she carries around that she not only missed his death but never went after those she believed responsible.

I’d be interested to here from you on what you think makes a good female central character?

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