The first book, when published in Sweden, was called MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. In THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Stieg Larsson introduced the theme of violence against women. In THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, the author broadens the focus, building the story around the kidnapping and sale of children and young teenagers from Eastern Europe for the sex trade in Sweden, an industry supported by some of the wealthiest and most influential men in the country. In TATTOO the secrets of a family were played out over generations. The horrors revealed were confined within the Wennerstrom family, a microcosm of Swedish society as a whole. In FIRE, the secrets of a society are revealed against the backdrop of human misery that is real and is happening in real time. The trafficking of children for sex and for slavery is a problem that overwhelms societies throughout the world because there is so much money to be made and the men who are making the money are in positions to stymy the most aggressive of whistle-blowers.
In the film of THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, Dag and Mia have written an article for Millennium magazine using facts Mia has discovered while working on her thesis and interviews Dag has conducted with men whose names Mia has uncovered during her research. The article leads to a crime but that crime gets more attention than the child-trafficking about which they wrote. The connection between Lisbeth’s experiences as a child and the children from Eastern Europe who are brought to Sweden is clearer in the books. Larsson reminds the reader frequently, although mostly subtly, that the stories are always about crimes against females by men who have power when they have none.
The English-language versions of the books all start with THE GIRL…. so it isn’t a surprise that much of each film is devoted to Lisbeth. But Mikael Blomkvist, writer and publisher of Millennium magazine, is an investigative journalist who goes to jail because of articles he wrote that drew attention to the manipulations of the Swedish system by the very wealthy and the powerful. Mikael uses his reputation as an honest journalist to publish magazine length exposes of the violence, especially the violence against women, that lies just beneath the surface of Swedish society. Larsson was an investigative journalist and Blomkvist seems to be an autobiographical figure.
In the films, Lisbeth is the central figure but in the books Mikael and his investigations share equal time with Lisbeth. Mikael relies on Lisbeth’s skills and benefits from her anti-social behavior. When Lisbeth focuses on a problem nothing distracts her. She provides the grist for Mikael’s mill. In the books,Larsson was presenting social commentary within the pages of a book that can’t be put down. The films are thrillers with a dash of social commentary.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was great story-telling. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, like Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE, is a story that needs telling.
My daughter thinks the whole story is contained in the film. I think the real story is in the books. Larsson could say much more about the societal issues he cared about in books of 500 pages. Screenwriters can only show some of the story within the 129 minutes of the film. My husband likes both.
As the Mike Myers character on Saturday Night Live used to say: DISCUSS.