Programme Note: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Please note that these programme notes contain spoilers.
Mid-way through the third film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s immensely popular Millenium Trilogy, one character refers to Lisbeth Salander’s tumultuous public profile as being ‘like a Greek tragedy’. There may be more to this statement than a simple reference to a dramatic lifestyle. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest considers that such base human instincts are more prevalent in society today than we may think, particularly in relation to gender.
Daniel Alfredson directs for a second time, starting exactly where he ended in The Girl Who Played with Fire, with Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) hospitalised after having been shot by both her father and brother. As she recovers from a bullet wound to the brain, she awaits charges on three counts of murder on her release and, once again, it is journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) who will fight for her innocence through the vehicle of his left-wing political magazine Millenium. To be acquitted she must face a corrupt web of enemies and her own troubled past. It’s part political thriller, part courtroom drama, with less action than its predecessors and more didactic recapitulation of the trilogy as a whole.
It certainly wears its gender thematics on its sleeve. In an early scene, a female police officer’s neck is abruptly snapped by Lisbeth’s estranged brother Ronald Neidermann (Mike Spreitz). This preludes the film’s initial representation of women. Mikael’s co-worker Erika (Lena Endre), editor of Millenium, is intelligent and determined and yet her actions are largely guided by her love for him. His sister Annika (Annika Gianinni), also Lisbeth’s lawyer, is pregnant, her corporeal vulnerability heightened when she visits Lisbeth in hospital and they are threatened by a gunman. Even Lisbeth, posited as a strong female lead in the first two films, is constrained for much of the narrative, relying on the actions of men to shape her circumstance. An expected familial showdown is avoided early on when the gunman kills her father in a nearby hospital bed.
The embodiment of absolute (male) brutality can be seen in Lisbeth’s brother. Incongruous scenes of violence – he pushes an unknown woman out of a moving car and murders an unsuspecting man with a brick to the head – indicate a vast vortex of cruelty. His subjugation of women is particularly notable; we see them tied up, helpless, crying. Seemingly stupid and mostly mute, he is incapable of feeling, both literally and figuratively, except for his father, his ‘creator’, whom he singularly must avenge by killing his sister. A Frankenstein interpretation is given no credence by an ambiguous character, however, and his sister’s intellect and intuition overcomes his animal strength.
Lisbeth’s doctor would appear to cast his ethics at the centre of his actions, the integral treatment of his patient taking precedence over police requests to continue their investigations by talking to Lisbeth. His growing interest in her complicates this initial reading, and her apparent indifference leaves us questioning his strength of character. A scene between him and Mikael in which they discuss Lisbeth’s condition has an underlying tone of male egoistical ownership.
In fact, Mikael’s bearing as a protagonist in the trilogy is compromised. His conduct, when faced with the potential abandonment of the Millenium print run, is questionable. Despite the ominous threats his co-workers, and particularly Erika, have been receiving, he is reluctant to jeopardise the prospect of Lisbeth’s release. His imprudent tenacity is paralleled with Erika’s strong will as she is prepared to forget him on moral grounds by contemplating resignation. His treatment of Erika pointedly mirrors Lisbeth’s treatment of him. Their lingering and somewhat awkward exchange at her door in the film’s pre-climactic scene is telling; it would seem that from his advances Lisbeth senses an inherent weakness in Mikael. It is of course also emblematic of the life-altering abuse she has suffered at the hands of men. The un-romanticised nature of Lisbeth and Mikael’s relationship and the lack of a Hollywood ending is refreshing (and interesting to consider in light of the subsequent David Fincher remake of the first film, due for release late next year).
The court scenes are a gender case in point. An all-male prosecution face Lisbeth and Annika, the former festooned in her trademark leathers and war paint for the first time in this film, suitably equipped to face her perpetrators and her past. The judge is female, and her perception of Lisbeth’s predicament grows as the hearing progresses. Her partiality is clearly affected when the recording of Lisbeth’s brutal rape is played out in court (for those who have seen the first two films, these graphic scenes will be familiar, their repetition doing little to nullify their shock value). Lisbeth is not a straightforward victim, her mercurial, often feral nature evident in court, but she is still capable of evoking great compassion. Lisbeth and Annika’s initially strained relationship takes on new weight with the introduction of this tape. These three women take on an assumed united front, complicit looks between them speaking of an innate female understanding. Lisbeth’s strength is restored and she remains the orchestrator of the narrative and her own fate.
At the heart of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest is a study of sexism and gender inequalities that have permeated the whole trilogy. Lisbeth’s doctor gives her a book called Understanding DNA to aid her recovery; a symbolic code to cracking the inherent differences between men and women and why, since the inception of the feminist movement in the 1970s, misogynistic radicalism is still present in society today. The film ends with a question: a closing wide-shot of a night-lit Stockholm asks why gender crimes still fester in the depths of this, or indeed any, city.