The Girl Who Played With Fire

September 21, 2010

The late Stieg Larsson’s 2005 Millennium trilogy; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest; are the latest commercial success in popular crime fiction turned popular film trilogy. Criticised for a flat “TV” aesthetic and, certainly for some viewers, a graphic depiction of violence against women, the film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo split opinions largely due to its perceived quality and depth. Second in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is, as a crime thriller in the first instance, perhaps less successful than its predecessor, the tension and indeed the stakes never quite reaching the critical heights of Dragon Tattoo. However, Played With Fire is, in my humble opinion at least , an absolutely engaging and thoughtful film, beyond the passive “entertainment” confines of its generic categorization as dramatic-thriller. The film builds on the ideas already present in Dragon Tattoo and together they offer a combined contemplation of historical resonance and a subsequent critique of contemporary state systems, both of which I found compelling.

Following on from the trauma of the first film, which was largely informed by the persistent horrors of the Holocaust, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi  Rapace) is shown in new, plush surroundings, stripped bare of personal effects. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has returned to investigative journalism with a new protégé, and a story that will expose a number of influential men and their exploitative actions against countless women who have been consistently failed by the country’s social welfare system. When three murders, linked to Blomkvist’s exposé and to Lisbeth, take place, she is assumed by the authorities to be the responsible party and as such, goes into a form of hiding. Blomkvist, sure of her innocence, embarks upon yet another highly dangerous search for the truth. Moving on to reveal links with Soviet foreign intelligence agency, the GRU, Played With Fire builds on the historical resonance created in Dragon Tattoo suggesting that the contemporary failures of the state (concerning welfare in this instance) are intrinsically linked to the problems of a complex and damaging history at unrest.

Perhaps the most interesting and provocative contemplation the film throws up lies in a Deleuzian reading of its spatial and temporal motivations. According to Deleuze, cinema was, pre-WWII, spatially motived by what he terms “the movement image”, that is to say that physical movement onscreen motivated the forward trajectory of the film through; 1) perception images (what is seen), 2) affection images (what is felt) and 3) action images (onscreen action). With WWII as the single event that created a “rupture” or “shift”, post-WWII film became, according to Deleuze, motivated by temporal advancement: “the time image”. In addition to the spectacular car chase that takes place (an obvious manifestation of the movement image) there is a scene in which Blomkvist, talking to a “source”, wanders around a garden; the image  strangely motivated by his slow physical action rather than the “race-against-time” of its thriller narrative. That the nature of their discussion harks back to the complex history pre-dating the time image subtly suggests that the ability to move in a forward trajectory following such traumatic historic events is itself fractured. In this way the film is suggesting that these still living histories create a contemporary rupture or shift of their own whereby resolution can only be achieved through a combined space/time motivator. That our two protagonists Lisbeth and Blomkvist are separated for the majority of their time onscreen; that Lisbeth must constantly move so as not to be caught by the authorities and that Blomkvist must constantly travel sometimes great distances to follow-up on a lead (this was also the case in Dragon Tattoo) further support the idea that movement is at least equal in motivation to its temporal counterpart. This is not to suggest that time is of any lesser importance within the film(s); both films in fact reveal their key crimes to have been taking place for decades gone by yet the sense of urgency, the generic “race-against-time”,  is always present.

But Lisbeth and Blomkvist face obstacles of literal and figurative enormity in Played With Fire, namely, a sort of uber-Aryan who suffers congenital analgesia (insensitivity to pain) and as such is virtually invincible; impervious to the pain inflicted upon him by other “feeling” human beings. His role is symbolic as he stands in for a physical reminder for the past. The type of “numbness”  he experiences situates him appositely as a physical incarnation for the shameful act of denying or forgetting the scars such an horrific history has left in its wake. Whilst much of the world has come to concern itself with contemporary issues, here the resonance of history indestructibly persists.

Although much of the historically significant content in the film evokes theoretical contemplation; failure of social systems as a result of a damaged state motivated by an Althusserian model of ideological and repressive state apparatuses; the final chapter, and thus any true conclusions to its provocations, is yet to come. In the hope that the final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, will fully elucidate these ideas, The Girl Who Played With Fire offers a fine and fascinating pit stop for now. Certainly deserving of greater appreciation than just being labeled a decent dramatic-thriller with a TV aesthetic, Played With Fire is highly engaging, and often intelligent, fare.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday September 23 through Rialto Entertainment.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

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