Saturday, June 05, 2010

film review: girl with a dragon tattoo

I write monthly film reviews for Touchstone, the monthly newspaper for the Methodist church in New Zealand. (reviews going back to 2005, are here). The challenge is writing 500 words that offer both an overview of the film, along with some theological comment. It can be tough, especially given, that for the June 2010 edition, I reviewed “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.”

The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a movie that remains inked on the viewers memory long after the final credits roll. It is good, but grueling.

The themes are big, a graphic portrayal of humans forced to wrestle with the impact of human abuse. Can two wrongs make a right in a world that is broken and bent? How do humans face past pain? Can we choose who we want to be, or are we unavoidably damaged by acts of human violence and depravity?

Such big themes are cleverly developed by an absorbing plot.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nygvist) is invited to solve the 40 year old mystery that is the disappearance of Harriet Vanger (Ewa Froling).  Blomkvist works surrounded by the suspicions of the Vanger family. Insular, yet wealthy, they entwine links to big business with the suspicions of a Nazi past.  His investigative skills are watched by the mysterious Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who compulsively cyber-stalks Blomkvist in order to monitor (pun intended) his progress.

The movie is an adaptation of the first book in Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series.  The books have become worldwide bestsellers, and work by clever pairings: investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist  with the tattooed cybersleuth Lisbeth Salander, her abusive state guardian Bjurman (Peter Andersson) with the shadowy businessman Martin Vanger (Peter Haber), Lisbeth Salander as a child with an adolescent Harriet Vanger.

The plot twists and turns, the pairings ensuring an unfolding set of mysteries that never baffle nor patronise, but rather absorb and intrigue the viewer.  It is clever, gritty and engrossing. The cinematic excellence – in theme, plot and 21st century aesthetic – make this movie good. All of which serves to make the film compellingly hard to watch.

The movie’s big themes – of wrestling with the past – are in fact deeply theological. They invite dialogue with events like the processes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  Or the work of a contemporary Christian theologian like Miroslav Volf, who in his book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, explores the place of grace given that humans are made with memory. His personal narration of his memory, of persecution in Yugoslavia, offer an alternative to the themes that unfold in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

Memory, for Volf, must start by remembering truthfully. This includes the need to consider the points of view of all who remember. Once such investigation is concluded, memory then has a choice.  It can continue to perpetuate cycles of revenge. Or it can seek new ways of being human, through forgiveness and reconciliation. For Volf, Christian grace is never simply individual. Instead, the gracious acts of Jesus invite us to say yes to letting the embrace of God be inked not only on our memory, but on our memories of our enemies.

If you are ever tempted to make such claims with lightness, then The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo could be necessary viewing.

It is a good movie. But grueling.

Posted by steve at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

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