Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
Through faith we understand that the world was crated by the word of God,
and that what is seen was not made of things that are visible.
– from the Diary of the Missing Girl


Although their target is Evil incarnate, the tagline isn’t quite correct. In a different context, their methods might even come across as boring. But through the liberal use of movie magic, his bookish facility with words and her savviness tapping into communications that travel through air, the two form a partnership to solve the puzzle at the heart of this story.

Despite this shared commitment, the pose is also misleading since they’re rarely together. This is especially true in the second and third installments of the trilogy, where they do not come face-to-face until the final frame. The alliance forged in the beginning takes them on separate paths, each battling the agents of darkness that seek to remain hidden, shielded from the light of day.

This occlusion – veiled and concealed – is perpetrated by the English title of the film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, choosing to forego the Swedish original which directly named the Evil that they fought: Men Who Hate Women.

But the English title isn’t completely inappropriate. After all, the “girl” is the protagonist and her tattoo is a defining feature of her persona. For like many others who modify their bodies – either through the use of ink or painful incisions – these marks trace the outline a deeply personal roadmap of where the body has been and what it’s survived. They’re a testament of what she’s weathered and how she’s changed: an indication of where (and how) she’s drawn her strength.

This fortification will serve her well, since she’s also forced to revisit the flames of the past (The Girl Who Played with Fire) and defend herself against accusations of murder (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, in Swedish: The Air-Castle That Was Exploded). In other words, the Millennium Trilogy traces her movement through the elements, made incendiary by men seeking to protect their interests – and their secrets – through the use of violence and force.


Millennium is the name of the leftist magazine for which Mikael Blomkvist writes although, during the course of this story, his politics undergo a radical change. In the beginning, he’s committed to the usual causes embraced by the left, like the evils of unbridled capitalism. The film begins with the backlash against a story he wrote that accused a prominent financier of embezzlement and other crimes. Rather than being celebrated, he was found guilty of besmearing the name of a public figure whose reputation was (seemingly) beyond reproach.

This humiliation is when the story truly began. For only after leaving his job was he introduced to the mystery that continued until the end, one that would require an unwavering commitment to dethrone the alliance of forces dead-set against unveiling what was hidden in the dark. So, with each segment of the trilogy comes a different publication, mirroring the shift from his leftist politics to a different kind of truth. It’s a sign of his conversion, and his awakening to a completely different world.

1. The first episode ends with a revision of his original story. With Lisbeth Salander’s help, he exposed a man who bolstered his public image using resources he secretly siphoned behind the scenes; he also had  connections with the underground trade in guns and illicit drugs.
2. The second episode exposed the hidden traffick in women: how public servants and public defenders exploit girls for personal gratification and sadistic release. It described a two-tier system seldom recognized or seen – one honorable and public, the other shrouded in shame, both intertwined – as the powerful and entitled drew sustenance from the secreted and abused.
3. The third publication moved from the general to the specific, defending Lisbeth Salander against charges of murder, exposing the lies veiling the ugly truth that the powerful preferred remain unseen. Once exposed, the thin veneer of justice could no longer hold, and that lofty edifice would crash to the ground with a thundering roar.

Is it a mistake, then, to note that in a different context Millennium refers to the end of days, when the ultimate destiny of humanity is finally fulfilled, when Final Judgment is passed and the unrighteous are condemned to a pool of fire? Should this parallel seem far-fetched, let’s not forget that holy scripture played a central role for Men Who Hate Women, used as a twisted defense for their ghastly acts.


Only after his public humiliation was Mikael Blomkvist introduced to the first of many mysteries to come. (Unbeknownst to him, it was Lisbeth Salander who recruited him for the task.) For there was an old man haunted by the disappearance of his adopted daughter, believing that she was dead. Yet, each year he was tormented by mementos sent to him, reminding him of the child he once adored but lost.

The old man assumed they were sent by the girl’s murderer, sending the same gifts she gave him when she was still alive. But now they came anonymously, leaving him baffled as to where they were coming from or even why. As reminders of her unexplained disappearance, he was left unable to mourn, since the wound of her absence was cruelly kept alive.

When he arrived on the solitary island, Mikael was overcome by a feeling of déjà vu. The Swedish film makes this explicit: Mikael had lived there as a child; in the American remake, his familiarity is conveyed by a gesture and a memory flashed across the screen. Mikael had known the missing girl. He had adored her too, but not as his child since she was older. For the little boy, she was more like an idealized mother who personalized all that was decent and good.

The mansion also struck a chord, its wintry silhouette an eerie echo from the long-forgotten past. And so, on the heels of professional failure came an old man with a mystery that intertwined with his own life. Untapped secrets buried beneath the snow. This was the task for which he was recruited: to help resolve an old man’s torment about his missing  (adoptive) daughter and, for Mikael, to figure out what happened to the girl who once looked after him when he was a child.


Since the island was cut off from the rest of society, the old man was certain the murderer belonged to his extended family. No one else was present when his (adoptive) daughter disappeared. But since no corpse was ever found, neither was there any forensic evidence to identify the perpetrator of a crime.

Mikael’s investigation began with a genealogy, identifying the key relationships in the old man’s family. Henrik (the old man) was one of five brothers, heirs to a family fortune that once built the country into what it is today. He had been a captain of industry. For a moment, he was the country’s unofficial king.

Despite the prosperity, there were major rifts in the family. Mikael could hardly keep track of who was speaking to whom, each faction nursing grievances about how they’d been irreparably wronged. A dark secret hovered over the family, as well: several prominent brothers had embraced National Socialism during the War (aka the Nazi Party).

The old man’s (adopted) daughter was the child of Gottfriend, son of Richard, his brother. He took in the girl and her brother after their father’s untimely death. Soon thereafter, she disappeared without a trace. The only clue she left behind was a page from her diary on which were written codes even the police were unable to decipher but which turned out to be key in solving the old man’s tortured puzzlement.

The Secret Code Leviticus 20 27

Were it not for another’s assistance, Mikael would have been stumped as well. In the Swedish film, Lisbeth provides the key; in the American remake, it comes from Mikael’s own daughter. And once he was set upon the proper path, there was no turning back, for the code pointed to something so sinister it could not be ignored. (The moment this connection was made is also when Mikael and Lisbeth’s partnership officially began.)

The numbers referred to passages from Leviticus, third book of the Old Testament and the Torah. The initials referred to young women who were mutilated and killed. As it turns out, before her disappearance, the girl had been a detective, connecting the women’s disfigured bodies with scriptural verses used to defend those heinous crimes.

The daughter of a priest who profanes herself by playing the harlot profanes the father and shall be burned with fire. (Lev. 20: 19)
A woman who is a medium or sorcerer shall be put to death by stoning. (Lev. 20: 27).
If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast. Their blood shall be upon them. (Lev. 20: 16).

Eventually, the pair connects these gruesome murders with the Nazi past. Not only were they obsessed with racial purity, they fixated on a woman’s sexuality, drawn to yet repelled by her body and her desire. When she failed to conform to certain expectations – but nevertheless triggered him – she was killed. Obviously, since such men were sexually conflicted, the women were punished for his perverted desire.

As for why the missing girl kept a coded journal about these horrific crimes, either she knew the murderer and his victims. Or, like Mikael, she was trying to figure out who was responsible. In other words, she was looking for him too.

Old Guardian New Guardian

Meanwhile, Lisbeth was undergoing her own turmoil. Since childhood, after trying to kill her father, she’d been a ward of the state. She was deemed incompetent, incapable of managing her own affairs, and so was appointed a guardian. No questions were asked about why she tried to kill him; it was just assumed that something was wrong with her. Despite her lack of choice in the matter, Lisbeth had grown to like the guardian since, in many ways, he treated Lisbeth like his own daughter.

But as Mikael’s investigation progressed, the guardian had a stroke, and was replaced by a man much less inclined to treat Lisbeth with any semblance of respect. Neither did he allow Lisbeth to manage her own affairs. Instead, he took control of her finances and never failed to remind her of the mess she made of her life.

After the stroke, the “guardian” relationship changed, turning into something very different. Personal boundaries were breached and a foul transaction was established: in exchange for sexual favors he’d write Lisbeth a check from her own bank account. In this, she had no choice: either submit to his awful terms or return to the asylum where she’d been imprisoned as a girl.

One of the most satisfying scenes to watch is when Lisbeth turns the tables on this man: reversing the terms of the abuse by performing it on his body; recovering control over her finances; insisting he communicate only by nodding his head; and threatening exposure should he refuse to comply. For if there’s anything he feared, it was the prospect of having his duplicity revealed: beneath the public persona presented as respectable and honest was another life, shameful and hidden, in which he took advantage of the vulnerable and unwanted.

It’s satisfying largely because it’s symbolic. For it’s about reclaiming what was taken, re-establishing her personal boundaries, reasserting her autonomy, and defending her dignity as a human being. This is what the abuse of power steals from the unprotected and, for many, it takes a lifetime to redeem as one’s own.

Tender Feelings Heavily Armored

This act of reclamation was just the first of many since the process of healing requires undoing years of deprivation and pain. Her relationship with the Guardian had protected Lisbeth from past terrors, like a cocoon. Ironically, it also kept the entire edifice in place – hidden and unseen – until the time came for her to confront that past and begin to heal.

Lisbeth was heavily armored against the outside world. In the film, this is conveyed through her wardrobe and appearance, although there are other ways armor can be fashioned to protect. Physically, the constriction of the body, muscles tensed against external threats, hunched over to guard the heart, or isolated from the world, hiding in the dark: these speak of accumulated assaults which she’s learned to defend against, ever-vigilant to anything that resembles a threat.

During a quiet moment, we’re witness to what lies beneath: the childlike expression of affection, a fragile remnant of the girl who existed before. Given all that happened, it’s a miracle she survived. Ironically, it’s a tribute to her armored existence that the child’s still able to speak at all.

And yet, as anyone who’s survived complex trauma, the defensive strategies turn into an awful prison. Mind and body constantly triggered by events that echo the torment of the past, penetrating both cocoons and armor, propelling the survivor into a panicked state. No amount of isolation can protect against this. Neither can a Guardian since the trauma becomes embedded deep within the psyche, body, and  soul, protected by centurions always on the alert to attack.

At first, it comes in the form of body-sensations – feelings of terror – a cryptic reflection of the utter helplessness that came before. After mustering a certain amount of courage, bodily sensations transform into a vortex of emotions, as the inchoate and indecipherable take on a terrorizing shape. After this chaos is named and understood, only then does it begin to dissipate and come to an end. This sequence is what’s known as the passage through the elements, the movement through earth, water, and fire.

Genealogy 2

Once the Guardian changed, no longer was Lisbeth protected. No longer could she find shelter in the paternal relationship she inherited after trying to kill her father. Mikael’s investigation into the traffick of women rattled this constellation, as if stirring ancient ghosts from their shallow graves. And when the Guardian died, Lisbeth was fingered as the prime suspect for the crime of murder.

As a wanted woman – running from the law – Lisbeth was hounded by men desperate to keep their secrets hidden. No longer protected, she had no choice but to challenge their web of deceit. This meant painfully retracing the steps that brought her to the present, and identifying the forces that had condemned her to prison.

Prime among her adversaries was a brother she didn’t even know and who worked on behalf of her crippled father. He was a giant, insensitive to pain, which meant he didn’t know when to stop. In other words, his persistence had less to do with “justice” than his body’s constitution and his blind devotion to the father he sought to defend.

If this genealogy looks familiar, we shouldn’t be surprised. It reflects the truth behind this kind of storytelling. For in this tale, both brothers were implicated in a crime invisible to everyone except its victims. Or anyone who bothered to look beneath the manufactured facade of  “normal” life.

The Glass House (above)
The Hidden Basement (below)

Both Harriet and her brother Martin lost a father when Gottfriend, son of Richard, died; they were also liberated from their abuser. That’s when their uncle (the old man) adopted them. For Harriet, this freedom was short-lived since one abuser  merely been replaced  another: having inherited his father’s appetite, the brother took the place of his father. But rather than leaving mutilated bodies across the landscape, he dumped his victims’ bodies far out at sea.

This was the secret Harriet had been keeping and the reason she disappeared, unwilling to tolerate this perverse and awful substitution. More than that: she was the one who killed the father, saving herself – as well as her brother – from his unnatural predations. Should it be a surprise, then, that she’d be unable to speak of this to her (adoptive) father, especially when he was preoccupied with something else? And should it be surprising that she’d not return to him, especially after her brother became the public face of the family business and fortune?

Such was the mystery behind Harriet’s disappearance, the truth the old man was unable to figure out. He’d been oblivious to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, and oblivious to the abuse that continued in his own home. The unsigned mementos were not meant to taunt him. They were signs of her affection, and a silent plea that he delve into the haunting secrets of his family.

As Mikael closed in on the brother, he’d become trapped in the basement like other victims before him, strung up like a carcass to be gutted and skinned. To add atmosphere to the proceedings, the brother put on the strangest of music, quite at odds with the sunken basement but indicative of the kind of freedom he sought. Perhaps it also explained his ability to lure his other victims to his hidden den.

Once again, it would be Lisbeth who came to Mikael’s rescue, saving his life. Which is probably why, during the remainder of this story, Mikael worked tirelessly in her defense.

 The Trial 
The Prosecution The Defense

It’s appropriate that the trilogy concludes with a trial, for the law is what originally – although secretly – sanctioned Lisbeth’s imprisonment and abuse. In bringing those secrets out into the open, the truth would finally set her free. (It’s also fitting that Lisbeth’s defender is Mikael Blomkvist’s sister, pregnant with child.)

By this time, Lisbeth had written her autobiography, the central piece of evidence used in her defense. The men sitting opposite her did their best to discredit her, describing her story as the absurd fantasies of a child. The doctor originally assigned to treat her – but who imprisoned and tortured her instead – was the most venomous in his attacks, declaring that she was a paranoid schizophrenic, unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

They boasted of men’s untarnished reputations : no criminal records, no sanctions ever leveled against them; they described Lisbeth Salander’s record as nothing but a series of abject failures. It’s an age-old tactic, pointing to a man’s social honor. In this way, any secret behavior is protected since Her reputation can never compete with His.

(Never do they consider the possibility of admitting how they wronged her; never do they consider bowing out and conceding defeat.)

But the power of secrets can be reversed. After all, Lisbeth was there as well. In providing her own testimony, Lisbeth becomes a witness on her own behalf. And to succeed, she needed to maintain her calm and her persistence, withstanding outrageous accusations and insinuations, until the preponderance of evidence finally began to shift the balance beyond the tipping point.

Reclaiming What Was Stolen Choosing a Disguise

She will have gathered strength for this task by the end of the beginning of this story, after she helped Mikael solve the mystery of the old man and the missing girl. For that’s when they returned to the original case that instigated Mikael’s professional ruin: his exposé of the financier charged with embezzlement and fraud.

Her skill at tapping electric and aerial communications – initially used to investigate Mikael – was turned in another direction, collecting proof of the embezzler’s secret activity. Quite quickly, she unearthed a mountain of evidence that could no longer be ignored or denied. And when the financier was unable to defend his innocence, that’s when he went on the run.

After the news broke, Lisbeth pilfered the bank accounts used to hide his stolen funds. A loan from Mikael helped her select a disguise, create a cover story, get a passport, and travel abroad. For if she was to reclaim what had once been stolen, she needed to be physically present to cash in on those old accounts.

Respite and Replenishment

Finally, Lisbeth was in the position to escape the pain and terror that had defined her life. She moved away, cut ties from friends and lovers, and began life anew.

The sea and the air provided a much needed respite. The rest also allowed for a period of recalibration and rejuvenation. For untold years, the life had been sucked out of her. Now, she could finally feed her soul. This would became a vital resource, since coming to know – and trust – herself would be her most powerful weapon in the fight against accusations of murder and the men protecting their secrets by keeping her imprisoned and repressed.

Like any undercover operative, there’s always the danger of losing focus, forgetting that one’s cover is a temporary disguise. But Lisbeth never forgot. She continued to use her electronic skills to keep tabs on the central figures from her past. And after her mother died – the woman with whom she shared her biology, the woman she defended by setting her father on fire – that’s when she knew she was strong enough to return to the fight.

It was a sign of her healing.


~ by mistified on August 10, 2013.

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