The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Niels Arden Oplev (2009)

“All the idealizations of the female from the earliest days of courtly love have been in fact devices to deprive her of freedom and self-determination.” — Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel

This movie is repulsive. It’s hard to know where to start. How about this: Does that woman over there look like a “girl” to you? Me neither. But it’s important to call her a girl, since she represents the ideal of feminine innocence, sullied by masculine perversion, but strong enough to exact revenge when the man she loves is in danger. Like Lara Croft, Nikita, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, etc. etc. etc., Lisbeth Salander is both a totally vulnerable innocent child and a self-contained, self-sufficient, heartless killing machine. She provides everything men want, but asks for nothing in return. (Perhaps the most emblematic sequence here is the one where Salander uses Blomkvist as a human dildo to get herself off. He is of course delighted, but he’s even more delighted the next morning, when he gears up for playful post-coital banter, and then realizes that Salander won’t require that of him.) The men around Salander decide when, where, and under what circumstances to flip her switch, depending on their needs. (Maggie Cheung’s Irma Vep is a rare and useful instance: a self-conscious version of this madonna/murderer type).

Oh, there’s so much more. For example: The mindless assignment of every possible outlandish and unlikely depravity to the family of capitalists has the effect of cloaking rather than revealing the actual evils the family business likely perpetrates. The Nazi/rapist/murderer/monster is here defeated, but the conglomerate not only chugs merrily along, it gains a scion which will help ensure its continued existence.

Ugh, it’s making me tired to think about. Would someone else please write the term paper on this? I’d recommend starting with the horrific rape/reverse-rape sequence, and Angela Carter’s The Sadeian Woman.

Anyone thinking right now that I need to lighten up, it’s just a movie, should ask themselves this simple question: What would happen to this story if the journalist was a 45 year old woman and the hacker a 25 year old “boy”? For starters, it would never have seen the light of day. Why do you suppose that is?

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1857), translated by Lydia Davis (2010)

We are, of course, on paper, thrilled that the scary-smart, MacArthur-certified, uber-cool Lydia Davis has translated the novel that made modern literature possible. What do we do with the fact that her version sounds so stilted? I read this alongside my fusty old Lowell Bair. There are certainly moments where I prefer Davis to Bair, but there are more where I prefer Bair to Davis, usually because Davis’s syntax is more convoluted or because she uses more exotic diction, likely with the intention of keeping her vocabulary closer to its nearest French cognates. (I’m not willing to make the effort to dish up a bunch of examples here, unless my faithful readers demand them.) Also, this is minor, but Davis’s pages and pages of notes are weird.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this novel for a long time. Insofar as it represents the ascendancy of style over substance, I loathe it. Insofar as it demonstrates that human relationships fundamentally consist of nothing but the collision of one’s own self-delusions with those of another, I find it irresistibly perfect. I can’t think of another book I hate so much and admire so completely. (I can, oddly, think of plenty that I love but don’t particularly admire.)

The Day of the Jackal, Fred Zinnemann (1973)

Just doing my homework in anticipation of Olivier Assayas’s upcoming Carlos, to which I’m looking forward despite myself. This is a very straightforward procedural and nothing to write home about. Its potentially explosive political implications are assiduously suppressed in favor of the cops and robbers storyline. The fun lies almost entirely in getting to see all these delicious shots of 60’s Europe.