Inglourious Basterds


Last night my wife got me to go to a movie that she assured me was highly recommended. The flick in question The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which in Swedish is entitled Man som hatar kvinnor (“The Man Who Hates Women”) enjoyed the equally high approbation of a Republican friend of mine, who saw nothing in it he didn’t like. The movie featured no prominent Democrat; nor had it been denounced on FOX as reflecting the economic policy of the Obama administration. That having been said, the only thing I recall about my cinematic experience, besides sitting in a dank movie house favored by aging, onetime hippies in Millersville, PA., was the achievement of the Swedish filmmakers in sticking into a two hours production every possible leftist cliché. I suspect that the executive board of the ADL could not have watched it from beginning to end without registering an expression of embarrassment.

The movie features a crusading anti-capitalist journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who is facing a prison sentence for denouncing without sufficient evidence a nasty corporate capitalist, who naturally turns out to have committed even greater fraud than Blomkvist suspected him of. The protagonist played by Swedish actor Peter Haber, escapes temporarily from Stockholm and his impending prison sentence to investigate the disappearance forty years earlier of a 16 year-old female member of the powerful industrialists, the Vanger family.

Harriet Vanger’s mysterious disappearance continues to trouble her 82 year-old uncle, who hires Blomkvist to pursue the investigation on his opulent estate somewhere north of Stockholm. The journalist is eventually assisted by the tattooed, computer hacking Lisbeth Salander, who had been in a mental institution and was subsequently raped by her court-appointed guardian. In fact Salander, played by actress Noomi Rapace, spends much of her time being abused by men and then getting back at them, when she is not displaying her considerable talents in the Internet matrix.

As things turn out, the Vanger family is riddled with geriatric Nazis, who also rape and murder women, some of whom carry Jewish names. Fortunately two of the Nazi brothers, one of whom is mellifluously named Gottfried, had died in an apparent drowning; another brother had died fighting for fascism in the Finnish Winter War in 1940. For those who might have read the relevant historical account, the Finns in 1940 ended up fighting the great progressive leader Joseph Stalin, who invaded their country, but at the time Hitler was allied to the Soviet generalissimo. It is therefore unlikely that a Swedish Nazi would have fought on the Finnish side in that war, although obviously the filmmaker considered any opposition to Stalinist Russia proof positive of fascist sympathy.

The film gets even nuttier. The lady whose disappearance Blomkvist is investigating is still alive in Australia. She had fled there to avoid being raped by her Nazi, sexist brother, Martin. By then, however, she had killed her equally incestuous, equally anti-Semitic and equally Nazi father Gottfried -- and made the homicide look like an accident. Blomkvist manages to get the onetime Germanic beauty Harriet back to her anti-Nazi (and presumably non-sexist) favorite uncle, but not before being tortured and almost strangled to death. Fortunately he is rescued from Martin’s sadistic clutches by his gritty feminist companion -- with the dragon tattoo!  He also learns in the course of investigating the ritual murders against women committed by the baddies that they were religious fanatics, besides being Nazis, sexists and anti-Semites. Apparently they were adopting in their own fashion certain verses from the Old Testament about offering sacrifices. Once or twice the hacker referred to them in PC fashion as “religious fanatics.”

Lest one think that said feminist hacker would happily settle down with Blomkvist, it is important to fast forward to the last scene. Because Lisbeth has been taught by her mother, who was the victim of a sexist relation, “never to trust men,” she decides not to stay with Blomkvist, although by then she has initiated some kind of liaison with her boss. (As a good non-sexist, Blomkvist is never erotically forward but allows himself to be forcefully taken by his horny feminist companion.) Lisbeth goes off to the Caribbean with a bundle of lucre she’s lifted from the crooked capitalist Blomkvist had been after; and she is last seen prancing around at a tropical resort surrounded by interracial couples. If this movie misses a beat in sounding PC, I’ve no idea what it could be.

The only aspect of this production that didn’t turn out as I might have expected concerns the appearance of the actors. The nicest-looking people by far are the Nazis, whether alive or dead. The Vangers, as shown in their youth, look like Nordic heroes and heroines, as opposed to the goodies who are hard on the eyes. Blomkvist is pock-marked and pasty-faced; while Lisbeth seems both emaciated and somewhat bizarre with her assortment of body piercings and unbecoming tattoos. The sex scene between them is almost painful to watch, and considering the progeny they might have produced, it’s a good thing they didn’t tie the knot and settle down to having a family. But perhaps the cognitive dissonance caused by the movie is deliberate. The film may be making a PC statement beyond the one already noted. It may well be identifying physical attractiveness with sexist prejudices and fascist inclinations. True sensitivity starts at the point when we stop looking at people’s exteriors. If that is indeed the teaching, then the selection of the actors helps drive it home.