Way behind everyone else, in the air a few days before the Oscars, I caught up with a pair of unlikely winners: both featuring a fiercely antisocial protagonist who is surrounded by loathsome characters, and replete with computer hacking hijinks.

Män Som Hatar Kvinnor

Unexpectedly enjoyable was the subtitled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (in the original, Men Who Hate Women), which was the one with the good geek heroine. I’d avoided the movie having been felled early on by the book’s notoriously soporific prologue — as the Guardian put it: “The first book, which is also the best of the three, has the most boring opening 50 pages of any crime novel ever written.”

I should have had more faith in the tutelary gods of the Swedish sensibilty: Bergman, Strindberg, Henning Mankell and ABBA. The movie is a highly effective entertainment, fusing extreme and graphic violence with a brooding and vengeful sense of justice.

The palette is charcoal and browns and deep blues. The temperature is artic, the several villains are enthusiastic sadists. The hero is a Nordic Liam Neeson, big and vulnerable and physically incompetent; the heroine, the utterly mesmerising Noomi Rapace, is a comic book avatar — a damaged cyberpunk goth. She totally rocks. As you come to expect of this story, she gets abused; her revenge is by the book, if you happen to read fantasies, and most satisfying.

Two thumbs up from Roger Ebert, and it’s got my vote for a DVD night.

The Social Nitwit

The movie with the bad geek comes by way of Hollywood wherein the anti-hero suffers from, and causes pain to equally repellent types. The Social Network is also a superb subversion of Hollywood formula: there are no heroes, no one likeable with whom to identify, no love scenes, no car chases (there is a quirkily naff boatchase) and no final resolution. Ie, it’s an art film, on a big budget.

(Vastly superior to The King’s Speech, it should have taken out the statuettes for Best Actor, Director and Movie. The King’s Stutter, or The King and Moi, or Bertie and Me, is charming but predictable, and a meretricious piece of historical revisionism. See both Christopher Hitchens, and his rivalrous bro Peter Hitchens. Hollywood is exemplararily Anglophiliac, in the historical and costumed mode. I know, Aussies love this too: colonial pleb teaches the Monarch how to speak. Plus, a speech therapist called Logue — as in dialogue, as in logos, how cute is that.)

Essentially a portrait of Mark Zuckerberg, in the period of his invention of Facebook, the film’s virtue resides in its refusal to judge, presenting instead the most extraordinary vehicle for conveying emotional states: the face of the actor Jesse Eisenberg. With the camera close up on him much of the time, Eisenberg, playing an idiot savant, a social nitwit unemcumbered by empathy, never misplaces a cheek muscle or overworks an eyebrow.

Psychologically shallow, the film refrains from trying to explain Zuckerberg’s personality — offering a perfect foil for Eisenberg’s tour de force. We watch, we make notes, we develop an indeterminate relationship to this impossibly bright, cruelly articulate young man in his ironic quest to invent a program that will make him friends.

The film’s got-you-line (in the context this is not a spoiler so much as its opposite) comes from a young female lawyer on his team: “You’re not an asshole Mark, you’re just trying so hard to be one.” This is one of the few false notes, a late and unprecendented attempt at softening the Zuckerberg character. And it sounds wrong too; in my book, trying hard to be an asshole is being an asshole.

But there are many great bits of dialogue in the movie, and this from Zuckerberg suggests his anti-heroic motivations, and nails the Ivy League (or any upper class) mentality. He says of the frustrated fraternal plaintiffs: “The Wincklevi aren’t suing me for intellectual property theft. They’re suing me because for the first time in their lives things were not working out for them the way they were supposed to.”

That this talky film has grossed twice as much as the Swedish blockbuster-to-film action thriller (US$220m to US$104m) can only come down to Anglophonic resistance to reading subtitles. Then again, I always thought Anglophone audiences resisted talkiness in any language. Anyway, see Noomi run, see Jesse talk.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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