The Girl With the Subtitles and Flat Affect

We finished watching The Girl Who Played with Fire, also known as Flickan som lekte med elden (in Swedish), today. It’s one of those movies based on the Stieg Larsson books. It’s all super violent and sleuthy. Importantly, it’s foreign.

Here’s a thing. In watching the movie I had this constant sense that I ought to take it very seriously and that it was in some way a “good movie”. This created a great deal of cognitive dissonance as I watched, because it’s not a very good movie. Not in that “good movie” way that things like Stalker or Old Boy are good movies, say.

After the movie was over I realised that my troubles had two key sources: the subtitles and the Scandinavian production. Throughout the viewing these two elements were communicating (to me) the idea that the movie was more sophisticated than it really was. Subtitles on a “serious” and “mature” movie frequently mean it’s a cut above, or at least a cut different, from some kind of blockbuster affair. Similarly, the flatter affect of Scandinavian actors lends a seeming restraint and intellectual spin to the characters and settings.

Yet it’s all something of an illusion. The subtitles and Scandinavianness serve only to obscure the kind of obvious “airport novel” nature of the movie. It’s just a crappy blockbuster, promoting violence against bad people and the indestructible nature of its heroes. Like many such movies, it luxuriates and wallows in graphic violence and torture for no real purpose beyond the aesthetic “glory” of it.

In the end, I felt kind of interested that I could be so misled by the presence of subtitles and foreignness. Expectations setting is deeply effective in these situations and caused me to spend the entire movie thoroughly confused about the conflict between my understanding that it would be an intelligent piece of work and its unrelenting charge through the many clichés of the genre.

Probably you could put subtitles under a German Scientology promotional video and I’d sit there with a furrowed brow and an engaged mind all the way through Xenu and thetans and out the other side.

19 February 2011
← next words previous words →