Part of the Royal Wedding crowd 2011 - and not a hacked corpse amongst them
I had a weird experience last Friday evening. The date was the 29th April, which, as you might remember, was the day of the Royal Wedding. However, the DVD we chose to watch that evening was, of all things, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This was not the sort of grating contrast we would normally seek, but we’d been interrupted while watching it the previous day and didn’t want to lose the thread. There was still an hour to catch up with, but we could fit that in okay. So we did.
And this led, as I say, to a weird experience.
That final hour of the film is when all the horrors underlying the plot emerge. The best way of explaining them is to say the original title of the book was Men Who Hate Women, but even that doesn’t get us far enough. Misogyny can take many forms, from sneering put-downs to domestic violence to entire societies that hide their women away. But the villain of Stieg Larsson’s story takes it all much further. He rapes them, he tortures them, he kills them, and he has been taught to do all these by his abusive Nazi father. But the most extreme aspect – for me – is when he assures our hero, one Mikael Blomkvist, that what he most relishes is the look in his victims’ eyes. It’s the look when they realise they really will die.
I’d like to make a comment on this but I can’t. I guess it’s about power, about dominance, about whatever is the opposite of empathy – or maybe it’s about empathy taken in a perverted direction. I can guess all this. But I can’t get it. Sorry, I’m lost for words.
Let’s change the topic then. Let’s talk about Lisbeth Salander, the computer-hacking, kick-boxing, tattooed and traumatised heroine. How has she been traumatised? Well, after avenging her mother’s repeated physical and psychological abuse, she is committed to a psychiatric hospital where she suffers repeated physical and psychological abuse, before being placed under the guardianship of a lawyer who rapes, sodomises and nearly kills her.
That’s why the original title was Men Who Hate Women. However, it must be stressed the film is not a clumsy horror fest. That’s the trouble. It’s so well done, so grown-up and convincing, that you emerge at the end thinking: well I suppose that’s the way of the world. The thought may not emerge on a conscious level. It’s more of a mood. More of a sense of resignation. More of a sense of hanging your head because, well, that’s the way to navigate a life stacked with naked corpses, hacked flesh, asphyxiated heads and murderous handcuff-assisted rapes.
But I was mentioning a weird experience. Here’s what it was. After the end of the film, we flicked back to BBC and caught up with the day’s news, scarcely remembering what had been going on. Imagine the shock. There was a silly old man – a compendium of bristling white eyebrows, straggling white beard and fly-away white hair – and he was conducting a wedding ceremony. I think he was talking about... love...
In front of him was a young man in a silly red uniform promising to... love... a young woman in a silly white dress. After a while they all sat down and another compendium of white hair and beard mounted a pulpit and talked at length about... love...
After all this, the young man and woman rode in an open carriage whilst silly thousands – maybe silly millions – cheered them en route – not to mention the silly billions watching worldwide on TV. And there were lots of old-fashioned uniforms riding old-fashioned horses and playing at old-fashioned pageantry.
It took a long while for me to readjust. Eventually it occurred to me that those old-fashioned uniforms were the dress uniforms of regiments that had opposed – at unbelievable risk – the most evil form of fascism ever seen, a form of fascism that lifted mere murders rapes and death to an inconceivably industrial scale. (And, of course, the father villain in Stieg Larsson’s book was a Nazi.)
And then I thought about those silly white-headed old men and how some might regard them as wise and dynamic guardians of that Protestant Christian tradition which had, amongst other things, inspired the famous work ethic that had enriched us all.
Such enrichment is, of course, largely material, though. How about their ideas? How about the particular silly idea they kept going on about... love..? What about that?
Well, I opened these thoughts by mentioning ‘we’ had been watching a film. That particular ‘we’ has been doing things together for forty years. Not ten, not twenty, not thirty, but forty. That ‘we’ is beginning to think maybe it has earned the right to insist that love is real – and is strong – and is enduring – and is not a fairy tale – and is not silly when celebrated in church, abbey or on cheering streets.
One of that ‘we’ – the more optimistic one – is inclined to say that love is the only reality. And everything else is either variations of it or perversions of it.
One of that ‘we’ is inclined to remember a short poem his mum used to quote at him:
Two look out
From prison bars:
One sees mud,
The other sees stars.
It’s a choice thing. We can look whichever way we wish. Why we would choose to look in the Stieg Larsson direction is a good question. We don’t help anyone by doing it. We don’t reduce the number or severity of abuses. We don’t improve the world.
And on 29th April 2011 it set up a baffling contrast. Switching between mud and stars can be disorientating. It can make, as I say, for a weird experience.
May I invite you to make certain purchases? (I may? Why, thank you...)
(a) The Salamander Stone (by my most excellent and trusty pal, Mrs Me) from one of these outlets:
Direct from the publisher, Burst Books: click here
Amazon UK: click here
(b) The Two Worlds of Wellesley Tudor Pole (by Mrs Me’s most excellent and trusty pal, Me):
Amazon UK: click here
Amazon.com (US): click here
(You’ll be getting both of them? Well, that is an admirable choice, if I may say so...)