In some ways she seems like a throwback: black-clad, hard-eyed, spiky-haired; sullen, violent, antisocial—more punk than hipster, more 70s than today. But she is confident, and competent, in a way that the punks never were. She hacks computers at will, rides a mean motorcycle, kicks ass, and rescues her lover from a serial killer. She is Lisbeth Salander, of course, heroine of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster Millennium trilogy (The Girl with This, The Girl who That), played in the Swedish adaptations by Noomi Rapace, in the English by Rooney Mara.
She isn’t the first of the new breed of girl heroes, though she is, so far, the biggest. There was Jennifer Garner’s character in Alias, Hannah in last year’s movie of the same name, and now, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, to name just a few. But there seems to be something uniquely compelling about her. It is, I think, her self-enclosure. She works for herself, and for the most part, on her own. She repels intimacy and punishes anyone who invades her privacy. She is sexually assertive, sexually omnivorous, sexually detached. She’s never bewildered, never at a loss, always supremely oriented within her environment. She does what she pleases and gets what she wants.
The secret of her self-sufficiency is simple: her computer. Which makes her a symbol not only of her generation but of her time. The punks were powerless, in the wreck of the ’70s urban decay, and everything about them—their rage, their disaffection, their secession from social norms—originated there. About the only tools they had were bricks and guitars. But now the means of agency are in everybody’s reach, the young even more than the old (or so, at least, we like to imagine). The hipster, you might say, is a punk with a computer, and Lisbeth, with her iconic tattoo, is a hipster superhero. Self-sufficient, self-pleasuring, self-employed: she lives the contemporary dream.
The generational aspect is quite to the point. Lisbeth’s heroics consist of doing battle with evil adults, including her own father. She is a one-girl WikiLeaks, exposing the existing order with the self-righteous fury of a wounded child. At the same time, she joins with, beds, and rescues another father figure, the series’ hero Mikael Blomkvist. Lisbeth’s creator was born in 1954. She personifies our romance with technology, but she also embodies an older generation’s dread and desire at the digital strangers in their midst.
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