• Sweden edition
 
SPONSORED ARTICLE
How Millennium films tap deep into Swedish angst

How Millennium films tap deep into Swedish angst

Published: 01 Feb 2012 17:20 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Feb 2012 17:20 GMT+01:00

Is there any truth in the image of Sweden portrayed in the Millennium books and films? Stockholm University ethnologist Jonas Engman argues that the stories have tapped into Swedish fears that their society’s success is not all they had been brought up to believe.

The enormous worldwide popularity of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and the movie ”The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo”, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, have trained the world’s eyes on Sweden once again.

The attention may have brought plenty of tourist kronor, but within the country itself it has also produced an unprecedented wave of introspection. Just how representative the picture of Sweden and Stockholm in particular is, has caused much debate on home and foreign soil.

 

”You can’t really portray a true picture of a country or culture. The best you can do is construct one from its history, literature, religion and culture, these kind of factors,” Jonas Engman, Stockholm University lecturer and ethnologist tells The Local.

 

Beginning in the 1800s, a conscious effort was made made to construct and show off the so called ”Swedish model, ” a concept which gathered pace during the 1930s and after World War 2, according to Engman.

 

”Since the Second World War, we have made strong efforts to form something, not just for ourselves, but to send a message overseas that ours is the best country, the best social system and the most tolerant society. In fact, we have considered the model so good we have tried to export it to places like Africa and Vietnam among others,” says Engman.

 

”It can be seen as a kind of colonisation, that has been gradually developed over time at specific flash points, like the Vietnam War, The Cold War etc. you could say ‘Bad Russia’ versus ‘Good Sweden,’”he adds.

 

To a great extent, this method has been successful. In 2007, Sweden was rated best practising democracy by The Economist, least corrupt nation by Transparency International, most equal in gender relations by the World Economic Forum, and most generous donor of overseas development aid by the OECD.

 

Meanwhile, Engman points out, during the 1960s and 70s, Swedes were brought up to be proud of their country and its culture. For people of that generation, it is this ideology and belief system that is now under threat as they are plunged into questioning mode themselves.

 

Larsson’s Millennium books, like fellow Swede Henning Mankell’s Wallander thrillers, uncover unpleasant undercurrents beneath Sweden’s tranquil social order. In Mikael Blomkvist and Kurt Wallander’s Sweden, racism is rife, violence against women is commonplace, and high-ranking lawyers and doctors collude in child sex trafficking. It is hardly the stuff of tourist guides.

 

According to his creator, Wallander was born out of a need to talk about the xenophobia and racism he saw in Sweden in the late 1980s, rather than create a character, because, said Mankell, the issues were always more important than the people involved.

 

In a similar vein, The Millennium Trilogy documents multiple murders, neo-fascism, state-sanctioned violent sexual abuse, paedophilia and rape. Larsson, like Mankell, pulls apart the stereotype of perfectly educated, socially democratic tolerant Swedes.

While the dark side of Sweden shown in Larsson and Mankell’s novels is far from the experiences of most Swedes, they tap into a natural human instinct that evil can lurk in unexpected places.

 

”They are classic cases of dramatology, showing another side of a society gripped by something dark and frightening, similar if you like to the movie Jaws,” says Engman.

 

Perhaps an even better analogy is the series of submarine sightings in Swedish waters during the 80s. Much of the media believed they were Soviet vessels, while others suspected they belonged to Nato. Here you have a literal case of something untoward lying beneath the smooth surface and disturbing the normal sense of calm.

  

Meawnhile, had the plotlines surrounding the murder of Olof Palme and the downfall of Göran Lindberg, former chief of police of Uppsala come from a Swedish thriller novel, the chance are the writer would be accused of stretching the boundaries of realism way too far.

 

The news of Lindberg's secret life certainly rocked Sweden. The revelation that such a senior police officer and high-profile advocate of women's rights was, in reality, a serial user and abuser of prostitutes caused widespread astonishment and chipped further at the perfect model of society.

 

The consequences of this introspection, according to Engman, has also led to the rise of a far right wing that has become ever more threatening in recent years.

”Cultural ambivalence has been questioned for first time”, he says, ”And for people questioning themselves, as well as society and its values, it has been a painful awakening.”

 

Stockholm meanwhile, is a metaphor for Swedish society in the book and the film.  For personal and business reasons, Stockholmers have long cultivated the idea of the ”perfect city,” of sparkling waters, and healthy people basking under cloudless skies in the ”Venice of the North”, the utopian vision of ”Folkhemmet”, the vision of a welfare state that would literally be the 'home of the people'.

So while the Millennium books and films are fiction, pure and simple, they tap into a sense of anxiety that the Swedish utopia was never more than a vision, that the dark side of human nature was never far from the surface.

Article sponsored by Stockholm University

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

NEWS_NOT_YET_IMPORTED
Today's headlines
Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden
Michael Boatwright (R) and Medieval knight re-enactors.

Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden

The "motel mystery" American who baffled US authorities by only speaking Swedish when he woke up from a coma last year has passed away, Swedish media reported on Wednesday. READ () »

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king
Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king

UPDATED: Scientists pried open the 850-year-old casket of King Erik the Holy on Wednesday, hoping to find out more about the king, his crown, and his eating habits. READ () »

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop
TeliaSonera CEO Johan Dennelind. File photo: TT

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop

Stockholm-listed telecom operator TeliaSonera on Wednesday said profits had fallen in the first quarter, but hoped offering customers more data solutions in the future would turn things around. READ () »

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'
Fredrik Reinfeldt. File photo: TT

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday urged young voters to head to the European parliamentary polls on May 25th "to cure the European disease of nationalism". READ () »

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg at the first quarter press conference. Photo: TT

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson on Wednesday announced a drop in sales but posted a sharp rise in first-quarter profit, which nonetheless fell shy of analyst predictions. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping brawl
Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals

Swedish police fear that several people involved in a brawl in eastern Sweden on Monday night may be seeking revenge after two brothers were shot dead. READ () »

Sponsored Article
Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden
The town of Västervik.

Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden

Ask a Swede, and they are likely to say that their favourite holiday spot is in the southeast of Sweden. Eastern Småland and Öland offer a smörgåsbord of all the things dearest to the Swedes - from the beloved children's book author Astrid Lindgren to deep forests, long sandy beaches, perfect spots for that all-important 'fika', and a surprising amount of space, peace and quiet. READ () »

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth
Swedes enjoy hot dogs and cherry blossoms in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth

The sun is set to stick around and temperatures could climb into the twenties over the weekend, Swedish meteorologists said on Wednesday READ () »

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

A 21-year-old man confessed on Wednesday to sex crimes against eight children at a day care where he was working as an intern. READ () »

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles
An unrelated bodybuilder. File photo: Ann Törnkvist

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles

Police in Sweden's south who hauled a muscular man in for steroid testing have had their knuckles rapped, after it was ruled that big biceps cannot be grounds for narcotics suspicions. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Gallery
Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Features
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Gallery
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Features
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
National
University applications rocket to record high
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 18-20
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Advertisement:
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

719
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com