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Can Hollywood's 'Tattoo' capture Sweden's dark side?

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Can Hollywood's 'Tattoo' capture Sweden's dark side?
14:20 CET+01:00
As the world awaits the impending release of the Hollywood version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, The Local's Geoff Mortimore looks at whether the capital of the US film industry can accurately portray Sweden's dark underbelly.

There are few places in the world where a 7-Eleven store counts as a tourist attraction.

However, in Stockholm, on any given day you are likely to see a group of people staring upwards at a sign in Södermalm, Stockholm.

With the Hollywood version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” about to be released, the “Millennium Fever” spawned by Stieg Larsson's crime trilogy that has gripped Stockholm and much of the rest of the world over the last two years shows no sign of letting up.

There is no doubting the benefits to Stockholm in terms of tourism income, but whether the continuing global fascination with Sweden's dark side is only a good thing, is still a prickly subject that has even drawn comment from the Swedish Royal Family.

It is fair to say that until recently, the general attitude towards Sweden from outsiders has been almost overwhelmingly favourable.

But Larsson's trilogy, as well as news events over the past year or so, have painted Sweden in a different, darker light than before, which for many has been a disorientating experience for some.

However Jan-Erik Pettersson, author of “Stieg Larsson: Jornalist, Author, Idealist”, explains Larsson is hardly alone in acknowledging Sweden isn't free from scandal, conspiracy, and crime.

“I think that although, Sweden is generally seen in a positive light, Stieg wasn't the first or only person to point out that another side exists. Much is made in the press about the right-wing here, as well as the high suicide rate, so it is not always positive. Whether the movie will change attitudes though, is hard to say," says Pettersson.

“I think a lot would depend on what your political beliefs are in the first place."

The girl with the 'dragon tattoo' herself, Lisbeth Salander, and the rest of the cast of characters from Larsson's books have hardly hurt Swedish GDP though.

The brooding hacker heroine has inspired an clothing collection from H&M, while tourist brochures hail the "Millennium Effect”, and Swedish PR agency Cloudberry Communications has estimated that the Hollywood film alone will increase Stockholm's tourism by 3 to 4 percent.

It is also interesting that the dark side, not just of Sweden, but also Scandinavian neighbour Denmark is becoming so “hot” in culture circles.

The Danish thriller “The Killing,” now in its second series, has been a big hit with British UK audiences, while stoic Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, protagonist in a continuing series of crime thrillers by Henning Menkel, has also struck a note with audiences much further afield than Sweden.

Kenneth Branagh's English version of Wallander may have received more publicity, but the original Swedish films based on Menkel's books, shown subtitled, have gained cult status after being aired on the BBC.

And when it comes to The Killing, perhaps the highest possible praise came when it was remade for an American TV audience, and the brief was to keep it “as dark and brooding as the original.”

The initial reaction to Hollywood's “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which had its gala premiere in Stockholm last week and stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, has been positive.

Even Stieg Larsson's father, who has generated so many headlines himself since his son's death, was there at the opening, giving it the tacit approval of the family.

The elephant in the room of course, was the author himself.

“I am sure Stieg would have been delighted to see his films picked up by Hollywood,” says Jan-Erik Pettersson, author of “Stieg Larsson: Jornalist, Author, Idealist”.

“Stieg was always deeply fascinated and enamoured with American culture in general so he would have seen this a high form of compliment.”

Whether the movie will have a profound effect on people's perception of Sweden is a different matter.

”Overall I would imagine that rather than seeing it as a commentary on Swedish society, it is more likely that most people will treat it as a classic Hollywood thriller,” says Pettersson.

For those tasked with marketing the image of Sweden, the movie is another chance to capitalize on the “Millennium Effect.”

“The Swedish books and the movies have generated a lot of interest from tourists already and we expect this interest to increase by the Hollywood version as it will reach new audiences,” Maria Ziv, marketing director at VisitSweden tells The Local.

Ziv explains that her organization, which focuses on promoting the brand of Sweden and Sweden as a travel destination, hopes the Hollywood films will raise awareness about Stockholm as a place to visit.

”The movie has strong ties to Stockholm so we would like to take advantage of that," she says.

"In the US market, we are creating a campaign that highlights the country behind the Millennium trilogy. We want to contrast the darkness of the movie with the Stockholm you meet when you come to visit."

According to Ziv, VisitSweden is also planning a series of press trips for American journalists in January, and is planning similar junkets for journalists from the UK and Germany.

As her organisation deals specifically with foreigners, Ziv lays great importance on anything that effects the perception of Sweden abroad.

”The image of Sweden abroad is a very positive one. A nations' brand is something quite stable and deeply rooted in peoples' perceptions. It is not something that changes quickly,” says Ziv.

”The dark and perhaps unexpected image of Sweden portrayed in Kenneth Branagh's ”Wallander,” might also spark interest just because it is so different from the Sweden known internationally for being very safe, open and friendly.

"However, there are many aspects of the new movie that go hand in hand with the perceptions that are out there today: Lisbeth Salander for example could be viewed as a modern Pippi Longstocking, a strong, modern woman who goes her own way."

In reality, even if the view of Salander gravitates more to the psychopathic side, it is unlikely to hurt H&M, Stockholm's museums, or the ever-swelling numbers on the walking tours.

"Millennium" translates into big business for Sweden, and whether the Swedish Royals like it or not, Hollywood's Millennium-film remakes will likely ensure that more people than ever see there is a sinister to side to Sweden, even if it's only on the big screen.

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