The Silence of the Swedish Lambs: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” or Our Misbegottten Love of Serial Killers (Stories)

So a year ago I picked up the Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo novel in paperback just to see what all the fuss was about, and I couldn’t really get into it and become a fan, mainly because the style/story seemed pretty ordinary killer/suspense stuff, rather flatly written. (I know, I know: Everyone else loves it. Good for them.) But I’ve just watched the Swedish film version, and it’s one of those rare cases where the film works in ways the novel didn’t for me: For one thing, it portrays a gorgeous vision of the world, all snow and glossy urban scenes and forests, moody, well-dressed people, much mystery about everything. But I was struck at its similarities to The Silence of the Lambs (1991), all these years later. Lisbeth is the haunted, victimized Agent Starling, a great character to watch. The framed flowers are a natural-world metaphor that compares to the exotic moths in Silence. The serial killer confession (I won’t name names, for those who still haven’t seen it) out-creeps Hannibal Lecter’s articulate musings. But the film is hypnotic with images, painterly and beautiful, even when it’s showing horror.
As I’ve taught Gothic Lit for years, I’ve often been struck at how much the reading public loves serial killer stories. Why? We don’t want to be the victim, but we like to imagine others as the victim, as the killer. To revel in the dark side? For catharsis? A fascination with the gruesome? All of the above? Probably so. And many more oddities of human nature. Acting out murder fantasies via fiction. It’s probably healthier than tweeting pictures of your organs to anonymous strangers, esp if you’re a politician.  

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