Sundance 2019: Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

A still from Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire by Henrik Georgsson, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Per Jarl.

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire profiles of the Millennium trilogy author and spends time exploring the Swedish political culture.

Stieg Larsson is the Swedish author who wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.  Unfortunately, Larsson’s passing meant never seeing the finished products.  This year will mark the 15th anniversary of his passing.  In some ways, this documentary is the perfect way to remember who he was as a person.  This includes friends describing his work ethic as being similar to intelligence agents.  By the time the film finishes, director Henrik Georgsson will take it full circle.  It’s not just a basic documentary but we get more into the things that Larsson brought to the forefront through his work.

It’s through this documentary in which we learn more about Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.  The characters feature “dramatically unusual crime characteristics.”  Blomkvist is portrayed as a “bimbo” while Salander gets the “male characteristics.”  Larsson was given a 500,000 kroner advance for the trilogy to write the novels.  To give you an idea of the US equivalent, it is an estimated $75,000 in 2004 money.  Nobody could have ever made the prediction of what would come next.  These books would make Stieg Larsson a household name.

What was it that led him to write this series of novels?  According to the film, it turns out to be his own real-life experiences.  He decided to write the book as a way of taking on the racism, sexism, and corruption in Swedish society.  He especially wanted to take on the political culture in Sweden.  Because of this, we’re all the better for it.  What better way than writing a novel in order to expose such things?

While his role as a journalist saw him reach the role of editor-in-chief of Expo, he was never comfortable making numerous media appearances.  At the same time, this was a person who understood the role that media reach played in getting his ideas out there.  Larsson’s interest in the Swedish extremist far-right accounts for half of the film.  Most of us may think of him as a simple crime author but there’s more than meets the eye.

“I’ve been devoted to the subject of the far-right since 1972,” Larsson says in a previous interview.

The film does go into Larsson’s upbringing by way of interviews with his father, cousins, and childhood friends.  Aside from archival interviews with Larsson, this allows viewers to get an idea of his childhood upbringing.  Growing up around an anti-Nazi grandfather no doubt had a strong influence.  His grandfather was the type of man who would not be afraid to speak his mind.  It comes as no surprise that he would inherit his anti-Nazi views from his grandfather.  As we know, these views would stay with him for the rest of his life.

This is a man that wanted to expose the Swedish far-right for who they are.  Because of his interest in the subject, a good part of the film explores the political era.  When The Extreme Right was published in 1991, Sweden was undergoing quite the political turmoil.  While the conservative-to-far-right Swedish Democrats were founded in 1988, the New Democracy party hit the scene in 1991.  The Swedish Democrats took a a strong anti-refugee stance.  Members of New Democracy would describe Bosnian refugees as “luxury tourists.”

While he is not alive today, one cannot help but wonder how he would feel today.  How would he feel about the state of the world?  Make no mistake that he would still continue making media appearances.  It’s quite possible that he would have written more books on the subject.  Nobody truly knows but his colleagues believe the present era would lead him to be furious and depressed.  Even though media appearances would make him uncomfortable, he still would have debated the points.

While Stieg Larsson may be better known for the Millennium trilogy, we should remember him for his work in exposing neo-Nazis and the Swedish far-right.  This is a guy who inspires us to the fight for democracy because of its importance.  He saw what was happening in Sweden and made a decision to expose it.  It just so happens that one decision includes writing a best-selling series of crime novels.

DIRECTOR:  Henrik Georgsson
FEATURING:  Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire holds its International Premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.