Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire
Documentary film by Henrik Georgsson
In Swedish with English subtitles
Screening nationally as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival
Stieg Larsson is best known for his phenomenally successful series of novels, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest. The books have sold some 80 million copies worldwide. However, Larsson’s main pre-occupation was fighting the rise of fascism in Sweden.
Despite faults, this film does him justice. It draws upon his meticulous political files and interviews his collaborators, as well as workmates and family.
It also features documentary footage of Swedish Nazis, who are absolutely terrifying.
Larsson was fearless in his espionage against fascists, assembling detailed files on individuals and their political connections. He led the group producing the Swedish anti-Nazi magazine Expo (based on the example of the British Searchlight magazine).
The group sustained Nazi death threats and a car bombing. The ever-present stress and danger is conveyed.
Larsson was totally committed and died an early death, aged 50. He had lived on cigarettes, coffee and fast food for years.
Missing from the film is any mention of his Trotskyist politics and activities. As a young man, Larsson was a member of the Swedish section of the Fourth International, the Communist Workers League. He edited League publications and remained a lifelong revolutionary socialist.
At age 20, he was drafted into the Swedish Army where he was trained to use the mortar. He put this training to good use in 1977 when he went to Eritrea and trained a women’s contingent of the guerilla army there.
These facts are possibly missing because of the control that Larsson’s father and brother have over his estate.
Larsson died before the publication of his novels. He left an unwitnessed will, in which he bequeathed all his assets to the Swedish Trotskyists, now known as the Socialist Party. Under Swedish law, an unwitnessed will is invalid and so everything went to his surviving relatives.
These relatives continue to enjoy the gravy train of the novels by hiring another author to churn out books with the same characters.
Also excluded from the estate was Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson’s long-time companion. They had chosen not to marry, to obscure their relationship from prying Nazis. Had they married, she would have inherited and been able to protect his political heritage.
Effectively presenting Larsson as a Lone Ranger, as this film does, does him a disservice and disempowers the viewer.
There is one short segment showing a community mass protest driving Nazis out of a Swedish town. But apart from that it’s Larsson, essentially alone, doing the job.
Excising his radical politics from the film makes Larsson appear as a political liberal fighting to defend bourgeois democracy. In fact, he was a passionate anti-capitalist.