Deborah Jackson

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Lost in Translation

I suppose it was a couple of years ago when I was confronted with another dilemma: To read or not to read and simply watch the movie. If you haven’t noticed yet, from previous blogs, my house is virtually bursting at the seams with books, not only read, savoured and hoarded, but stacks on my “to read” list as well. When word finally reached my less-than-attuned ears that Stieg Larsson’s books were worth a read, I was already knee-deep in kidlit and YA and opted to rent the Swedish subtitled versions of the movies instead.

Being the lovely (North) Americanized “please spoon-feed me” type of person, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about reading my movie. Don’t get me wrong, I adore reading, but when it comes to movies I like to “experience” them visually, with the necessary auditory component that doesn’t require distraction through reading – just like I don’t like to watch my books. I believe the iPad may have something to say about that in the future, though.

I was fully prepared to be annoyed.

But that didn’t happen. First of all, I know a little Dutch, and Swedish has some similarities. Secondly, I didn’t mind reading the subtitles, because the story was so engaging and the acting phenomenal. And the message was all too clear.

Last week, a friend mentioned on Facebook she was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the English translation left much to be desired. Another FB entity chimed in and mentioned he’d recently watched the English version of the movie and found it filled with graphic and “pointless” violence.

Pointless violence?

How much has been lost in translation, I wondered?

I clearly understood through the Swedish movies that violence is the point, “violence against women.” Perhaps this would have been crystal if the original title hadn’t been changed from Män som hatar kvinnor - Men Who Hate Women.”

Lisbeth Salander was, to me, the embodiment of “women finally striking back,” wielding power over abusive men for so many women who are defenseless. I’ve seen the results of rape and abuse, although I’ve been lucky not to have been touched by it personally. Most women are psychologically afflicted and often incapable of leading a normal life, let alone striking back. Lisbeth was never a realistic character to me, but she was the personification of hope and retribution for these women.

I fail to see how this wasn’t clear in the English movie. I wonder if sloppy translation made it less than obvious in the books. But I found it disturbing that people didn’t understand Stieg Larsson.

I later learned why he wrote the books. It was to atone for the guilt he felt over witnessing a gang rape years ago and doing nothing to help the girl. The story is more than the character and plot. The story is the author and the girl.

Sometimes a fiction story is simply a moment’s entertainment in our lives. Sometimes, it’s a great deal more. (And should never be linked to a clothing line.)

Please, let’s translate it correctly.