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.


Jim said...

so you did not read the books? I read them. They're worth the read. They're not earth shakingly good or anything. They're good though. First one is slow to develop, but ends strong. The second one is okay. . . the third one pays for all.

I'm sure stuff was lost in translation, but there's quite a bit of violence in the books. Specifically, as you suggested, violence against women.

Meh. . . it was a good read.

Deborah Jackson said...

No, they've been on my list for a long time, as so many are, but once I'd watched the movies I wasn't really motivated.

Poor translation, I've been told. Line by line, which never translates well. But as long as the meaning was clear . . . I have no issues with violence in movies or books when there's a reason for it. If anywhere this applies, it would be here.

The Swedish movies were excellent. I can't see the English version measuring up.

Jim said...

I only watched the first Swedish movie. It was alright. I had a difficult time reconciling how much of hot ladies man the lead was supposed to be with the acne-scarred actor they chose to portray him. Ditto the other "gorgeous" people from the book. . . are you telling me there are no attractive men or women in all of sweden?? Of course not.

Anyway, the books are fine. But there are lots of fine books out there. They're no better than anything Grisham or Patterson pound out, so while they were a diverting read. . . you're find missing out on them.

Also, I "listened" to the third book. Always a good option for someone doing mindless chores. . . just listen to someone else read it TO you.

Deborah Jackson said...

I'm glad I watched the movies first, then. Always find you compare to the book. I have no problem with "unattractive" actors, if they're good. And I found the girl who portrayed Lizbeth and the "pockmarked" fellow quite good.

Not really into audio books. I'm not a very attentive listener :)