"Purge the evil person from your midst and God will make His judgement." 1 Cor. 5:13
The new American movie version of Stieg Larsson's novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, can be just as harrowing to watch as the book is to read. It is not for the faint of heart.
This film, along with the other two movies in the trilogy that is expected to follow, is about how one reacts to the incredible violence thrust upon women by powerful men. To take us through this journey, the movies must show us the ugly actions and effects that such violence breeds.
In this particular story, we follow Swedish journalist-crusader Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he tracks down the forty-year-old case of a missing girl from a violent-prone family with a Nazi heritage that may or may not be part of the case. Alongside this case is the story of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an impoverished computer hacker who must survive by enduring sexual violence from her legal guardian. Their stories intertwine and once they work together, the fog clears and both begin to see things more clearly.
It's a complicated tale of intrigue wrapped up in solving another tale of intrigue - but at its core, Dragon Tattoo is a fascinating exploration into the human urge for sex and violence.
But the movie's tagline, "evil shall with evil be expelled," is taken from a Swedish proverb not unlike the Old Testament adage, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Ex. 21:24). It plays with the notion that evil is best confronted by vengeful reactions. During the movie itself, we find that the serial killer that Blomkvist and Salander are tracking used vengeance-themed passages from the Book of Leviticus to justify his or her own crimes - as a sick use of Scripture to varnish their evil.
Throughout history, religious people have struggled with coming to terms with their past and their sacred texts - which preach peace in one place but showcase violence in another. This story introduces this struggle yet again... and asks whether or not it takes evil to stamp out evil (as some biblical passages might might indicate) or if there is another route.
The specific evil in question in this film is violence done to women: abuse, marginalization, discrimination, and rape. Lisbeth herself is well-aware of this situation, and because of these horrible experiences, becomes a hard-edged, sadistic, and mentally-troubled young woman - which in turn, leads to even more problems. That is, of course, until she meets Blomkvist.
Mikael Blomkvist is not a saint. But he crusades for those who have no voice, even to the point of persecution in the courtroom and in the media. While he may not like Lisbeth's style, he accepts her and treats her as she ought to be treated. Together the two of them work on the missing-girl case - and the edge starts to drip off of Lisbeth with each passing day.
Lisbeth originally thought that the Swedish proverb ("evil shall with evil be expelled") was Gospel truth (as evidenced in one difficult scene where she vengefully confronts her rapist) - until she met someone who showered kindness and respect upon her. Then another Gospel truth started to emerge for her, summed up in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians: "Purge the evil person from your midst, and God will make His judgement." (1 Cor. 5:13).
In other words, it's not for us to exact violence upon those who are evil - but instead, it's for God to make the final judgement. All we can do is purge them from our lives, distancing ourselves from evil but never allowing evil to overcome us in revenge.
It was Blomkvist's compassion that started Lisbeth down this path. All it took was for one person to extend that blind love towards another without question.
Imagine what good we can accomplish if we offered kindness and respect to all that we meet, whether we know them or not, whether we like them or not, whether we are disgusted with them or not? Imagine what kind of world that would be.
Violence breeds violence - and the law of the ancients ("an eye for an eye") seems pervasive many centuries later, showing up in silly Swedish proverbs and movie posters. Sure... it can be tempting to respond to rape and sexual assault with torture and murder. When the government uses the death penalty or other means of torture to punish its criminals (regardless of their crimes), is it not just perpetuating violence for violence? We must, and we can, be better than this.
Jesus, instead, calls us to respond in love. When Blomkvist responds to Lisbeth's harsh demeanor with respectful love, the cycle of violence gets derailed. Not that Lisbeth becomes a saint, but she certainly starts down a better path - while still being able to exact justice upon those who cause evil.
Of course nothing is ever as clear as day. Lisbeth confuses Blomkvist's kindness with romantic love, which leads to other messes that will need to be cleaned up in future movies. But for a moment, a ray of hope has lit up Lisbeth's life. For all the violence she has suffered throughout her life, the road to recovery will be long and winding (which makes for more films to explore those developments), but it's a start.
In our lives, can we offer a ray of hope to another? And if we ourselves are caught in an endless cycle of violence, can we stop for a moment and re-analyze our situation?
Purge evil from our midst if we must, but never mirror that which is destructive, no matter how righteous we might feel in doing so. Instead, let us be beacons of hope, love, kindness, and compassion in a world that experiences so little of this. Then, and only then, will the world start to turn towards the Gospel.