I recently caught The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at The Rio Theatre (@riotheatre). I’m familiar with the story having already read the first two books and seen the Swedish series. Although I loved the Swedish version, and really don’t think that they needed to be redone, I will admit to perking up when I learned David Fincher would be directing and that it would feature another Trent Rezner/Atticus Ross collaboration for the soundtrack.
This film is very well made, and manages to squeeze in a lot of information from the lengthy source material into its two and a half hour run time. Although Fincher’s film provided a different experience from the Swedish version, I believe they each have their merits. Fincher’s version is dark and polished like the rest of his catalogue. He sets up the mystery fairly well and keeps things moving at a good clip, trusting his audience to keep up with the vast network of characters and events that occur.
If you don’t know the story, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows a a recently publicly humiliated journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and an emotionally disturbed and abused goth hacker extraodinaire, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), as they work together to solve a mystery. Their task: solving the murder of Cecilia Vanger, the niece of Henrik Vangar (Christopher Plummer), a once powerful Swedish businessman. We soon get up close and personal with his unsavory family, who is chalk full of Nazi’s and bullies. Mikael is charged with trying to find Cecilia’s murderer under the guise of writing a book about Henrik’s life. Lisbeth is eventually brought in to help with the investigation. The rest of the film is dedicated to Lisbeth’s dark past, and her current interactions with creeps and rapists who plan to take advantage of her status as a marginalized person. We get a grim sense of satisfaction when Salander eventually takes her revenge upon those who have wronged her.
As I mentioned before, I really liked this film. The opening credits alone are mesmerizing, and serve as a symbolic entrance into the themes of the film (check it out for visual awesomeness!). The source material is of course strong, and the screenplay translates the story well and weaves together a compelling mystery, while still maintaining many of the labyrinthian character relationships. On top of all of this, the electronic soundtrack is stunning. Reznor and Ross create a score full of cold, metallic sounds that suit the freezing Swedish landscape and Lisbeth’s hacker world. The performances are also worth noting with Craig being incredibly likeable as Blomkvist. Mara in particular turns in a hypnotic and fierce performance as Salander. That being said, while her performance was quite good, the one major qualm I had with this film was the portrayal of Salander.
While it may be argued that Lisbeth is more ‘humanized’ in this film by giving her a wider emotional range, I would argue that she is also more feminized according to Hollywood standards. There are very slight differences that achieve this within the film, and major ones in the marketing of it. In Fincher’s film, Lisbeth seems more like a moody and pissed off young woman, rather than the cold and emotionally disconnected Lisbeth of the books and Swedish films. From my reading of Steig Larson’s books, Lisbeth is meant to be damaged yet simultaneously super human. I don’t believe that she is supposed to be entirely realistic. The character is a bundle of impossibilities. The book alludes to Lisbeth having a mental condition such as Aspergers. Men in the book often view her as someone easy to victimize, but we know the truth. Lisbeth is strangely alluring, a world class hacker in possession of a photographic memory and flawless tools of deduction with a fierce sense of justice and the strength to fight back and decimate her opponents. In my mind, Lisbeth is supposed to be a woman’s avenging angel and the projection of our revenge fantasies: an abused and damaged woman who fights back and refuses to break, surviving despite the slimmest odds. Noomi Rapace in the original film series embodies this ideal of the dark super heroine well. She is cold, distant and emotionally calculating. Mara’s Lisbeth is still fiery, however she seems more like a rebellious teen in attitude rather than the deeply damaged Lisbeth we know. Her interactions with Blomkvist also reveal a more Hollywood aesthetic, as they are quite friendly with each other, and though Lisbeth is still dominating, there is something in the familiarity she allows in the relationship that is not quite right for the character.
The biggest difference in the depiction of Lisbeth however, is in the advertising for the movie. The ads and posters for any film provide an interpretation for the characters audiences have yet to meet. In the ads for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, we are taught to view Lisbeth not as strong, intelligent or capable, but as a sex object, which is particularly disturbing considering the content of the film. The books and films have become infamous for their disturbing and graphic depictions of brutal rape and violence against women. Stieg Larsson was appalled by the sexism he saw present in Swedish society, and fittingly called the first book of his series ‘Men Who Hate Women’ (this was changed to the less abrasive ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ when brought to North America). Having said this, the sexualization of Lisbeth and Rooney Mara in the press is downright ironic and disturbing. One only needs to compare this version of the poster for the American release (image is NSFW) to the original Swedish one to see the difference in interpretation to the character. The American poster features a nude Rooney Mara, clinging to the arm of Daniel Craig which is wrapped protectively around her upper body. She appears wary and afraid but is presented as something sexual and an object of desire. Compare that with this Swedish poster and you get a very different image of Lisbeth. A marginalized woman alone, strong and staring intensely at the camera.
These slight differences in Lisbeth’s character are food for thought for anyone who wants to compare the Swedish and American films. Once again, despite this issue, I really do think that this is a great film and a competent adaptation. I really shouldn’t be surprised about these changes, it’s just too bad they couldn’t leave Lisbeth alone.