The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

James Bond goes deep cover

  • Director: David Fincher
  • Rating: R
  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard
  • Screenplay: Steven Zaillian, Stieg Larsson (author)
  • Music By: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
  • Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth
  • Running Time: 158 Minutes
  • Premiered: December 21, 2011
  • DVD Release Date: March 20, 2012
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Vintage, 2011, ISBN:9780307949486

Synopsis: Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a young computer hacker.

Review: This book and movie is not for the faint of heart. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first installment in the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. The books follow the life of Lisbeth Salander, a genius with poor social skills and a photographic memory. These books were written to bring to light the issue of sexual violence against women. When Larsson was 15, he witnessed a brutal gang rape of a young girl. He did not step in to help and his lack of action haunted him for the rest of his life. This event led to Larsson’s abhorrence of violence and abuse targeted towards women. So he wrote a book trilogy in order to explore the psychological and societal impact of rampant sexual violence. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been adapted for the screen twice. This review compares the American movie adaption to the book. I have four main problems with this adaption.

First, the book contains some rather explicit scenes: a rape scene, a couple torture scenes, and several sex scenes. David Fincher decided to include all these in excruciating detail. Having read the book, I knew what to expect. However, after a while, the explicit scenes overwhelmed the narrative. I understand including the rape and torture, they are the motivation behind Lisbeth’s actions. But the casual sex could have been alluded too, not shown. We all know what happens when two characters retire to the bedroom, we do not need to see it depicted. I thought these scenes derailed the flow of the film and made it overly long. Especially since this time could have been spent developing other parts of the story.

This leads to the second problem. In the book Blomkvist investigates the 40 year disappearance of Henrik Vanger’s grandniece, Harriet. Every year for Henrik’s birthday Harriet gave him a pressed flower. After she disappeared, the flowers kept arriving. In the movie Vanger shows Blomkvist the flowers and the screenwriter cut out some pivotal information. In the book Blomkvist asked these questions: 1) who else knows she gave you the flowers before she disappeared? 2) did any other family members travel to the mailing locations? He never asked these questions in the movie and this is unbelievable. Blomkvist is supposedly an investigative journalist, this scene undermines his credibility. No wonder Blomkvist was charged with libel, apparently he cannot ask basic investigative questions.

Third, in the book Blomkvist has a long standing sexual/professional relationship with Erika Birger, his co-editor. When Blomkvist starts to sleep with Lisbeth, she believes that their relationship will last.The book ends with Lisbeth going to Blomkvist’s home, intending to declare her love for him, but she sees him reuniting with Erika. In the movie, Blomkvist’s relationship with Erika is merely hinted at, never explored/explained. When Lisbeth leaves in the movie, the supposed betrayal seems to come out of nowhere. Fincher’s movie is constructed so we believe that Blomkvist and Lisbeth will remain together. This minor change takes the emotional depth out of the narrative. Blomkvist is one of only two men that Lisbeth trusts and respects. Her relationship with Blomkvist allows her to grow as a person. When Blomkvist returns to Erika, Lisbeth flees and her character development slides backwards. This sets up the beginning of the next book. Taking this out of the movie makes Lisbeth’s decision to run come across as rather random.

Fourth, in the book Lisbeth is depicted as morally challenged. When they finally find the serial killer, Lisbeth is all for taking him out. After she rescues Blomkvist, she says that she is going after the killer and taking him out. While the actual murder is not depicted in the text, we are led to believe that she commits murder. In the movie, Lisbeth asks Blomkvist for permission before the killing. In the end, the fleeing killer’s car explodes after veering into a bunch of traffic. This means Lisbeth is never depicted committing murder. However, in the book, Lisbeth was committed to an asylum after attempting to kill her father. She is a much less ambiguous character in the book; we know she is capable of murder.  Taking away this part of her character really cripples the story, especially since her willingness to kill is a key plot point in the next two books.

Finally, the movie was disappointing because it radically changed the ending. In the book, Harriet made it to Australia and started a ranching business. When Blomkvist finds her, she is a successful and savvy businesswoman, just like Henrik predicted. In the movie, Harriet never makes it to Australia. Instead, she assumes her dead cousin’s identity and is living in London. The movie Harriet never grows into the woman her granduncle predicted she would become. I know this is a minor complaint, but I feel it dilutes the impact of the ending. I would have preferred it if Fincher had kept the original ending. Of course, considering movie Blomkvist’s investigating skills, it is amazing Harriet was found at all.

Overall, the American adaption is fairly close to the book.  It is an interesting thriller and managed to hold my attention. There were only a few places where the narrative dragged a little. While the plot was not overly original, Lisbeth Salander is one of the more interesting characters depicted on screen. Do not watch the movie or read the book if you are adverse to reading/seeing explicit sex/torture scenes. Both the book and movie carry a hard R rating for a reason.