U.S. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Due to the way that word of mouth works in this contemporary era there is a new literary trend of some certain books becoming massively popular, far and beyond the usual constraints of the medium – Twilight and Harry Potter are the first to come to mind – and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is one of the latest, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Though they took their time getting here, once they did the Millenium trilogy hit big fast despite…well, every single thing about them being exactly what we tend to hate in our media. Steig’s stories were originally written in swedish (hence the delay) and are centered around a virtual anthology of brutal acts of sexualised violence, acts that unfold in the least thrilling and least titillating manner possible; they are then, in other words, the exact antithesis of those escapist teen fantasies with which they share sales figures.
Then came the first obligatory film adaptation and despite being one of those scary subtitled productions it received a rather large release, garnering a great critical reception and more importantly making a substantial amount of money thanks to the familiarity of the franchise; enter the U.S. studio system and the even more obligatory re-make. The books shouldn’t have sold, the first film shouldn’t have been a success and yet they were, but could Larsen’s luck hold out for a third time? When film-maker extraordinaire David Fincher was announced to helm this U.S. version the answer became immediately clear, yes. Fincher is perfectly suited to the otherwise unsuitable material: the man made his first mark on the film industry with Se7en, a twisted thriller about a biblical serial killer, from there he chronicled the heights of cultural anti-sociality in Fight Club before following a confused crime reporter through the labyrinthine lore of Zodiac and wowing last year with his tale of a loner hacker The Social Network. This was a match surely made deep in the bowels of hell.
Thankfully Fincher’s direction doesn’t disappoint; the film’s credits alone – Karen o’s howling rendition of Immigrant song combined with those cold and creepy visions – attest to just how singular and scary an experience the following film is going to be. Technically one cannot fault the man’s work here, nor his choice in score; he has worked with Reznor to create cinema that slams into your every sense in a slow and subtle way, something that you just don’t see in this day and age of MTV bombasticism. The film is chilly cold on the surface but it will make you feel more than any crowd-pleaser: you’ll sweat, you’ll squirm, your skin will crawl and your stomach will likely sicken at the sights and sounds on offer. Though when you think back you’ll realize that all we ever saw on the screen were people like those around you; there is no gore here, nor ghosts or ghouls to scapegoat, just the horror of humanity.
The film is not all so depressing as that though – remember this is a populist picture, somehow – in fact Fincher’s greatest feat is in making the experience actually kind of entertaining, even very funny in places. Don’t worry though die-hard fans, he hasn’t done this at a cost to the tone or content of the original, this is a not at all a watered-down adaptation of the original. In fact it’s barely an adaptation at all; though the tickets billed this as U.S. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo they havn’t Americanized the story in even the slightest way, besides of course the language spoken. This is still very much a European film, down to the accents and the slow, in-deliberate pacing of plot; which is great for film-lovers but seemingly defeats the purpose of this project, no?.
Though the film makes an effort to show visually that we are still in Sweden, surrounding the set with strange brand-name items and untranslated documents, it is the script that makes this most clear; though there is a murder mystery to solve this is not the films focus, the crime ultimately comes second to the characters, which is not how U.S. re-makes usually go. There are too many names and numbers involved in the investigation for the audience to follow alone and Fincher makes no effort to help guide us through them; Instead of simplifying the case Fincher’s film embraces its convoluted nature and makes the investigation here as muddled as the one in the aforementioned Zodiac. Don’t expect to play along because this Girl does not play well with others.
Though Daniel Craig is the top billing star and arguably the lead of the film,the casting of the titular girl was the biggest decision that Fincher had to make during the production of this movie; Noomi Rapace left big shoes to fill and Rooney Mara is simply much smaller, so she plays the role to suit. Her Lisbeth is much younger and thus driven by childish traits; imagine, if you will, a version of Daria that had continued running long enough to reveal that she was being abused by her father and had attempted to murder him in revenge. This Lisbeth is a heavily fringed teen in more than just looks, she is modern youth incarnate, she is the future.
This all plays into introducing a new thematic strain – at least one new to me, I don’t recall ever noticing it in the original – which is civility and how it can get you killed; in a strangely fateful way during the climax it is Lisbeth’s lack of any social grace that allows her to survive (not a spoiler, it’s a trilogy), while Craig’s charming Mikael has manners that lead him straight into danger. This brings me back to Fargo, a place not unresembling the ‘North Pole’ of Sweden, to one line in particular: “Polite cultures are usually the most repressed, and therefore the most violent.” This is something hinted at in all the pictures press material, but it really came through stronger here than it did in the original which simply seemed more fascinated with the smaller scale specifics of male-on-female violence.
Though the plot is purposefully imperceptible this, it’s graphic content, comes across as clear as day. The film is an utterly visceral experience and there are many moments that I will not forget for a very long time, for the most part though these moments were more to do with the violence than the sex. It has far too unconventional an execution to level any accusation of Americanization at, but the sexual relationship between the two leads did seem a little over-stressed in this iteration. Their relationship is made to seem as if it should be more important here than in the other versions and yet it is hard to take it seriously, despite the characters both working as individuals. The film follows through for a half an hour after the case has been solved and most of this action is driven by a love that has developed between them, but this is not a feeling that has developed in front of us and so these scenes seem startling for all the wrong reasons. The film’s finishing beat and major emotional moment is a revelation to do with the two, but even after all that time this just feels false, something from another film.
Though it’s focus isn’t on the case the film is still at its best when it is on the island – the scattering of Mikael’s scenes in Stockholm are surely the films weakest – and so a part of me wishes that it were more of a simple thriller. The character is indeed a fascinating and alien creature, but ultimately I found Mara’s take on Lisbeth to be cuter than Noomi’s and so, despite knowing why they have to I kept hoping that all those horrible things hadn’t happened to her. The usually cathartic moments of revenge and revelation are even robbed of their joy, simply making you feel sicker about the entire affair. This is not an enjoyable movie, not in the slightest, but then it’s not meant to be; watching it is an act of sadomasochism but somehow Fincher and co. have managed to make it one where despite some plotting issues plenty of pleasure can be derived from the pain and so it is somehow a worthwhile one nevertheless. If nothing else it’s numbers surely show just how many of us are secretly sick bastards.