David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is his best blood-chilling experiment yet

Stieg Larsson was a renowned Swedish journalist who died prematurely on November 9, 2004, shortly after he had succeeded in finding a publisher for his series of crime novels, Millenium.  A little over seven years since his death, the only books Larsson had the chance to publish have become a worldwide hit, selling more than 50 million copies internationally, and counting.  They inspired a successful Swedish movie adaptation which was presented in Scandinavia as a six-part miniseries for TV.  The movies were just as successful, attracting even North American audiences.  Hollywood acquired the rights to make an American adaptation of the books in 2010, with Hollywood’s sickest brain heading the direction of the movies – the brilliant David Fincher.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the actual Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women) is the first novel of the series, and it tells the story of Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist on the run being sued for defamation by a Swedish magnate.  In the midst of his overly publicized fall, Blomkvist has been summoned by Henrik Vanger, a retired CEO with a twisted family history, who wants to hire Blomkvist to investigate the murder of his niece nearly 40 years ago, Harriet.  He is aided by Lisbeth Salander, a goth creature with a dark past who works as a surveillance agent and was previously hired to draw a background check of Blomkvist before he was hired by Vanger.  The two uncover a series of ritualistic murders of women which lead them to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Vanger family and what happened to Harriet.
The plot fits Fincher perfectly.  The director is famous for being attracted to directing dark, violent, but intelligent films such as Se7en, where the Bible was another crime enabler, Zodiac, and Fight Club.  Although his last two features, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, lacked the physical violence emblematic of Fincher’s work, they carried an eerie sense of emotional and intellectual distress – The Social Network in particular.
Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stars Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and newcomer Rooney Mara as Salander.  Both have been perfectly cast, with Craig fitting the mold of a 40-something beat-up journalist.  His glassy blue eyes and the snowed setting of the story give him the look of a Swedish lone-wolf.  Mara as Salander is a 20-something skin-and-bones thing, with bleached eyebrows, coal-black hair with the shortest bangs you’ve ever seen, and about a dozen piercings.  Salander has a strange, androgynous kind of appeal, but not the Marlene Dietrich kind.  While having an almost childish approach to revenge, she also has a knowledge and appreciation of violence.  She is a wholly original character, a mirror image of another Scandinavian girl – a Pippi Longstocking with a leather jacket and a tamer-gun.  While Salander’s dress code aims to alienate those around her, it is impossible not to find her endearing and to cheer her on as she inserts a prosthetic penis up her rapist’s ass-hole.
The character of Lisbeth Salander was inspired by a dark memory of Larsson’s childhood. When he was just a child, he witnessed a teenage girl getting gang-raped.  The memory never left him, and perhaps it was catalyst that sparked his interest in crimes against women.

Both the Swedish movie-adaptation of the first novel (directed by Niels Arden Oplev) and Fincher’s are extremely respectful of Larsson’s story and of his vision of the character.  In the Swedish movies, Salander is played by a fierce Noomi Rapace.  However, she portrays a slightly more mature Lisbeth, and is perhaps a more stereotypical gothic character than the one played by Mara.  While Rapace is more vengeful, there is a certain childlike innocence to Mara. Oplev may have had the bad-ass card in mind while adapting Salander to the screen, while Fincher preferred to play the insane card instead. In terms of plot, both make slight digressions, but they each pay immense respect to Larsson’s book.
In terms of direction, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not to be confused as a “Hollywood version” of a foreign film.  It is undoubtedly Fincher’s.  He is a more stylish director than Oplev, and the book is approached as a piece of art, and not only as a compelling thriller.  In the hands of any other American director, this could have turned into a typical action movie. Fincher plays with dark and light in terms of Lisbeth’s body: dark hair, dark tattoo, freakishly white skin. In terms of setting: snow and shadows. In terms of plot: fair appearances often hide dark secrets.
The screenplay was adapted by Steven Zailian (Schindler’s List) and departs from the book’s original ending, but it is better than the actual one.  The script is an improvement of an already amazing work.  Everything else – dialogue, characters, plot – are almost mot à mot with what Larsson wrote.  Fincher also keeps everything Swedish, including the accents of all the actors in the movie.
His adaptation also comes with a killer soundtrack by Trent Reznor, with whom the director worked with on The Social Network.  If there was an Academy Award for Best Opening Credits, it would go to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
At the hands of David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not just a Hollywood remake.  It is an even better film than the Swedish one, and that’s saying a lot, considering Oplev’s adaptation won him worldwide critical acclaim and put Noomi Rapace on the map of most wanted European imports.  It is exciting to know that he is the one directing the two upcoming movies, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (due in 2012 and 2013).
Fincher’s film is all kinds of biting, uncomfortable and daring.  As he told Vogue a month before the movie’s release “If we are not out on the ledge juggling chain saws, then we are doing ourselves a huge disservice.”  Nicely done, Fincher.


By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva

About Radina Papukchieva

Radina Papukchieva came to live in, be consumed by, and love Montreal in 2003 from Bulgaria, with her mother and little sister. She is still a semester away from graduating from Concordia University, where she is doing a double major in journalism and communication and cultural studies, as well as a minor in film studies. Her interests include film, TV, and popular culture. And Woody Allen. She is a film writer for CultMontreal.com and co-creator of The Cafe Phenomenon. Her list of inspirational people includes Tina Fey, primarily. Among her other interests are music, art, literature, and of course, food. Her film reviews have appeared in The Concordian and The Mirror.

2 responses »

  1. Tamara says:

    Webster led me to your blog/site and I now see why (I’m always reviewing movies on Flixster). I agree with pretty much everything you wrote about this version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and about the Golden Globes! Good work 🙂

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