“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011): A One-Minute Film Review

Literary debuts don’t get any bigger than the Millenium trilogy authored by Swedish journalist, Stieg Larrson.  With worldwide sales of over 53 million copies, it was only a matter of time before the books would inevitably be turned into American films.  And when that time came, it was almost equally inevitable that David Fincher, director of thrillers such as Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, and Zodiac, would be the auteur of choice to helm such nihilistically, dark material.

So does the film work?  Sadly, that question is not as easy to answer as one might expect.  On the one hand, Fincher’s extensive experience honed over the past 26 years in the industry has taught him how to focus this story, which, in its original printed form, was a bit meandering at times.   Moreover, he knows how to frame a scene, and so, as one would expect, the film looks and sounds stunningly beautiful.  There is a raw elegance in the landscapes he captures that perfectly mirrors the hollow nature of the main characters’ souls.  And likewise, the brief, but shockingly potent, bursts of extreme violence are captured in such a way as to actually advance the storyline as opposed to being voyeuristic outlets for those that fancy the emerging genre of “torture-porn.”

So what’s missing?  The heart of the novel.  Prior to making its way across the Atlantic, the novel was published in Sweden under the name Man som hatar kvinnor, which translated into English means: Men Who Hate Women.  At its core, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is about misogyny on scales writ both large and small.  While Fincher expertly captures the larger, grotesque acts of violence perpetrated against women, he misses the small acts found in his main character, Mikael Blomkvist.  For you see, in the book, Blomkvist’s defining characteristic is his alarmingly, insatiable sexual appetite.  He regularly sleeps with every single major female character in the book, the likes of which include: a woman half his age (Salander), his married co-owner of the magazine he works for, as well as the married niece of the man who hired him to solve the 40-year old cold case.  But here, in Fincher’s film, he is only ever shown sleeping with Salander, which completely alters the meaning of the closing scene.

*** MILD SPOILER ALERT ***

When Salander comes to give Blomkvist a gift at the end of the film, she sees him walking off into the night with his colleague.  And the rage she feels isn’t merely the rage of jealousy, as it is in the film.  The rage she feels, in the book, is the rage of having once again been violated by a man who took advantage of her to satisfy his own sexual urges.  In other words, in the book, Blomkvist is among the misogynistic offenders who violate women by their casual willingness to sexually use and discard them.  But here, in the film, it simply comes across as Salander being jealous of a new lover, because Fincher never sees fit to show Blomkvist, the ostensible “hero” of the film, as guilty in his own way.

But this should not come as a surprise in American culture.  For ours is a culture that hypocritically glorifies the sexual promiscuity of men, even as it purports to uphold female dignity and empowerment as a national virtue.  So, in the end, Fincher’s curious decision to white-wash his lead character is not surprising, and yet, it is absolutely fatal to the film because it effectively neuters Larrson’s central message, and reduces the film to nothing more than a visually splashy who-dunnit shot in exotic locales.  And in a society that openly degrades women in the manner that ours does, this is a shame because Larrson’s core theme is one that could really have challenged people to think.

This film has been rated R by the MPAA for language, violence and sexuality.

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11 Responses to “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011): A One-Minute Film Review

  1. Doug says:

    Thanks for the interesting review, Scott. Without getting into the “Christians seeing R-rated/graphic movies” debate, I’ve got to say I’m very interested in the source material (dealing with the ugliness of misogyny), but don’t think I can bring myself to put those images in my “temple”. I am thankful for your thoughtful analysis, however!

  2. CMrok93 says:

    It’s certainly worth seeing if you missed the original. If you saw it, however, there’s no way of unseeing it, and nothing in the new one to top it. Craig and Mara are great here though and Fincher brings so much more to this film like I was expecting too. Good review.

  3. Bill says:

    I left a comment here a few days ago – did it get deleted? Lost?

    • That’s really strange, Bill. Because you have posted on this site before, I no longer have to “approve” your comments. I only have to approve first time posters. So I don’t know why your comments didn’t make it onto the site. Care to re-post? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

      • Bill says:

        I will do my best to restate my thoughts, but I did not save the original.
        I saw the movie and I thought it was very well done. I have not yet read the book, but I intend to do so. I think that it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that I did not feel the need to judge the film based on its fidelity to the book. It is also a disadvantage in that I cannot tell if the author’s vision is being realized in the film. But I think that is always an issue when a film-maker is using material that is not original (not exclusively a screenplay). I think that the misogyny is effectively depicted both in the macro, as the main theme of the movie being the mysterious murders of women,and in the micro with Salander’s rapist. I am not sure it is always wise to judge a movie by its faithfulness to the book, because it limits the director’s artistic freedom. And a book and a movie are after all, two different things.

  4. Fair enough, Bill. And for the most part, I don’t disagree with you. For that very reason, I didn’t discuss the way Fincher tied two storylines together at the end of the film. It was a deviation from the book, but not one that altered the thematic arc of the story. To me, the white-washing of Blomkvist did change the theme. In life, most people won’t engage in the act of physical rape. But there is a sense in which the majority of society will casually use and dismiss women as disposable toys, and that is every bit is misogynistic as the “macro” hatred.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. Haven’t read and analyzed the whole review yet. But isn’t the soundtrack great!?!

    • Loved the use of “immigrant Song” in the title sequence. As for the rest of the score, I thought it paired rather nicely with the film’s grungy feel.

      Are you a Reznor/Nine Inch Nails fan? I ask because I am a fan that has never explored the music with any real depth. So I have a couple of cuts (not always the hits) off of several albums through Year Zero (nothing on Ghosts or The Slip). I’ve always thought that I would like more, but I just never go down that musical path. Very strange.

      Personal favorites: “Capital G” and “The Hand that Feeds.”

  6. Pingback: Jesus Creed » Saturday (Not a Book) Review: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  7. Joanne Buchweitz says:

    I am a Christian who usually watches closely what I watch. Not a movie goer, but for Christmas we ended up with Netflix. I am a Swedish American who has been looking at my roots and has an interest in Sweden and what is going on there. Since the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was just out in the theaters I watched the entire trilogy with subtitles.

    I still get tears when I think about these movies. In no way
    was Lisabeth a heroine. You must see all three to fully understand that she is just trying to survive. I think the tattoos were her way of keeping men away. She is not a moral person but never in her life has she even seen morality. Her father was a murderer, rapist, and a Soviet defector. Basically, he was total scum. She was born in darkness. Violence marked her life and the second and third movies show so much more. All I wanted for her in the movies is to find hope and goodness and for her to be saved. She is a lost soul just trying to survive and living on animal instincts to do this. The movies really have more to do with sexual trafficking and how horrible it all is.

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