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.