On The Aisle
By Tony Macklin
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a brutal movie. It’s also compelling and absorbing. It takes one on a journey down the icy roads to hell with a dogged, investigative journalist and an avenging punk angel … an odd couple par excellence.
Based on the novel by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, originally titled “Men Who Hate Women,” it’s a potent adaptation.
Last year and this year have been a fertile time for memorable foreign films: “The White Ribbon,” “Mother,” “A Prophet” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” These films are unique and thought provoking. It’s been a long time since such a group of brilliant foreign films have made it to mainstream American theaters.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the story of Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyquist), a disgraced journalist who loses a libel case against a big corporation and is sentenced to jail.
Also struggling to survive is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a girl who is her own person and has tattoos and piercings to emphasize that. Lisbeth is an enigmatic cyber-hacker who works for a security company. She is silently willful, wary, alienated and fiercely independent.
But her independence is taken away from her when she is assigned to a guardian who begins to brutalize her. These are the most stunning sequences in a movie about a world of psychological damage.
Before Mikael is jailed, he is offered a job by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), head of a Swedish industrial empire, who wants Mikael to find out who murdered his niece 36 years ago. He thinks it was a family member.
Mikael reluctantly accepts the case and eventually becomes obsessed with it. He enlists the recalcitrant Lisbeth, who once cyber-tracked him. It leads to danger and horror.
Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev has captured a remote world that is snowy, frigid and bleak with shafts of sunlight. It’s an atmosphere of frozen, glaring dread.
Oplev has made a film of faces, evocative expressions, puzzled, thoughtful, grim, that hide thwarted ideals and torn psyches. It may remind one of “Blow-Up and “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Larsson died suddenly at age 50 in 2004, before his Millennium trilogy (with its Dragon Tattoo novel) was published. His three novels have sold 21 million copies worldwide. Larsson never knew he was the second bestseller worldwide in 2008.
As with “The Silence of the Lambs,” one should read the novel as well as see the film. The books and movies differ.
The movie “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is more stylish than the book, but Larsson tells a better story, is less contrived and develops his characters more.
The movie amplifies the brutality but simplifies the relationships and cuts out key characters. Mikael’s daughter, who comes up with a major clue, is cut; her clue is given by Lisbeth in the movie. Mikael’s several bed partners are limited to one. His romantic relationship with his magazine co-founder is diminished to a few looks. At least the sadism of the dead cat is left out of the movie.
The book, because of its details, has a fascination the movie doesn’t have. And the book seems less contrived. Mikael has a motivation to work for Henrik that is not in the movie.
There’s also a scene added by the two screenwriters in which Lisbeth confronts the killer near the end that is not Larsson. In fact, he probably would have thought it different from what he was after.
But Larsson would have been smitten with Rapace, who brings his character Lisbeth to intoxicating life. Larsson, the author of “Men Who Hate Women,” loved women … especially those with dragon tattoos.
Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film, in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.