I went to go see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Monday evening.
If you’ve been following my blog posts you know that I’m a tad bit obsessed of the Stieg Larsson novels called the Millennium Series and Lisbeth Salander’s character. I want justice for her and I want her to be portrayed accurately. You telling me that she’s just a fictional character means nothing to me.
I don’t want to give absolutely everything away to those thinking about going to see the movie, but then again, read at your own risk of spoilers.
The introduction to the movie or the part where the opening credits are rolling is a small film in and of itself. It was fascinating and beautiful to watch. It was a dreamlike series of images in a sticky black tar unfolding and rolling into one and then being pulled apart. It included Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Bloomkvist, technology, wires and computers, forced restraint and blindfolding, a wasp, and fire. It alluded to things to be seen in the movie and things not yet visited in this first part but things to be seen later in the trilogy. The thing that cheapened it and made it feel silly at times was the music set to this opening part – Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song - a bit on the nose (or maybe not quite, since the song was about Iceland, not Sweden). I’m not saying it’s not a rocking song, but with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross doing the soundtrack, couldn’t they have come up with something awesome and original?
I’ve already written about some of my anxieties over the American version of the movie that was released December 2011, mainly because of the trailers and because of the promotional posters. Some ignorant teenager I won’t even go find for you said that the movie was about sex and abuse so it made sense to her to show Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander topless for the poster, but no, she hadn’t read the books. The promotional posters make it seem like the story is about a romance between Salander and Mikael Bloomkvist and how their love brings down evil. No, not even.
There were some parts of the American version of the movie where I was happy to see they included some detail the Swedish filmmakers had decided to leave out. I liked how Salander’s legal guardian, Palmgren, who has a stroke is shown to have difficulty with his motor skills and with speaking. In fact, he does not speak at all during the American movie. The filmmakers also made Salander find him and take him to the hospital which never happened in the book. Larsson described him as not being able to do most things unassisted but have moments of clear speech.
Mainly I was excited to see that the nameless cat who wanders into Bloomkvist’s cottage in Hedestad was allowed some camera time. I enjoyed every minute of it - up until his tortured corpse is discovered by Bloomkvist. Several people in the audience gasped and said “oh no.” I would have too probably if I had not known it was coming. It was graphic, bloody, and disturbing, aka – accurate. His unsavory death serves as a signal to Bloomkvist and Salander that their investigation is making someone in the family very uncomfortable and also, that they are on the right track.
But also there were some times where they straight up changed things and how the scene was constructed or made up scenes and I could not see the reason why. They spent noticeably more screen time for Salander’s violent rape than they did showing her revenge on her rapist, her new legal guardian named Bjurman. I see sexism all the time because that’s part of my paradigm. The only thing I could come up with to explain the inequality in screen time for the rape and revenge rape scenes was that it made the American male filmmakers uncomfortable and/or they thought it would make the general male audience uncomfortable. It’s rape. If it is comfortable for you, there is something seriously wrong with you.
Additionally, I was crossed-arms-scowling angry at the screen when they showed Salander take a shower in her apartment after her guardian raped her. The camera slowly panned over her naked and bruised body. That was absolutely and completely unnecessary. Mara’s slow, pain-filled walk home and her slow and deliberate movements, generally - her acting, already told the audience that she was in severe pain.
In the Swedish film, Noomi Rapace’s acting shows Salander in shock and intense pain and yet, the look in her eye shows she's already thinking about how to get back at Bjurman. She is shown slowly easing herself into a sitting position, opening her computer, uploading the video she secretly took and letting it play while she struggles to light her cigarette with her shaking hands. We do not see her shower. It would be overkill and eroticizing the rape.
When Salander tattoos her rapist in the novel, she writes “I am a sadist pig and a rapist” and that’s what the Swedish film has her tattoo. Why then did the American movie have her shorten it to “I am a rapist pig?” Right before she does tattoo him, she tells him to stay still, she’s never done this before and that “there will be blood.” That last line got a few chuckles from the audience, probably a little bit of release of tension from the hard hitting story but maybe I was not the only one who was reminded of the movie by the same name.
When Salander gets assaulted at the subway station in the novel and in the Swedish film, it’s a gang of hooligans who just want a laugh and end up roughing her up a bit and spilling soda on her laptop. In the American movie, it’s a quick-sticks mugger who grabs her bag and runs. She gets it back but discovers that in the scuffle, her laptop’s screen got cracked and now the hardrive is unusable. Lisbeth is supposed to take it to her fellow hacker, Plague, to take a look at it, but here they have her take it to some geek help desk at a store. Salandar shouldn’t have to do that.
In the Millennium triology, Lisbeth Salander has this on again, off again girlfriend named Miriam whose character plays bigger role later on. She has a little screen time in the Swedish film but in the American version, she’s just a nameless one night stand. Salander isn’t straight or bi, she’s outside of the norm and any categorization. To say the least, I did not care for the heteronormative washing over of Lisbeth’s persona and of the near disappearance of Miriam’s role.
The end of the movie was great and yet awful. They included something pivotal for Salander and yet failed to properly wrap up the story of the missing Harriet Vanger. After Salander and Bloomkvist have finished their work for Henrik Vanger and leave the island, Salander finds herself missing Bloomkvist and actually having romantic feelings for him. Larsson never said that she loved him or anything like that, but he did say that she went out of her way to get him a present she thought he’d really like and planned on surprising him with it outside his office. The American movie shows her doing just that. Unfortunately for Salander, its she who gets the surprise; she sees Bloomkvist leave the Millennium office with his arm around his married girlfriend, Erika Berger. She trashes the gift and speeds off on her motorcycle. This is pivotal because this is the reason she essentially disappears and Bloomkvist is mostly at a loss to find her in The Girl Who Played with Fire.
Larsson wrote that Harriet Vanger and her cousin Anita conducted a plan to spirit her away from Sweden by having Harriet pass as Anita. Anita also leaves Sweden and plants down in London until her death. Harriet does not stop running away from her family until she reaches Australia, the Australian Outback, to be precise. I can’t help think that the American filmmakers got lazy when they chose to have Harriet reside in London. Her family is one of the most powerful families in Scandanavia. Really, their contacts couldn’t dig something up in as close a place as England? Then they did not even allow her character time to explain to her dear uncle, who has not stopped searching for her in 40 years, what happened and that it was her sending him pressed flowers every year for his birthday and not the killer taunting him as Henrik had believed.
I was right in thinking the American Lisbeth would be too chatty and that they would make her seem nicer. In fact, they even made her almost polite at times; she said “please” and “may I.” Who the hell says, “May I kill him?” when referring to a serial sadist murderer who just had your lover hanging by his neck? I rolled my eyes when she said that. A few people in the audience chuckled. Just to be clear, none of what I’m writing says that Rooney Mara was a bad Lisbeth Salander. Her acting was great; the lines and what she had to do, not great all the time.
There was a lot of product placement, more than I expected. I expected to see Apple computers all around because that’s how Larsson wrote it and I hoped to see the infamous Billy’s Pan Pizza, which I did.
All in all, Stieg Larsson wrote a kick ass, fast paced, thrilling book series. The characters are great. The story is great. I think it would have to take a complete idiot to completely mess up the telling of the story. Fincher and the rest of his filmmaking team did not completely mess it up, even if they did add or change things I didn’t approve of. There were things in the Swedish film that I disliked a bit too. If I were skilled in film editing I would likely cut and stitch pieces of the Swedish and American adaptations together to make my ideal telling of Lisbeth Salander. And then revive it's original name, Men Who Hate Women, which I and a few others think is much more accurate and powerful.
However much I have compared and contrasted, I do want them to film The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest so that they have a chance to complete the story and so Rooney Mara can have another go at playing such an awesome and complex character.