Yesterday Pat and I went to see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (“Man Som Hatar Kvinnor”), a dark, violent thriller. The film’s icy winter landscapes added to the sense of escapism from the rogue heat-wave that had rolled into town for the weekend! The film is the first of Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published “Millennium Trilogy.”
The first thing I noticed was the contrast between the original title (of the book and film), “Men Who Hate Women” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” It seems that misogyny isn’t that big a draw. Also, women are demoted to girls (one girl in fact - who did have tattoos - and body piercing) in the translation. The title change was inappropriate as the story unfolded.
The girl in question, is Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Rapace. Lisbeth is an unsmiling, brooding goth; decidedly anti-social, tightly wound and a computer hacker. We learn of Lisbeth’s background via fiery flashbacks. She was abused at the hands of her father. But aside from flashbacks, Lisbeth refused to open up to Mikael Blomkvist, her unlikely partner in researching the mysterious disappearance of a 16 year old teenager in 1966. Their relationship was conveniently formed when Mikael banged on Lisbeth’s apartment door.
Mikael, an investigative reporter for “Millennium” magazine, opened the film by losing a libel case brought against him by an angry industrialist. The six months of freedom Mikael has before reporting to prison is contracted for by Henrik Vanger, yet another industrialist. Vanger hires Mikael to investigate the disappearance of his niece, Harriet (under the guise of doing a family history). Before he was hired, Vanger has Mikael's background vetted by the firm that employs Lisbeth. Her summary, to Vanger, was that Mikael was framed in the libel case.
Lisbeth continued to hack into Mikael’s files long after her assignment concluded. She stumbled upon the meaning of a series of mysterious names and numbers written in the back of Harriet’s diary that Mikael was trying to decode. On impulse, she emailed her discovery to Mikael and he, in turn, tracked her down. He found Lisbeth, asleep with a girlfriend and reluctant to let him in to her apartment. But it was a false reluctance because, as he pointed out, why would an expert hacker leave such an easy trail back to herself - one even he could follow.
But, Mikael isn’t a novice investigator. We see him deep in the photo archives of the local paper to obtain negatives from the day Harriet disappeared from the island. In a scene that echoed John Travolta’s assembly of a flip book of photos and sound in “Blow Out,” Mikael created a short, motion based clip of Harriet and showed it to Vanger. It's the newest evidence in years! The island is populated with multiple generations of Vangers - each a suspect. From that point on, the connections and coincidences become more and more far fetched - and bring in Nazism, serial killing, mutilation, religious fanaticism to mention just a few.
Surprising, given the circumstances, Lisbeth crawled into bed with Mikael the first night on the island. For someone who had been raped and brutalized by her "guardian" just days earlier, that scene pushed the envelope of credibility. My major issue with the film, in fact, is the repeatedly gratuitous and senseless violence. The violence against Lisbeth did not further the investigative story line. Prior to the her rape, Lisbeth was brutally beaten by a gang of street hoods (and lost her computer in the process). After she was rape, Lisbeth returned to the scene and exacted an equally gruesome revenge on her tormentor.
If the film had retained the original title, all the violence against Lisbeth may have illuminated the "men who hate women." When the mystery is finally solved, the true hideousness of the serial killings, once again, was perpetrated by monsters who hate women! Without spoiling the finale, Harriet herself was ultimately beset by monsters who hated women. And, in the most incredulous finish of all, Lisbeth molts out of her goth character and into something so out of unbelievable, as to be jaw-dropping!
If "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is remade in America, it’s a good bet that the scenes of violence and brutality will be attenuated. The film's long running time, 251 minutes, could have been reduced substantially, without any impact on the main story line, simply by editing out the most of the violence against Lisbeth. Or keep in the violence and restore the original title! The second installment of the trilogy, “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” is already slated for release this summer.