Cinematic Saturdays - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Running with last week’s review, I’m shining the spotlight on another Swedish author, Stieg Larsson, creator of the Millennium Trilogy and my all-time favorite badass heroine, Lisbeth Salander. 

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author:  Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 465
Genre: Crime Thriller


Summary (from Goodreads): 

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there's always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

This is actually one of those rare instances in which I prefer a movie to the book. The story is solid but overall the novel reads a bit like an unfinished manuscript. Because Stieg Larsson unfortunately died before US publication, he wasn’t able to contribute to the final editorial process. Therefore the book contains quite a lot of extraneous detail and characters that often read flat. However, to be fair, it’s possible that flatness is just the result of a more event/story driven plot and is therefore merely preferential (I like character-driven novels).

Speaking of characters (sorry, Stieg), it feels as though he tried so hard to make his characters unique that they ended up unrealistic and almost impossible to relate to. There isn’t a single character in this book, even a minor one, who’s a regular person. Either they’re eccentric, billionaire titans of industry, or incestuous, serial murderers, or criminalized journalists, or super-genius hackers. The list goes on and on. Even though it’s set in the “real world,” I felt I needed to try pretty hard to suspend reality.

But all that being said, again, the story is freakin’ awesome. My summery is below. 

Beware of Spoilers – Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist who built his reputation on exposing high stakes, white-collar crimes, faces jail time when he defames the character of a local billionaire. Wanting to avoid prison, he agrees instead to resign from his position at Millennium, the Stockholm-based magazine he writes for and co-owns. At this time, with nothing to fill his days and no income to speak of, he’s hired by another billionaire, Henrik Vanger, to investigate the 36-year-old disappearance of his niece Harriet. Feeling overwhelmed, Blomkvist elicits the help of hacking mastermind and “private investigator” Lisbeth Salander (aka an incomparable atomic bomb of unbridled badassery), who incidentally was the one who landed him in his pile of professional excrement in the first place. Together they uncover the strange and troubling truth of the Vanger family and young Harriet’s mysterious disappearing act.

I wouldn’t not recommend this book, but I also wouldn’t suggest making time in your busy schedule to read it. If you’re bored and actively seeking something to do, by all means, go for it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was first adapted to film in 2009 by Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev. It remained incredibly true to the book and won the BAFTA film award in 2011 for best foreign language film.

The only criticism I really have is that this movie is very long (152 minutes). That paired with the fact that it’s subtitled makes it require some commitment to watch. It’s not the kind of movie you can have on in the background while you peruse Pintrest. You have to pay attention, and you have to pay attention for a long time. Like the book, this adaptation contains some extraneous detail and tends to move a bit slowly.

One of the biggest differences between this film and the American remake is the artistic interpretation of Lisbeth Salander. Oplev and actress Noomi Rapace create a very unaffected, unemotional, and almost sociopathic Salander. While she’s in no way a villain, she is bristly and very difficult to connect with. This is somewhat true to her character in the book, but in the movie she seems almost inhuman. However, that’s not in any way a testament to poor acting. Rapace was incredibly committed and convincing in her role.

This movie is acted well, written well, shot well, and worth a watch. So drink some coffee, put the internet away, and glue your eyes to the screen.

Rating : 

An American remake was released in 2011 by Oscar nominated director David Fincher (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). The film also won an Academy Award for film editing, was nominated for four others, and won AFI’s 2012 film of the year. It also won the prestigious Carolynn Staib, double-thumbs-up stamp of approval and inspired me to go as Lisbeth Salander for Halloween.

Much, nay, most – almost there – all of the extraneous detail was pruned away to reveal a thrilling story arc that was in no way slow, and the characters were infinitely more relatable than in either the novel or Swedish film. Especially Lisbeth. While she is still exceptionally independent, cunning, and capable, she possesses a fragility that makes me want to protect her despite the undeniable fact that she’d never, ever need it.

In both novel and original film, Salander seems to act on some kind of detached, moral code. A good example is in the infinitely cringe-worthy tattoo scene. For those who need a refresher, she breaks into the home of a man who’d raped her, ties him down, gags him, and forcibly tattoos “I am a rapist pig” in giant letters onto his abdomen. In the original film she’s entirely unemotional, as though merely doling justice for some unspecified crime. In the American remake Salander is clearly exacting revenge. She is livid and she is terrifying. 

"Hold still, I've never done this before."
Another example is in her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist, with whom she has a brief physical affair. Near the end of the story, Salander abruptly and entirely cuts Blomkvist off. In the novel and original film it seems as though this is because she’s developed feelings for him and can’t be bothered with the inevitable emotional complications this will cause. In the American remake Lisbeth cuts ties after feeling betrayed by Mikael. Again, the motivations for her reactions were made much more emotional than calculating. Most of the time I would have a problem with this because of the whole “emotional female” stereotype, but because she was so aloof before, I genuinely think it’s an improvement.

But those are all testaments to superior writing/direction and don’t really spotlight the stellar acting ability of Roony Mara, who before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was virtually unknown. I think it’s safe to say that I have never believed a performance more than hers in my life. She was so invested in her role that I couldn’t see the actress behind the character if I tried. Her performance got her nominated for the Academy Award for best actress in a leading role, and she probably should have won. And talk about a committed physical transformation (see photo below).

This movie may be perfect. Really. It’s beautifully directed, written, shot, and acted, and is, in my opinion, a manifestation of how the book should have been. Soak it up, movie buffs, you won’t hear me say that often.


As always, the novel and films can be purchased via the links below. Thanks for tuning in and see you next week!


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