Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson’s crime novel made over by David Fincher. 

There will be many people coming at this film from different angles, from lovers of the Swedish trilogy in its original novel format, later adapted for Swedish TV and now a new set of David Fincher NIN fanbase who want to see what the fuss is all about. The sad and untimely demise of Stieg Larsson will no doubt be getting a lot of posthumous attention for his portrayal of sickening sexual violence towards women and conspiracy theories are abound already as to whether he actually penned the trilogy himself, and even to the circumstances of his death shortly before the publications of his first attempt at writing fiction. A man heavily involved in exposing far right neo nazism in the so often thought of social utopia of his own country was always going to be followed by an overwhelming shadow of people that may want him ‘shut up’.

So with all this teasing and speculating of the grim kind, the film looked like something worth going to see. And it was. The strength of this story, definitely being the female protagonist Lisbeth Salander, is an intriguing character and really makes the film worthwhile, a young woman, not a ‘girl’ as the film title implies, which is another current bugbear of mine, the constant infantilising of women in popular culture and the name change for this film is very interesting in the context of the themes in Larsson’s writing. 

The original title for this crime novel was ‘Men Who Hate Women’, noted for a Swedish audience but possibly too confrontational for English speaking countries to be made so aware of. In order to make it more palatable for a different audience,  I feel the title focuses on downgrading what is a strong and survivalist young woman who enacts revenge on her rapist to a fetishsized ‘girl’ and her tattoo which actually didn’t play much of a part in her role or the plot really but was merely a trivial aspect of her appearance. They may as well have called it ‘The Girl With The Nice Arse’ for the relevance it had to the plot really. I suppose if scrabbling around desperately, she does need a tattooist friend later in the plot and dragons can symbolise ‘strength’ but hmmm?  Maybe this dragon tattoo has more relevance in the books, I will make a note to check this out.

Importantly the character of Lisbeth is not compromised as the title change is; she is outside of the norm, a ward of the state, abused yet surviving albeit with what some might call social limitations being aloof, direct and at times aggressive in manner.

Rooney Mara, I think, pulled off this character spectacularly and was well cast in a role that could have teetered dangerously on perversely titillating with such explicit ‘thriller’ scenes. Lisbeth as a woman with a photographic memory, technical wizardry to hack the computers of politicians and the like to help solve crime and ultimately to tap into her own survival instinct beyond no bounds when she plots her revenge on for want of a better word, her ‘carer’ after he violently rapes her. 

Not only does she treat him to ‘like with like’, while making him watch his abhorrent treatment of her own rape by him on a video she has taken to hold as more evidence, an uncomfortable scene obviously, but tattoos his crime across his body in order to protect other women from becoming involved with him and to continue her own control of him in appalling rapist purgatory. 

These scenes are really there to build up a profile of a woman who has the strength and motive to beat her abuser and to help investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist solve the crime of serial killer for the latter part of the film. If you haven’t read the books, this is the point in the film where you will go’ ahh I see, this is where it’s all heading now’ as I did; to this point, the two characters seem very vaguely trotting alongside each other and it did feel for me that there was more than one novel here getting crammed and rushed into a single film.

Once Mikael, (Daniel Craig, someone I have no particular strong feeling for or against as an actor, I’ve never seen him as Bond and have only seen him recently playing Ted Hughes in Sylvia, my sheltered life basically) has persuaded Lisbeth to help him find this ‘killer of women’ that has managed to dodge being caught for over forty years, the film starts to gel together more satisfyingly. 

The main weaknesses for me were with plot, most notably the unexpected sexual liason between the two protagonists, Lisbeth and Mikael; it lacked intensity but did serve to reveal the softer side and ‘opening up’ of the aloof Lisbeth . It sadly teetered on the verge of a ‘crush’ when she bought him an expensive gift towards the end. I was in two minds about whether I wanted a happy or unhappy ending as the relationship did not seem plausible in the film (another reason to grab the novels and compare) despite a mutual respect that clearly started to develop.

Another dangling sub plot was centred on religious themes, most explicitly with the serial killer who was picking his victims through biblical women and verse. The brutal purging of their so-called sin through the sickening interpretation of the  ‘teachings’ and the hinted disquiet Mikael had of his own daughters religious symbology were interesting and only touched upon; both I would have liked explored more really but of course some things have to be cut for film and this was after all, a ‘thriller’. At around this point the revelation of the missing girl as not being in the bible revealed the twist for me frustratingly before the final curtain.

There were, however, fabulous shots of snowy, dark and severe Stockholm and to be fair to Fincher, the ‘Hollywooding’ up of this film was limited to only a few moments throughout; the very goth industrial music video title sequence at the beginning didn’t seem to fit and a rather silly scene where Lisbeth chases the murderer on her motorbike; it's all shot very pop action and not really needed but aside from this, it did retain a modicum of Scandinavian unrelenting grimness. 

Other than that, slight distractions for me were Stellan Skarsgard who I just kept seeing Lykke li dancing around him in the video Sadness is a Blessing, Jim from 'Neighbours' popped up at a surprisingly crucial point and the most annoying popcorn inhaling, packet rustling, getting up to go to the toilet THREE times during a film couple? The weak bladdered, impolite munching fools basically. Not that I suffer with cinema rage or anything. And none of these things were the fault of Fincher, obviously.

It was good and I would like to see it again as the family tree got a little muddled in places in a kind of ‘Donnie Darko’ hang on a minute, just need to rewind that bit kind of way. On discussion with my cohort for the evening on leaving, should it have been an 18 certificate? Yes. Rape is the most violent act towards woman, man or child so no question of its adult territory. The other pressing question; why was it remade so soon after the Swedish film? Well this will always be contentious with the battle field strewn with accusations of lazy people that can't be bothered to read subtitles and America wanting to make a fast buck out of European brilliance. On a positive note,  hopefully most who enjoy Fincher's will go on to check out Niel Arden Oplev's version from 2009 if they haven't already. I know I will.

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