Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have not done a movie review in this blog for a long time and I am a little bit rusty... But I since I read the book before seeing the Movie, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity for me to restart.

Most are aware that "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" is a bestselling novel before it was adapted for the big screen. Legions of fans are also anxiously awaiting the screen versions of the second and third books in the series -- "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest."  I am a little embarrassed to say that I am one of those fans.  Ever since I finished the first book, I wanted more.  I am now on the third book and I have to admit, a bit hesitant to finish it because it would be the end of a great adventure and the wonderful character of Lisbeth Salander. 

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

Stieg Larsson, the Author of the Trilogy, was a controversial journalist and activist in Sweden.  He was a pro-communist political activist who trained female guerillas in Africa early in his life; he was also a photographer for the Communist Worker's League; and he was the editor of extreme left-wing publications like the Swedish "Trotskyist" journal Fjärde internationalen and Swedish Expo Foundation's (established to counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people) Expo Magazine.  When he was not doing his day job, he did independent research on right-wing extremism in Sweden, which resulted in his first book Extremhögern (Extreme Right). Larsson was instrumental in documenting and exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organizations.  He was also an influential public debater and lecturer on the subject, reportedly living for years under death threats from his political enemies.  He died in 2004 from a heart attack, but there have been rumours that his death was in some way induced, because of the regular death threats he received as the editor of Expo.  Like all good writers, his characters were sketched from real life and are slightly autobiographic -- Writer/Publisher Blomkvist and Researcher/hacker Salander.

After Larsson died, three unpublished manuscripts of three complete novels (written as a series) were discovered.  The Salander Saga, published posthumously, has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide and have been made into movies (a Swedish version of the trilogy was made before Fincher's).  He wrote the novels for his own pleasure and did not attempt to publish them before he died.  Larsson actually had plans of writing more novels for the series beyond the three currently in print, because three quarters of a fourth novel was found in his a notebook computer, as well as synopses or manuscripts for the fifth and sixth books.  But alas, he died before finishing any of them. 

Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist

 "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is about Mikael Blomkvist, Journalist and Publisher of Millennium Magazine, an independent politically themed magazine that exposes anomalies in Sweden's private and public sectors.  The book starts out very slowly, concentrating on Mikael's predicament when he is sentenced for libel after writing a poorly documented expose about a well-known industrialist.  Considering the bleakness and dreariness of the Nordic winter, and the detailed exposition on the initially unrelated characters (Blomkvist, Armansky, Salander and Vanger) that dragged on for the first few chapters, I almost stopped reading the book.  I plodded on to the next few chapters out of curiosity -- because I was certain that there had to be something good about the book, for it to be adapted by Hollywood.  There is... her name is Lisbeth Salander.

When the book was first published in Sweden, it was titled  Män som hatar kvinnor – "Men Who Hate Women," partly due to the main story about a girl that had never been found; and was thought to have been murdered, but was actually a victim of incest -- involving serial killers who raped and killed women.  The book (and the movie) centered on this story, with Blomkvist's fight with the industrialist Wennerstrom serving as a sub-plot.  It was gripping enough as a thriller.  But after finishing the second book (The Girl Who Played with Fire), I knew that Larsson struck gold with Lisbeth Salander.  Without her, Mikael Blomkvist would be a run of the mill protagonist, despite his casual flings.  According to lore, Larsson witnessed the gang rape of a young girl when he was 15 and he never forgave himself for failing to help the girl.  The victim's name was Lisbeth.  It is therefore fitting that all the titles (in English) of his three books now allude to his heroine, Lisbeth Salander.   

Salander treatening her Legal Guardian

Lisbeth Salander is part criminal, part genius.  Working as a part-time researcher for a security agency, she is the best in the business -- thorough and precise in her investigations.  Amoral and without scruples, she is ruthless and merciless when opposed.  She also has a dark past..  Salander has suffered more injustices and crimes in her short life, than most people will encounter in the whole of theirs.  In the first book and in the movie, she is brutally raped by her new legal guardian, but surprisingly turns the tables on him by capturing the whole incident on micro video.  But the most antonishing revelation of her character happens when she handcuffs and rapes her rapist back, tattoos him permanently on the belly and scares him to do her bidding.  When that magic moment happens, Lisbeth Salander transcends the norm and becomes heroic.  And if most readers are like me, I could not wait to see what she will do next.  She is like a bomb waiting to go off.  Unlike most books where the male lead saves the day, Salander ends up saving Blomkvist twice in this book/movie.  Her character is refreshing, to say the least.  And if the story about Larsson witnessing the rape is true, he has used Salander to purge his guilt.

I concentrated on the book, because the movie was pretty straight forward.  I think David Fincher did a fair job.  Like most movies adapted from a book, "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" was abridged to fit the cinematic format.  Although the book had more detail, the film version was considerably better paced, covering the main story points without sacrificing cinematic exposition.  I am pleased with the way David Fincher translated it into film.  He was able to condense a relatively complex plot (to just 2 hours 40 mins.) by using subtle shortcuts, without undermining the story and the characters.  I do not think another director could have done any better without changing the original vision of the author.  The only minor criticism I can make is in the casting.  I would have used Max von Sydow instead of Christopher Plummer to play the Vanger patriarch and another actor as Blomkvist, preferably less identified with a particular role (James Bond) than Daniel Craig.  Rooney Mara on the other hand, was perfect for the role of Salander.

The movie was well crafted, but pales in comparison with the book (or maybe just my imagination), which has more violence, sex and everything else.  I definitely recommend the film if you are lazy.  But if you love reading, the three books are definitely a great adventure (particularly the second and third which concentrates on Salander's life).  I am definitely hooked and would love to see a fourth book -- even if another author has to finish it.  I just can't get enough of Lisbeth Salander!

--Pictures property of Columbia Pictures.


TheresNoTylerDurden said...

Watch the swedish versions also Atom.

Atom said...

I will, thanks. There is a boxed set I have my eye on:)