briarwood: (UTS LifeYouDontHave)
Morgan Briarwood ([personal profile] briarwood) wrote2010-03-17 09:32 am
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Movie Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the movie I saw last weekend; I was really keen to see it as I've recently read the book. Since the film was not made by Hollywood I thought it might be a reasonable adaption. The book has a lot going for it. It's one of those novels that is trying really hard to be feminist while failing to understand women even a little. The chapters are separated by stats about violence toward women in Sweden...and they manage to make the opposite point from that intended 'cause I'm pretty sure the stats for the UK or USA are much, much worse. This impression is not helped by the way the book was marketed in the English-speaking world: in the original Swedish, the novel is titled Men Who Hate Women. Renaming it and putting a naked girl on the cover...way to miss the point, boys. And yet there's good stuff going for it, too.

But here I'm talking about the movie. So let's begin with the story. Radical journalist Mikael Blomkvist is facing a prison sentence after being convicted of libel. He is hired by Henrik Vanger, an elderly man who is obsessed with the long-ago disappearance of his niece, Harriet. He is convinced that she was murdered by a member of his own family and wants Blomkvist to make one final effort to review the evidence and solve the case. Blomkvist teams up with Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker, and together they do indeed solve the case. Salander is the "girl with the dragon tattoo" of the title.

The thing is, the movie is a better adaption of the book than it is a film in its own right. The first half of the movie is spent establishing the characters and Lisbeth's storyline, which follows the novel quite closely, seems like a complete irrelevance once you hit the second half. If you've read the book, it's not: her mental health issues are more explicit in the novel and her experiences of sexual violence are relevant, even key, in the novel but seem much less so in the movie. Briefly, Lisbeth is in her 20's but has a legal guardian because she has been deemed incompetent. The movie is vague about her mental health issues except to make it clear she has a terror of being locked away; in the novel it's more explicitly suggested that she has an autistic spectrum disorder, probably Asbergers. It's also more explicit in the novel that she's a long way from being incompetent, she just doesn't know how to change her legal circumstances. At the beginning of the movie she is assigned a new guardian, who turns out to be a sadist who uses his power over her finances to force her to have sex with him. Lisbeth plans to film him doing this, as leverage, but her plan goes badly wrong. In the film, those scenes are pretty brutal, but not porny (i.e. not the way Hollywood would film it). I found it difficult to watch and it would definitely be triggering for some people. But I also found it easier because I'd read the book, and knew what would come next.

In the book, that experience is relevant because it prompts Lisbeth to research sexual violence and the kind of men who commit it. And she does triumph over her abuser as a result of that research. The movie skips over her research completely, making her triumph seem like a crazy girl's act of revenge, instead of the logical and calculated act it is in the book. Which is a real pity, because it's her understanding of the sadist's psychology that makes that part of her storyline tie into the main mystery plot.

The main case is a "locked room" mystery: young Harriet Vanger vanished from the family's island home on a day when the island itself was cut off from the mainland by an accident on the only bridge (plot hole! Swedes don't have boats?). Since her disappearance, someone - her killer, we assume - has been taunting the elder Vanger by sending him a framed flower on his birthday each year: something Harriet used to do. She disappeared in the 1960's so the case is pretty cold and initially Blomkvist doesn't expect to find anything new. But a photograph taken the day of her disappearance provides a new lead, and the stage is set for a fairly pedestrian investigation - it's difficult to make searching through archives seem exciting on film. What is uncovered is a nasty piece of family history involving the Nazi past of some of the oldest - and long dead - brothers, and links to a series of brutal murders across the country. The movie fails to draw the connections clearly, in particular the religious connections made in the book make not a lick of sense in the film, but in some ways that doesn't matter, because events move quickly toward the final revelations and an action-packed ending that is pretty faithful to the novel.

I suspect that some of my problems with the movie are down to poor transalation: the film is in Swedish with English subtitles and I'm very aware of how phrasing can imply things rather than state them explicitly, and that tends to get lost in translation. For example, there's a big difference (in English) between saying someone was "killed" and someone was "murdered". The Swedish word used sounds like the English "murder", but I have no idea if the subtitled translation "killed" is accurate or a softening of the term used. There are other places, too, where I suspect there's a lot lost in translation. But *shrug* that's just how it is with foreign language films.

The real problem is the failure to pick-and-choose points from the book. They've played down the libel issue to a teeny, tiny plot point, skipped over the resultant problems with Blomkvist's magazine entirely, so the return to the issue at the end feels really out of place. Taking out the magazine sub-plot has another effect, too: it takes out one of the strong women characters and ruins the feminist subtext of the film. What's left is kind of a cross between State of Play and Silence of the Lambs and the overall theme of condemnation of violence against women gets a bit lost...under all the violence. Which is a real pity.

It also fails the Bechdel test miserably. But then, so did the novel, so that's no surprise.

That said, the heroine is a fabulous character with a lot going for her. I'm glad to see this version, with actors who don't look like they were built in Stepford basements, and Noomi Rapace's performance as Lisbeth is really, really good. She totally looks the part, too. I know some Hollywood studio has picked this up and they're certain to make a mess of it, in casting if nothing else.

Overall...I recommend the film, but with caveats. First, if you have issues with onscreen violence, you don't want to see this film. Second, it's longer than it needs to be, so some will be better off waiting for a DVD release. And third, I do recommend familiarity with the book first, although that would spoil the whodunnit that's a judgement call. But within those limits, I really enjoyed the film. 8/10.
shanaqui: My Habitican mod avatar, featuring me and a pile of books bigger than me. ((AerisTifa) Take on the world)

[personal profile] shanaqui 2010-03-17 12:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I need to read the book, soon. *glances at to read list, which is 498 books long, counting only books already owned* ...Uh.
shanaqui: My Habitican mod avatar, featuring me and a pile of books bigger than me. (Default)

[personal profile] shanaqui 2010-03-17 11:38 pm (UTC)(link)
How long is yours? *laughs* Mine's a bit longer counting rereads and books from my ereader that I never catalogued, and it gets ridiculous when you add my list of what I want to get in future...

Cool, that helps.
shanaqui: My Habitican mod avatar, featuring me and a pile of books bigger than me. (Default)

[personal profile] shanaqui 2010-03-18 04:41 pm (UTC)(link)
Hahaha, I'm glad I'm not the only one with insane lists. I have to chip through mine fairly quickly -- in my current flat, I have three sets of bookshelves. I have about a sixth of the space for books in my new (rented) house, which I'm moving into in September, and am not allowed to install new bookshelves... Oops.