I have not read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and I have not seen the original 2009 Swedish film by director Niels Arden Oplev, and as such I am unable to draw comparisons to David Fincher’s latest film and his source material. What I can assure is that Fincher’s Girl is as expertly crafted a thriller as one would expect from him. However, as with some of his previous efforts, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and Panic Room (2002), the technical aspects are more involved and sophisticated than the story being told. Putting this into perspective, I was introduced to the character Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) by way of a one hundred million dollar Hollywood feature.
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played by the always-stern Daniel Craig, is hired by wealthy retiree Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate a forty-year-old case involving the disappearance and probable murder of his niece. Vanger and his family live in isolation on an island four hours away from Stockholm; his family members live in neighboring houses and are not neighborly. Some of these family members were Nazis. Henrik ensures a hefty payment and provides a small house on the island for Mikael to conduct his research and sleep in. And thus the procedure begins: the examination of old photographs, newspaper clippings, journal entries, and the questioning of family members. Naturally, it seems that everyone is a suspect. Those who are familiar with the actors in this movie can arguably detect the true identity of the antagonist early in the film simply by considering type casting.
The structure of the film is surprisingly appropriately lengthy given the nature of its whodunit thriller foundation. The reason for this is the successful character development of Lisbeth that is typically lacking in genre films. She is the soul of the film; its most interesting aspects relate to her story as opposed to the investigation plot. Lisbeth is a young and fearful hacker who does not like to make eye contact with people unless she is comfortable or exerting her confidence in her work (investigating) and skill (hacking). She is poor. She has tattoos, piercings, a black mohawk, and wears black leather jackets and baggy clothes. Moreover, she rides a black motorcycle. The business world does not respect her appearance and she does not trust anyone. She lives on the internet and rarely interacts with others. Lisbeth is told, “You need to be more sociable.” The first third of the film contains Lisbeth’s background information as well as a subplot that is not only introduced but also more-or-less resolved. During this time, Lisbeth is forcibly bound and raped to receive some money for food and then exacts her violent revenge on the rapist in a subsequent scene. The execution of this material is aggressive and intense. There are two sides of Lisbeth shown here: her ultimate vulnerability and her ultimate authority. Rooney Mara is incredibly convincing in this against-typecast role. We see why Lisbeth often covers her head with a hood and why she seldom makes eye contact. We respect her and her methods because Mara humanizes Lisbeth well.
The climax of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo would not seem out of place in a film such as American Psycho (2000). It is memorable as a scene for its black comic delivery and sly use of music. The film’s score is an extensive industrial and droning collage of icy coldness and femininity created by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who recently won an Academy Award for their scathing score of Fincher’s previous film The Social Network (2010). Reznor and Ross’s work for this film is an indicator that they will probably deservedly become prominent Hollywood composers. The opening credit sequence, which features their gothic cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with Karen O., recalls James Bond; it is its own music video drenched in sex, violence, technology, and ink. The cinematography and editing are as sleek and clean as Zodiac (2007) and The Social Network. The camera shows respect to its subjects through delicate and meticulous framing. The editors make this bulky material fast paced through rapid cuts and parallel plotting that keep a beat.
The common thread that I can detect in David Fincher’s films is isolation. In The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is socially secluded through his immature blogging and devotion to programming. In Panic Room, Jodie Foster is locked in a protective vault. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the title character is segregated through his unnatural condition of aging in reverse. Zodiac and Seven (1995) also follow lonely serial killers and obsessed detectives. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, for Fincher, is about physical and social isolation. These extreme personalities are on an island watching one another’s every move. The antagonist constantly knows the investigator’s whereabouts and the investigator knows he is being watched. The same can be said for Lisbeth in the outside world. We want her to break free from her purposeful isolation from others, but we know that she will remain self-imprisoned as long as her life continues down this path. I suspect this is what drew Fincher to the otherwise uninspired material.
On a side note, I cannot help but address the initial promotion of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The original poster released online portrayed a nude Rooney Mara, pierced nipple exposed. It is alarming that her nudity served as a selling point. As aggressive as the film may be, the advertising campaign should not feel obligated to strip Lisbeth in an attempt to showcase her dual-nature vulnerability and prideful confidence. But advertisers want to catch viewer attention for the wrong reasons.
Bryan Nixon is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Director David Fincher
Screenplay by Steven Zaillian
Original Novel by Stieg Larsson
Producers Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin, Søren Stærmose, & Ole Søndberg
Director of Photography Jeff Cronenweth
Editors Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
Score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
With Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgård (Martin Vanger), Steven Berkoff (Frode), Robin Wright (Erika Berger)