The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: U.S. vs Sweden

Last night I saw David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had pretty high expectations. David Fincher is one of my favorite filmmakers, and for the second year in a row his film had by far the best trailer of the year (above). I had never read any of the books or seen the Swedish version of the film, but I always planned on it. After last nights screening I had some pretty strong feelings and decided I had to watch the Swedish version as soon as possible to compare the two films. In this blog I’ll review Fincher’s version and then compare it to the Swedish version to try to figure out if my problems with the film come from Fincher or the source material.

David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dexter Tattoo is like 4 or 5 different movies. Some great. Some tense. Some cheesy and lame. Some boring. Some feminist-ish. The great parts: I believe the relationship between Lisabeth and Mikael was pretty great. This is the aspect the story that made Fincher interested in the film and it really shows. It’s definitely the best part of the movie and has emotional weight to it. I actually cared about how their actions affected each other and the final scene was a lot more effective than it should have been. However, I did not think the relationship was subtly done. It kind of just happens, but once it began I enjoyed it a lot. (UPDATE: I’ve read a lot more and thought a lot more about this relationship and I do not feel the same way anymore. Lisabeth falling head over heels in love with Mikael is out of character and plays into a male masturbatory dream that you’re the person who change who a woman is. By the end of the film Lisabeth has become a far more typical Hollywood female character. This update kind of belongs in the feminist-ish section but I put it here so anyone can see how me thoughts have changed since seeing the film. Obviously, disliking the part that used to be my favorite aspect of the film has affected how I see the entire film.) The score was amazing. Like The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did really subtle, moving work here. The film is also beautiful. Jeff Cronenweth’s photography perfectly sets the mood. Mara Rooney is very very good. A lot of people doubted her but she pulled it off.

The cheesy, lame, boring, and tense parts: There were some completely pointless shots in this film. It felt like Fincher was just showing off sometimes. For example, the opening credits were pretty crazy, but they made absolutely no sense within the context of the film. Fincher’s film is filled with moments like this. I actively loathed the murder mystery aspect of the story. It was tedious and very campy. It didn’t care about it at all. The fact that this stupid story was taking screen time away from Rooney only compounded my frustration. I didn’t like the editing in the beginning of the film. The pacing was way too fast. This is a complaint I had with The Social Network as well (To be clear, I do not mean it was so fast I couldn’t understand what was happening). Big things were happening to Lisabeth  and the film should have lingered with her more. Instead, we were forced to watch a boring investigation that doesn’t gain any steam until Mikael finally asks Lisabeth to help him. From this point the tension begins to cumulate until an anxiety filled sequence in two locations that is incredibly well done. This part of the film had me on the edge of my seat until it turned into  the last two seasons of Dexter (no, this is not a compliment). The film feels like it should have ended here. It doesn’t. It lasts an other 30 to 40 minutes that feel like two randomly tacked on 20 minute segments. Sure, intellectual they make sense, but there’s no flow. It felt like Fincher didn’t want to include these portions of the book and decided to last second.

The feminist-ish parts: There were aspects of this film that I kind of respect. It reverses typical Hollywood gender conventions in some interesting ways. For example (SPOILERS!!!) there is a scene were Lisabeth and Mikael have sex and it’s all about her pleasure. She orgasms and he does not. Also, Mikael is kidnapped and has to be saved by Lisabeth (SPOILER OVER!!!). But the question is, do moments like this make Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a feminist film? I don’t think so… In my opinion The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a “feminist” film made by someone who isn’t a feminist. Fincher is more concerned with Mikael’s character than Lisabeth. The film reveals him before her. This may seem like nitpicking but I’m serious. This is a very important detail (made more obvious by the fact that the Swedish versions introduced Lisabeth first). From the beginning we’re seeing the film through Mikael’s eyes while the entire film should be told from Lisabeth’s, not just portions.

The rapes scenes aren’t even really shown from Lisabeth’s point of view. They concentrate on her rapist. The point of the rape scenes in this film is to disgust you. These scenes lack any of the subtly a rape scene in a film like Martha Marcy May Marlene. In Martha the scene is entirely from a woman’s perspective and is emotionally devastating. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the scenes are so extreme all we think about it how messed up it is. There’s isn’t a connection with Lisabeth. These scenes are followed by Lisabeth getting her revenge, but revenge does not equal feminism. Most of the time these types of revenge are done by male characters disguised as women. Worse, this revenge implies rape is justifiable under some circumstances, and this doesn’t even take into account how arbitrary Lisabeth’s rape is. What’s the point? It just happens basically out of no where and then has no effect on her the rest of the film? Some people may say, “Look how strong she is. She can overcome anything.” I say, “This completely disregards how traumatizing rape is and how it affects real people.

It may seem like I didn’t like this film. This isn’t true. It’s well done, and Fincher is a master of creating tension, but the source material is cheesy and the politics frustrate me. I had a lot of problems with the film that would never allow me to ever love it.

Final Grade: B- / UPDATED GRADE: C/C+

You could say I was disappointed in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But I didn’t know whether to place the blame  on David Fincher or the source material. I had to watch the Swedish version immediately. So what’s the conclusion? I blame both. Before I watched the Swedish version today I really expected to like it a lot more, but I did not. The fact is, both films did certain parts of the story way better than the others. For example Fincher’s version pulls off Lisabeth and Mikael’s relationship way better than the Swedish version. I didn’t care about their relationship at all in the original. Their first sex scene made even less sense. But the horrible structure of Fincher’s version can’t be entirely blamed on the source material because the Swedish version kind of pulled it off. Those “tacked on segments” from the US version actually felt like they belonged in the Swedish version.

But the investigation portions of the film was actually way worse than Finchers. Fincher brought some life to these scenes that the Swedish version definitely lacked. The rape scenes in the Swedish version are “better.” They are more form Lisabeth’s perspective, but they still seem arbitrary. One aspect of the Swedish version I actually loved that Fincher’s version desperately needs is (SPOILER!!!) Lisabeth’s memory of trying to burn her father a live. She has a photographic memory and is forced to remember this event exactly as it happened. The film makes the connection between this event and the serial killer burning to death in his crashed car and it’s powerful. Fincher’s film doesn’t even try to make this connection. Lisabeth trying to kill her father is mentioned matter of factly and means nothing (END SPOILER!!!). In the end, I enjoyed Fincher’s film more, but if I have could take the two films and merge them I think there could be a very very good film.

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About Sean Temple

Filmmaker, Progressive, Feminist, Emerson MFA Student, Director of HUNT. I use film to critique our society and reveal the struggles real people deal with every day. View all posts by Sean Temple

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